While they anticipate an array of problems in the years ahead, these experts offered hope on a notable number of fronts over the next five years. It wasn’t just the optimists who said they see the near future as promising in many regards; most of the respondents who predicted digital life is likely to be mostly worse in 2025 for most people also shared some hopes.
Some believe humanity is now more likely to recognize the need to reinvent or at least revamp some major systems, including market capitalism. A share also predicted that education, health care and/or workplace activities will evolve for the better. Some argued that advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart cities, data analytics and virtual reality could make human systems safer, more humane and more helpfully productive. Some said better communication of more-accurate information can dramatically improve emergency response to future crises.
Many said they hope tech firms will now work to change their practices or encourage and support governments’ steps to overcome the many challenges wrought by instantaneous digital communications. They hope to see people come together to overcome inequities and embrace social justice initiatives. They expect that smart systems enabled by AI, virtual reality, augmented reality and machine learning will enhance social connection. They expect that the broad embrace of telework may help most people a better work/home balance that may also benefit the environment.
When asked to share their predictions, most of these experts chose to state their most fervent desires. Many of the statements in this section are not really “predictions” for 2025 as much as they are expressed as dreams for the way things could turn out under the right circumstances. Some admit their hopes are unrealistic; others do not think they could be implemented by 2025.
This section opens with several comprehensive statements about likely hopes for 2025. They are followed by sets of statements sorted under themed headings.
Ben Shneiderman, distinguished professor of computer science and founder of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, commented, “I’ve seen great progress in my life, so I expect that to continue. The end of Trump’s presidency, with its many indignities and murderous decisions on COVID-19, will lead to a better life for many people. While technology raises many serious problems, efforts to limit malicious actors should eventually succeed and make these technologies safer. The huge interest in ethical principles for AI and other technologies is beginning to shift attention towards practical steps that will produce positive change. Already the language of responsible and human-centered AI is changing the technology, guiding students in new ways and reframing the work of researchers.
“While social robotics is likely to be the next Google Glasses [a reference to a product that was released ahead of its time], I foresee improved appliance-like and tele-operated devices with highly automated systems that are reliable, safe and trustworthy. Shoshanna Zuboff’s analysis in her book ‘SurveillanceCapitalism’ describes the dangers and also raises awareness enough to promote some changes. I believe the arrival of independent oversight methods will help in many cases. Facebook’s current semi-independent oversight board is a small step forward, but changing Facebook’s culture and Zuckerberg’s attitudes is a high priority to ensuring better outcomes. True change will come when corporate business choices are designed to limit the activity of malicious actors – criminals, political operatives, hate groups and terrorists – while increasing user privacy.”
Joshua Braun, associate professor of journalism at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, observed, “We’re really at a crossroads right now, what with the unthinkable scale of unemployment, the horrific and disparate impacts of the virus on the most marginalized groups in society, the heightened awareness of grave racial injustice, and horrendous problems with our elections. I’d like to think that these issues will create a mandate for sweeping structural changes, and that’s my hope. But it also seems entirely possible that wealth inequality, precarity, structural racism and authoritarianism will simply be compounded by official responses to the virus and the protest movement that secure advantages for the haves at the expense of the have-nots.
“I’m skeptical that the culture of the Silicon Valley and its offshoots, typically dominated by white elites, is going to be any sort of salve here. The business model of surveillance capitalism is now firmly entrenched and many of the most successful tech companies profit at the expense of their users’ privacy and autonomy. Yes, major tech companies may respond to capital strikes by advertisers, like the #StopHateForProfit advertiser boycott of Facebook, which includes mega-corporations like Unilever. But there are sharp limits to how much reform we can expect from having corporate giants discipline one another, and outsourcing decisions about appropriate public discourse to tech companies is a strategy destined to fail.
“At the same time, positive social movements, not just virulent ones, are building awareness and solidarity through social media. I’m also hopeful at the efforts of scholar-activists like Ethan Zuckerman, who aim to build compelling public alternatives to the for-profit tech empires that have subsumed our public discourse. I think people are beginning to view the protection of their privacy and the moderation of speech online as being about more than personal responsibility, but as an appropriate topic for legislation and regulation. This is very positive, but whether regulatory reforms can be effective or whether they become captive to deep-pocketed tech giants remains an open question.”
Paul Saffo, chair for futures studies and forecasting at Singularity University and visiting scholar at Stanford MediaX, said, “The pandemic’s trajectory has laid bare long-standing weaknesses and divisions in the U.S. system and will force us to confront those challenges. The response will not begin until well into 2021, and even then it will have its stalls and setbacks. As Winston Churchill famously observed, ‘Americans will always do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else.’ This is a moment when some Americans are clearly determined to try ‘everything else,’ but sanity will return.”
David Mussington, a senior fellow at CIGI and professor and director at the Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise at the University of Maryland, wrote, “The democratization of computing and communications technology suggests that the advantages of large institutions for risk-awareness and response may be eroding. Communities may be able to exercise greater self-help and self-protection through local cooperation. This also leads to the empowerment of disadvantaged groups to more effectively point out discriminatory or standards-breaking behavior, imposing costs on offending individuals who previously acted with impunity. Black Lives Matter and the emergence of smartphone video and citizen protest is an aspect of this kind of future – at least in democratic countries.
“I hope for greater access to the global internet and access to digital services including financial system access. Greater access to information and the ability to leverage skills for distance-agnostic employment. Lower energy intensity of production, lowering environmental stress. Greater access to medical information and educational resources in order to re-skill those who have lost employment due to individual or systemic economic changes. The ability to live further from urban centers could lower population density in big cities, enabling more-livable environments and more-optimal transportation infrastructure efficiencies. …
“Unauthorized private sector surveillance through digital marketing and security services poses a particular challenge. Additionally, governmental repurposing of private data for government services and tracking of citizens may thwart proper oversight. New transparency mechanisms will be necessary to keep these trends in check. Companies’ claimed ownership of sensitive personal identifiable information and intellectual property will become more contentious, as private citizens seek to claim ownership of data about them and their activities. Legal and standards progress will need to be made to adapt economic and political conditions to meet new citizen sensitivities. The needs of minorities (protection, inclusion) will need to be respected – but progress cannot be expected to protect these needs without direction – and probably legislative interventions.”
Calton Pu, professor and chair in the School of Computer Science at Georgia Tech, noted, “The crisis forces us to focus on the essentials of life and economy. For example, the luxury brands have fallen quickly. This focus on the essentials will help most people to improve the important aspects of their lives. Technology, e.g., mobile phones and internet, have become essential in the new normal. We use the internet and mobile apps to help entire sectors of economy work (e.g., schools) through the pandemic. For those people who have been in isolation, for example, access to internet enables communications with friends and family. Without technology, we would not be talking about the ‘new normal.’ The society would not be anywhere near normal. Technology is where the ‘new’ of ‘new normal’ is. In a way, we are fortunate that the digital technology had already advanced sufficiently that we were able to leverage it to create the new normal without much trouble. For example, online shopping was developed over the last few decades, and it was ready when the pandemic hit. Similarly, online education has been developed over the years, and schools were able to adopt the same tools when physical contact became dangerous. Many other examples abound. Although the technology was already mature, the degree of our reliance on the technology is ‘new’ to many. … The real question is whether there is hope for rational decisions by the politicians and the public on making life better, and what ‘better’ means.”
Bernie Hogan, senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, responded, “Crises tend to provide the motivation for change that would otherwise be seen as ‘not now.’ The internet has had many moments up to this point, but this might be the moment where distance working and flex working are seen as a net positive. The gig economy is collapsing around us, and for good reason. Just because a worker’s job is flexible does not mean that the business can absolve itself of responsibility for the many ways in which work intervenes in our lives, from health care to wages for time spent. Seeing how real employees are working at a distance elevates gig work by allowing us to see the organisation as more than just an office. Normalising the idea that I can have a meeting from afar simplifies a lot of work life. That idea is likely to persist after social distancing has (hopefully) abated. I do worry whether this is yet another opportunity for state-sanctioned information technology surveillance to creep further in our lives. Fortunately, this time around the pushback was swift and coherent while privacy enhancing technologies were available at the outset.
“One fundamental change needed is a shift towards greater ease of management of the address book. This simple list has been traded in for lecherous social media because people worry about how they are going to stay in contact. Having a common standard across platforms and local privacy-aware management of contacts will be a sea change. It will upset the monopolies of audiences that currently happen on Facebook Inc.’s properties, and it will hopefully enable third parties to innovate again in this space. Facebook has locked down its API for friend lists and stifled the creative innovation that was a staple of its apps a decade ago. Now it should be legislated.”
Doug Schepers, a longtime expert in web technologies and founder of Fizz Studio, predicted, “I believe things will get better for most people, including in the digital arena, because of reassessment of priorities due to the pandemic. It’s hard to know on what time scale these changes will occur and under what circumstances. The primary factor for whether things will improve or degrade will be the result of the U.S. presidential election, which of course will be affected by the pandemic in multiple ways. I hope for advances in digital voting; distributed and accountable governing, with more recorded on video and available by live webcast; more secure, more private messaging for text and video; better broadband infrastructure; decreased reliance on fossil fuels and more public infrastructure for renewable energy. My answers are mostly U.S.-centric:
- Education: The new emphasis on remote learning will put pressure on educators to revamp their pedagogical and assessment methodologies and will likely result in improvements for students with disabilities. The ‘curb cut effect’ [in which regulation and programs designed to benefit vulnerable groups often benefit all of society] will lead to improvements for all students. In higher education, the move to remote learning will likely be a disruption of ‘old boy networks’ and economic disparity that could result in greater equity to wider populations. However, this assumes that improvements to infrastructure (below) are taken seriously.
- Rural public infrastructure: The pandemic has led to greater awareness of the poor state of our rural internet-access infrastructure, which has been largely left to inadequate private-company investment and subject to ‘market forces’ (i.e., lower population density means lower profits, so rural broadband has been ignored). Now that remote services are seen as more essential, there could be enough public pressure for the government to mandate better rural high-speed and high-capacity infrastructure (supplemented by 5G networks). This will be emphasized by the diaspora from high-population cities into smaller cities and even rural areas by wealthy people who want to flee the health risks of the big cities.
- Remote working: Many companies have abandoned their insistence that workers work from the office. This will put greater financial power behind digital-remote-work resources, such as video conferencing, distributed project creation, collaboration, management and other services. The quality of these services will have to improve. More people will be able to work from home and from lower-cost regions (again, see public infrastructure).
- Voting, governing and social justice: Voting and governing will likely have more digital components going forward, despite known and unknown risks. The increasing use of the ‘social media panopticon,’ where mobile phone videos document antisocial behavior by citizens and law enforcement officers alike, has dramatically increased during the pandemic, partly as a function of increased tensions, partly because many people are spending more time on social media. This has already increased awareness of the need for more substantive reform in policing. The backlash will likely also increase privacy laws, akin to the European laws against photographing or publishing photos of individuals.”
The chief scientist for a Silicon Valley-based artificial intelligence company wrote,“People and organizations will be more comfortable, skilled, effective and, overall, accustomed to interacting remotely for work, health care and socializing. They will be more willing to trade off reductions in commuting effort and real estate property expenses for the sake of other aspects of life, including to have more time in their day, more physical space and closeness to nature and lower stress overall. For many kinds of work, that will create more career security because one will have more choice of what organization to work for and be less tied to the particular geographical location of the employer or customer. The rise of AI will result in increases in productivity. That creates an opportunity for society to economically distribute the benefits of productivity increases widely to the individuals in society. I wish I could say that employment and economic security will be improved, but whether that will happen depends much more on political activism to combat the fundamentals of economic inequality and to install more rational policies such as universal health care; that’s likely to take many more years than just five.”
Social justice will get priority
Many of these experts argue that the reawakening of public movements for social and racial justice and economic equality may create more-responsive government and sociopolitical systems that are more attuned to diversity, equity and inclusion. They hope for changes that will address digital divides – both in access and in tech and information literacy. Some say there will be a reckoning for technology companies and their leaders.
David Karger, professor at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, said, “I’m very hopeful that the current social justice movements and their reflection in activism about the damaging impact of current social media platforms will lead to a renewed effort to create digital public spaces that exist for the benefit of citizens rather than advertisers. This requires substantial work towards reducing the manipulation and falsification of information and giving individuals more power to curate their own information feeds. …
“I believe that capitalism is an effective way to steer work to where it can have the most effect, but I fear that our current system has lost the ability to properly value certain intangibles of individual welfare, that steering effect is broken. Solving the problems of the underprivileged doesn’t generate enough measurable value, so the companies with the talent and resources to do so are instead directing their efforts towards luxuries for the well-off. I think a key role for government is to materialize the value implicit in social goods, in order to attract companies to provide them. I fear that our current polarized government is simply unable to do that. Technology has also created an irresistible drive towards monopolies. Economies of scale are everywhere, and our technology lets us use them optimally. When I can use the internet to find a product anywhere – a ride, a vacation rental, an education, a meal – the best provider will win everywhere. Again, government is the only real defense, but it hasn’t been functional.”
Meredith Whittaker, a research professor and co-director of NYU’s AI Now research institute, commented, “Efforts like the Just Data Lab, Data for Black Lives, the Algorithmic Justice League, the STOP project in New York and the Anti-Eviction Mapping project illustrate the power of community-led efforts for justice and accountability that employ technological methods. What is interesting about these efforts, however, is not the tech. It is that they all understand justice as a primary concern and employ tech where and when appropriate to achieve this end.”
Peter Padbury, chief futurist at Policy Horizons Canada, predicted, “There will be: More-flexible work arrangements, including more people working virtually for some part of the work week. More use of digital work platforms that enable companies to track work and be more flexible and adaptive as needed. Dramatic leaps in AI use as it is built into digital work platforms for routine tasks for high and low skilled work. More gig work and more virtual gig work; many people are their own micro-enterprise, as companies try to reduce their overhead costs. Access and affordability of digital infrastructure will become important public policy issues regarding equity and competitiveness, and there will be growing demands to address income inequity. Detailed health tracking will be accepted by a majority as a valuable public good after it proves essential in ending the pandemic. There will be a reinvention of health care and education to improve service and reduce costs as we learn the lessons from several COVID-19 waves.”
Andrew K. Koch, president and chief operating officer at the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, wrote, “We have to address the underlying conditions that allow COVID-19 to plague us in more than biological ways – structural racism and classicism. These conditions are both the foundations and the buttresses of our current chaotic and moronic national response to COVID-19. I cannot envision a future that does not use digital technologies in deeper ways. For the very fortunate, entire ways of doing work have shifted online – and with that shift has and will come innovation. You don’t put tens of millions of workers into an online environment for months if not years and go back to the old way of doing work. But there are many who cannot do their jobs using digital technologies.
“For the nation to actually be better, we must have intentional policies focused on digital development – with a keen focus on the digital divide. We must have policies – based on constitutional privacy guarantees – that actually see that people are the power specifically named in ‘We the people.’ The individual rights of those people have to be protected in the digital present and future. Corporations may have been classified as ‘people,’ with their rights protected by Supreme Court rulings. But people actually are the persons – individually and collectively – who live, work, thrive, fail or die in a digital future. For 2025 to be better, the nation needs leadership at all levels – not simply in the Oval Office – that creates, enacts and modifies policies that uplift the oppressed and cure the afflicted. The nation needs educational, technological, environmental, medical and other forms of responses that help guarantee the well-being of the people – the right to good health, a family sustaining wage, the means for all to thrive equitably in a society that has a well-established and codified history of race- and class-based stratification. Digital technology must be a part of this. But without a thoughtful approach based on continuous improvement and equity, digital technology will simply make the well-off better and the less-well-off less well when compared to those who thrive in ‘the new normal.’”
Marcel Fafchamps, professor of economics and senior fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, commented, “Tech-related change could mitigate some of the forces I foresee. But it would have to be directed at political participation. One area where much more needs to be done is in the elicitation of preferences – e.g., using different voting rules such as voting against your least preferred candidate, voting by ranking options or assigning points to different options and candidates, revisiting rules of parties, elections systems and the like. The second issue is organizing political participation in a way that leads to beneficial outcomes. The rise of social media has occasionally allowed mobilization to take place, but it remains a highly volatile, manipulable medium where bots and disinformation rule. I have zero trust in social media in improving democracy, just like I have no trust in malicious gossip and tabloids to have done so in the last 30 years.”
Benjamin Kuipers, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan known for research in qualitative simulation, observed, “We are facing a stark choice between two futures, and I choose to be optimistic about how it will come out, though I am not willing to predict how likely that outcome is. The dire future involves everyone making choices to maximize their own benefit. The optimistic future involves people recognizing that the welfare of everyone is important to the success of our society. In particular, everyone needs to trust, justifiably, that the processes in society are working for everyone’s benefit. This trust is necessary for widespread cooperation, which is required for society to thrive. Without that widespread trust, society is likely to devolve into a dystopia. Our society will fail, and we will be taken over by others. The average person must be able to count on having a meaningful job with adequate income to support a family. Each person must be able to count on health care, child care, education and elder care, even if those are not economic profit centers. Technology can continue to create vast wealth, but that wealth must be shared with all in the society, not just concentrated in a few. We must be able to trust that the information collected about us is treated appropriately, respecting our individual wishes about our privacy. My hopes and worries are more about economic equity than specifically about technology. We have the opportunity to understand the critical role that trust and cooperation play in the success of a society. If we can encourage trust and cooperation, our society will thrive and succeed. If we cannot, it is likely to fail. If we are pursuing the right goals, tech-related changes will make things better. If we are pursuing the wrong goals, tech-related changes will make things worse. Do it wrong, and Darwin takes you away!”
Giacomo Mazzone, head of institutional relations for the European Broadcasting Union and Eurovision, commented, “Nobody could realistically predict how digitalization will evolve in the post-COVID-19 world. Technology could change life for the better in theory. My hope is that a new global order will be established to insert these changes into a global framework. This is similar to what it was like in November 1945, after World War II, when all countries of the world worked toward building a future path based on human rights. That frame lasted for nearly 50 years and produced the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Then we crashed into the wave of new nationalism (from Trump to Bolsonaro, from Johnson to Xi Jin Ping), and since the turn of the century multilateral institutions are proving their impotence against the bully-ism exercised by various countries against others and even on their own citizens. Digitalization of the world will have an impact on nation-states’ regulation worse than the destruction and deaths provoked by World War II.
“Let’s look at some basic examples. For instance, teleworking is a wonderful innovation that could potentially reduce pollution provoked by commuting to work, make urban centers less congested and favor more decentralization. What is the impact on social rights when workers are isolated and fragmented against an invisible owner who could hire and sack them via a simple tweet? What sort of impact will there be on taxation when each individual worker could de-localize himself by seeking and teleworking for an employer in another country with a more favorable tax regime? Another example [in need of regulatory attention] is privacy. Today personal data online provides immediate benefit to advertisers and sales agents. Tomorrow, artificial intelligence combined with big data can be used to interfere with or to condition the lives of citizens.”
John Verdon, a retired complexity and foresight consultant, said, “The pandemic has revealed to all the real power of a sovereign nation to issue currency (see Modern Monetary Theory) to support any initiative it deems worthy and that there are the resources within the nation to fulfill the initiative. That means there is no barrier to such a nation providing universal health care, universal basic income, free education throughout life, building new infrastructure for the digital environment and renewable energy (e.g., to meet the challenges of climate change) as well as renewing aging infrastructure. The neoliberal economic paradigm has died – and politicians are enacting new policies, protections and systems for human and global flourishing. Renewable energy has transformed global energy geopolitics – and thus geopolitics – if not by 2015, certainly by 2030-2035. With ubiquitous renewable energy, access to water (via desalination) ceases to be life-determining. Ubiquitous access to the internet (via Modern Monetary Theory and policies enacting more of the digital environment as public infrastructure). With the transformation of the economic paradigm (via MMT) new institutions will be created to ensure the equitable distribution of information and resources – the eradication of neoliberal monopolies and privateering (this may take longer than the 2025 time frame, but if the change is not clear by then we are in real trouble). Renewable energy and AI and robots are rapidly changing the transportation paradigm which in turn will see many weak signals of new urban design. Despite COVID-19, the future will see more densely populated cities but with more common spaces/places for a more walkable and more social collective life (not communes but more like co-housing complexes, with both autonomous space and common space/workplaces).”
Aaron Chia Yuan Hung, assistant professor of educational technology at Adelphi University, said, “COVID-19 has revealed many underlying inequities in our health care and education systems that have been invisible to most of society. This awareness is a small but crucial step in making positive changes. Certainly, a lot will depend on the outcomes of the 2020 elections, but, at the very least, these inequities are no longer in the shadows. The pandemic, together with the protests and economic downturn, has put a lot of people who may have seen themselves in different categories into more-similar groups. The degree of change will depend on who has the power to make changes. … The use of digital video has been particularly powerful. It has been used as a key source of data to document the aftermath of the pandemic, the protests, the counterprotests and so on. It has become an important storytelling device. The new normal will be a double-edged sword, but I’d prefer to lean towards the optimistic. Technology has been used to document injustices and inadequacies in institutions. So far, it has been used for the better. The use of digital video to publicly shame those who, for example, don’t wear masks or who don’t do proper social distancing, getting them ‘fired’ on social media – all of this can feel like vigilante justice and it has its issues, for example, when the wrong person is identified and targeted. This will certainly be the trend in the future, but we need to tread carefully.”
Andrea Romaoli Garcia, an international tax lawyer active in multistakeholder activities, wrote, “The COVID-19 pandemic showed the weak points of society and forced government leaders to recall the importance of scientific knowledge for better decision-making. Applying this experience to emerging technologies, we will have stronger institutions that corruption will find difficult to erode.”
Anthony Clayton, an expert in policy analysis, futures studies and scenario and strategic planning based at the University of the West Indies, responded, “My hopes lie in the migration of public administration to online, the move to greater transparency in government information systems and the use of big data analysis to address social and economic problems in areas such as education and health care.”
Rob Frieden, a professor of telecommunications law at Penn State who previously worked with Motorola and has held senior policy positions at the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, commented, “The post-COVID-19 ‘new normal’ more clearly identifies gaps, deficiencies, inequities and comparative disadvantages that previously were less visible and easily ignored. For example, it’s harder to deny the digital divide exists when families don’t have a large-screen format for accessing homework and must use a smartphone or seek paper assignments. It’s harder to consider the digital divide closed when a single location within a census tract has broadband while lots of people drive to the parking lot of schools and libraries to access a Wi-Fi network. It’s difficult to believe that until recently schools had to shut down their Wi-Fi network to prevent off-hours access. Perhaps citizens and their elected officials will wise up to the ‘mission accomplished’ narratives exemplified by the FCC’s conclusion that most internet service providers meet or exceed their advertised broadband service speeds. The pandemic showed that while ISP networks could accommodate a 20%-30% increase in aggregate demand, the acquired bit transmission speed declined significantly in many locales. I am not confident that people can use new technologies, such as grid networking, for ‘self-help.’ The carriers have successfully blocked even the prospect of municipal WiFi in over 12 states. I’m glad to see the FCC belatedly embrace new thinking about universal service funding, such as reverse auctions.
“But post-pandemic, I also see more of the electorate balking at having to pay a 26% universal service funding ‘contribution’ in their monthly bills. See https://www.fcc.gov/general/contribution-factor-quarterly-filings-universal-service-fund-usf-management-support. I hope creative communities will resort to technological self-help to find ways to achieve more accessible and affordable broadband. Perhaps the expanded, 6 GHz WiFi frequency band will offer a new vehicle for experimentation. However, the key lies in policy which stops sending recurring subsidies to carriers. They have no incentive to achieve progress when that would reduce their subsidy.”
Jon Lebkowsky, CEO, founder and digital strategist at Polycot Associates, wrote, “So much depends on political leadership after 2020, as well as corporate leadership especially with social media tech companies whose platforms have been essential to propaganda efforts and the spread of crazy theories in the U.S. and elsewhere. And we’re also seeing growing uses of AI technology for both surveillance and sousveillance. By the time COVID risk has diminished, we’ll feel sufficiently snake-bit that we’ll continue to proceed with caution, to avoid exposure risks. So, there’ll be long-term effects on sociality and transportation, and on the way we live and work.”
Tracey P. Lauriault, a professor expert in critical media studies and big data based at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, shared her wish for the future: “I hope for future data and technology governance in which residents, civil society, academics and the private sector collaborate with public officials to mobilize data and technologies when warranted in an ethical, accountable and transparent way to govern the data and technological systems large and small in our homes, cities, countries, etc., as a fair, viable and livable commons, and balance economic development, social progress and environmental responsibility. Governance here is ethical, accountable and transparent. These principles apply to the governance of social and technical platforms which include data, algorithms, skills, infrastructure and knowledge. Also, the design, operations and use of these data and technologies is participatory, collaborative and responsive. Government, civil society, the private sector, the media, academia and residents meaningfully participate in the governance of … these and have shared rights and responsibilities.
“This entails a culture of trust and critical thinking that is fair, just, inclusive and with informed approaches. Also, the uses for data and technologies need to be fit for purpose, can be repaired and queried, use open-source code … that adheres to open standards, and is interoperable, durable, secure, and, where possible, locally procured and scalable. Data and technology are used and acquired in such a way as to reduce harm and bias, increase sustainability and enhance flexibility. When warranted, automated decision-making and these systems will be legible, responsive, adaptive and accountable. Furthermore, data management is the norm, and custody and control over data generated by smart technologies is held and exercised in the public interest. Data governance includes sovereignty, residency, open by default, security, individual and social privacy and grants people authority over their personal data. There is also an intersectional approach taken to how people are classified in these systems, and the purposes for the use of these data are clear. Finally, it is recognized that data and technology are not always, nor the exclusive solution to many of the systemic issues people face, nor are there always quick fixes. These problems require innovative, sometimes long-term, social, organizational, economic and political processes and solutions. People with lived experiences also ought to be part of the solution, in other words ‘if about or for us, then with us.’”
Alan D. Mutter, a consultant and former Silicon Valley CEO, wrote, “It is possible programs will be enacted – finally! – to support less-affluent members of society and to aggressively address institutional racism, endemic economic inequality and accelerating climate destruction.”
Morgan G. Ames, associate director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Science, Technology & Society, responded, “A small, still-marginalized, but growing movement is looking critically at the role of automated surveillance and decisionmaking in society. They not only shine light on some particularly problematic systems but propose a variety of mitigation strategies that repair some of the damage these systems have done. Moreover, while the turn to online education has once again highlighted the stark inequalities between different students, it has also opened up opportunities for addressing these inequalities with a robust, publicly funded online education system. I hope that the current conversations around a national fiber network and greater investment in schools could result in a more robust public education system by 2025, integrating but not relying on technologies.”
Seth Finkelstein, programmer, consultant and Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award winner, wrote, “In my wildest dreams, at the most optimistic, I hope the pandemic provides the impetus to break the logjam over standardizing online health records in the U.S. One big problem is that everyone knows that private management of standard U.S. online health records will be a money machine that’ll make Scrooge McDuck’s money bin look like a wading pool. Thus, every corporation with a chance at this prize jealously guards its potential for a monopoly. If the needs of U.S. public health finally provide the political will to go to a common system where nobody owns it, this will be an enormous benefit. There’s many ways this could go wrong, but in terms of not wasting a good crisis, it’s at least theoretically possible it could go right.”
Jay Owens, research director at pulsarplatform.com and author of HautePop, predicted, “People working from home will tend to have more engagement with their local communities, and volunteering and community organising will flourish.”
Maggie Jackson, former Boston Globe columnist and author of “Distracted: Reclaiming Our Focus in a World of Lost Attention,” wrote, “This is an inflection point in history, a true crossroads moment. Deep changes to society, especially regarding technology, could blossom in multiple directions. … While the pre-pandemic backlash against technology inspired important questions to be asked about tech, culture and human experience, the global conversation around these issues nevertheless bogged down in narrow finger-pointing around how much tech companies were to blame, without needed hard discussions around personal accountability. We need to leave behind the insufficient idea that technology or the people who make it are doing something to us and ask what we all can do at a higher level to shape technology for the future. I also think that the very endemic values and habits that technology promotes toward neat, packaged clickable answers and binary thinking impede our society’s ability to move forward in re-envisioning technologies that preserve our humanity. … I imagine that our experiences of technology will splinter, and issues of survival will eclipse crucial unresolved questions related to how technology disconnect/connects us; what effect tech has on our psyche even in small measures; and what it means to be a human.”
Edson Prestes, a professor of computer science at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, commented, “Unfortunately, along with all of the benefits come new threats. They tend to mainly be directed at people from vulnerable communities. Elders are victims of fraud. Children can be exposed to abusers. Communities are being manipulated by all types of players, including government leaders who consider fake news to be example of ‘freedom of expression.’ Hence, we, as global society, should find ways to mitigate all these dangerous situations in proactive ways, possibly even before they happen. The digital domain adds new dimensions to society, and we have just started navigating on it. One recent example of movement towards governing digital technologies is the UN Secretary-General’s unveiling of a roadmap on digital cooperation that contains concrete actions for the digital domain. These actions are being pursued by global multilateral, multistakeholder and multidisciplinary teams. I believe despite all of the negative consequences brought with COVID-19, we, as society, will understand we need to reinforce our knowledge, infrastructure and voice in the digital domain. The intense use of the digital domain showed some of the benefits and risks that the internet and future advances in artificial intelligence may bring to our society. This awareness of the digital domain will promote a deep reflection about our society, so we are better prepared and actively engage in the discussion and elaboration of public policies to create a brighter world.
“I’m very optimistic that technology can be mostly beneficial in our global society. Several authors, including myself, have been writing about the use of robotics and artificial intelligence in working to attain the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Digital technology can promote and increase the quality of life and standard of living of people around the globe, facilitating access to public services, good education and better and new jobs and diminishing barriers, reducing inequalities and promoting peace. What concerns me is doing nothing, that is, leaving the decisions that can impact our lives for other people to take. Society should be active in the debate, regulation and governance of technology. However, this will only be possible if we, as citizens, have a clear understanding about the perils of the digital world. We cannot leave it to technology companies to regulate themselves and, consequently, our lives. We already have had a small glimpse of self-regulation in our society. Violations of human rights principles are already taking place due to the misuse of technology. If we do nothing, we will only amplify the world’s status quo, which by the way, is far beyond being fair.”
Paul Epping, chairman and co-founder of XponentialEQ and keynote speaker on exponential change, predicted, “The only constant is change. By 2025, more people will have access to information at 5G speed, including people in countries who are currently underserved. Their intellectual capabilities and drive to create a better life will shift the balance in our economies. People continue to underestimate the speed of exponential growth of technologies and the accompanying deflationary effect on the economy. People are doing far more themselves, digital services are cheaper and far more scalable and less labor-intensive. One of the variables of the GDP is unemployment. A lot of work will be done online by you and me. This is productivity, but it is not included nor calculated and thus has a negative impact on the GDP. This is just one example of deflation. People will be increasingly dependent on the online world and the algorithms that determine a major part of our lives (with intended and unintended consequences).
“The main benefit of the global crisis is that we have the opportunity to collaborate worldwide, circumventing all sorts of country-related boundaries. The level of openness of the use of the internet will determine integration of intellectual connections (collective intelligence => DIY communities), business connections (distributed autonomous organizations => DAOs), ideological communities (e.g., circular economy, green energy, CO2-decrease activists). All of these new organizations are purpose-driven to make the world a better place to live. This will ignite ideas to solve the world’s biggest problems as activists build on each other’s insights. The drive is to make life better for all, therefore a lot will be open source and free to use.”
Doris Marie Provine, emeritus professor of justice and social inquiry at Arizona State University, commented, “Tech can, and has, been used to maintain and exacerbate current power relations. Perhaps a much more progressive tax structure that actually is implemented can push back against the growing inequality we are seeing in the U.S. and elsewhere. Tech has not been part of the solution. Tech’s power in influencing government policy is another concern. Where there is wealth, there is political power in this country, especially after Citizens United and other decisions equating money with speech and turning a blind eye to the lack of a level playing field for political influence. Public funding of elections and controls on truth in political advertising (as Mexico has, for example) might help.”
Warren Yoder, longtime director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, now an executive coach, responded, “2020 was the final break from the 20th century, which reached its stated centenary so well and then went so quickly awry. In response to 9/11, the American allies blundered into two ridiculous wars. In response to the Great Recession the emergent monetary stimuli benefited the rich but left everyone else worse off. Now the response to COVID-19 in populist-led countries is increasing the death toll. Finally, people seem to be ready for real change. The Black Lives Matter movement burst aflame after sputtering for years. Guaranteed income and other ideas only recently outside the pale are being seriously discussed. Much depends on the American election and the next administration to set the direction for this belated century. The old liberal-conservative division is gone.”
Mark Monchek, author, keynote speaker and self-described culture of opportunity strategist, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic is a symptom of capitalism’s inability to evolve into an economic and social model that is sustainable. My hope is that the collective WE, including all of our planet’s inhabitants, will be able to change our beliefs and behaviors fast enough to arrive at a much more inclusive, reverent and collaborative way of coexistence. … We will learn to better integrate technology-empowered communication like video conferencing with in-person communication. We will consciously assess the needs of a situation and employ the best set of practices and tools, rather than react from habit. Also, we need to provide access to technology to the entire world, giving access to the web and the tools needed to access it to people and communities that currently don’t have access.”
Marvin Borisch, technical manager for Red Eagle Digital, based in Berlin, predicted, “By 2025 I expect our lives to change dramatically. … People are starting to see the benefits of technology for things other than home entertainment, and tech connectivity has become even more important for work. We are learning to dig deeper, to verify and to find comfort and identify discomfort in information. From today’s perspective it seems like we, the humans of planet Earth, are starting to shine more light on the fact that global problems need global solutions. With this ‘new normal’ we can and hopefully will start to find global solutions and an informative reawakening of individuals. We will start to be more critical about new things but also learn how to turn this critical thinking into decisions. In short, we humans will stop regressing in regard to applying critical thinking and move on to make better decisions about our uses of digital technologies. See it as a young child who had hesitated just as it began taking its first steps but then started to walk more confidently toward a destination.”
People’s well-being will prevail over profit
The structural holes in capitalism have been exposed in the pandemic, according to a number of the expert respondents to this canvassing. The more optimistic of them hope that businesses may start to value serving the greater good above the typical goals of market capitalism. Some suggest that government-led responses to these problems could arise, including broader and better-funded social safety nets woven to provide universal health care, universal basic income and/or funding support to provide broadband as a basic utility. A share of these respondents say they expect there will be a reckoning for technology companies and their leaders.
Dmitri Williams, a communications professor at the University of Southern California expert in technology and society, wrote, “I don’t worry about tech and tech companies as much as I worry about the outsized influence of capital in American life. We are increasingly in a system created to maximize corporate profits, not aimed at improving citizens’ lives or their social mobility or to advance the core values of democracy. Tech accelerates trends, and if companies continue to make decisions on our laws, it will make that worse via a lack of privacy and the shifting of citizens into being merely consumers. However, we have the power to shift those trends so technology can be harnessed in favor of the citizen side of the equation. This is a seesaw, and right now it looks bleak. In the long run, our core values may emerge and be more resilient.”
Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media and associate professor at the MIT Media Lab, commented, “As we entered 2020, we were starting to ask important questions about our relationships with the large tech platforms. Were we giving them too much of our data? Should they have control over what speech was acceptable and unacceptable? Should we have more control over our digital spaces and online interactions? Before we really resolved any of these questions, COVID-19 forced us into a new reality in which many more of our interactions are online, and often through these platforms. We should worry about the difficulty of planning and executing a shift from the platforms and paradigms we are starting to question in 2020 towards new models for online interaction that honor our individual agency and our community values.”
Tim Bray, a technology leader who has worked for Amazon, Google and Sun Microsystems, said, “I hope that privacy activism will cripple and perhaps kill the current model of AdTech and the Google/Facebook duopoly that sucks all the profit out of the online advertising ecosystem, leading to a rebirth of a wider spectrum of interesting, fresh-voice advertising-funded publications. I worry that abusive governments in a higher proportion of the world will use internet technology in the Chinese pattern, to surveil, control and oppress their citizens.”
Willie Currie, who became known globally as an active leader with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, responded, “I’m hopeful that by 2025 many people will have technology at their command as opposed to the current situation where people are at the command of technology. People will become wiser to the manipulations of algorithms, and greater accountability will be demanded of all platforms with respect to user control, privacy and usability. Algorithmic regulation will have developed to a point where user interests are prioritized and the oligopoly of the tech giants will be pulled back.
“This will unfold partly because the COVID-19 shift to online work and communications will increase pressure on the arbitrary and frankly lunatic behavior of Silicon Valley executives, owners and techies to behave less as czars and more as democrats. The biggest challenge will be to get a collective grip on tech as a hyper object that is at once global and individual in its reach and regulate it in the human interest. Anyway, this may all be wishful thinking, but I feel the fact that our lives will be more fully online will force accountability on the tech industry. We have been guinea pigs in an unethical tech experiment, conducted by the tech industry with the collusion of governments. I expect there to be a reaction from the public and political leaders who understand the implications of what is happening to this technological excess of power and control. So, the tech-related changes that I hope to see in the next few years relate to regulation. Regulation, regulation, regulation. I think we have passed peak tech innovation. It is now all about managing what we’ve got and restoring some stability to important social, political and economic functions that have been disrupted by tech excess. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone – similarly with journalism, music, democracy, etc. These will not necessarily return to how they were before, but their reorganization will have to be done.”
Greg Sherwin, vice president for engineering and information technology at Singularity University, observed, “The hope is that humanity’s social immune system will advance and minimize the many harmful and self-harmful effects of a novel relationship with newer technologies. That technology will no longer be popularity viewed as a cure-all for all humanity’s ills but a measure of some tools that can create as many problems as they attempt to solve if they are not wielded with consciousness. The worry is that the global economics of technology will continue to exacerbate economic inequality, divide society, erode the middle class, decimate political will and favor more growth-at-all-costs approaches. With the old guard replaced by a new guard of technology behemoths, I worry that we will see the decline of innovation, a greater emphasis on patent and copyright litigation and the general defense of virtual monopolies and the status quo.”
Charles M. Ess, a professor of media studies at the University of Oslo expert in information and computing ethics, said, “There are a few signs that the large-scale technologies and the companies that produce them are moving in more humane directions. The IEEE project on developing ethically aligned design is one example among many in the expanding discourse and debate around ethical AI; recent decisions to stop the use of AI in facial recognition systems is also encouraging. On a good day, even the largest tech giants have to be responsive to their customers and customer pressure, hence Google’s and Apple’s efforts to ensure privacy, whatever their shortcomings may be in these domains. To be sure, these corporations can powerfully manipulate and interfere with our efforts to communicate, organize, etc. And there’s always the danger that projects such as the IEEE’s, much less the recent disasters with ‘ethics committees’ drafted by Google and Facebook, will amount to little more than ‘ethics-washing.’
“But there is apparently growing pressure in the direction of ‘virtuous design,’ ‘eudaimonic design,’ etc. – i.e., design and deployment of technologies more centrally oriented towards fostering human/e flourishing in a strong sense, not solely conspicuous consumption, corporate efficiencies, and corporate profit – along with attention to ‘digital detox’ and other strategies for monitoring and regulating our use and consumption of these technologies. Should these continue to expand and enjoy more success, then one can be perhaps cautiously optimistic that at least many of us in the more privileged positions and countries will find good ways to rebalance our lives more strongly in favor of contentment and flourishing. But all of this will also require new forms of digital literacy, ones that are shaped and are far more fully informed by a holistic sense and understanding of what constitutes and contributes to human and social well-being, and thereby what political and economic institutions are required for fostering and contributing to such well-being (robust democracy and all of its requirements, as a start). Ideally, this would include a new Enlightenment, one that would help the rest of us develop the understandings and capacities needed for greater (relational) autonomy and community – and a technically informed understanding of how these technologies work, their affordances, potentials and downsides, etc., coupled with an increasing ability to determine and control them for our own humane and social purposes.”
Andy Opel, professor of communications at Florida State University, said, “Technology can make our lives more efficient. A huge issue is the failure of the tech sector to produce cradle-to-cradle devices that are easily recycled and upgraded. Fair Phone is an example of a modular digital device. Without policy interventions that require circular production, tech companies will accelerate extractivism and consumerism, endlessly pushing ‘new features,’ creating toxic waste streams and trapping consumers in cycles of never-ending payment plans.”
An information science expert wrote, “The extreme economic inequality and separate realities of the most successful technology platform companies is worrisome, thus some comeuppance is predictable by 2025, even if their concentrated economic power continues to increase. I actually expect technology and technology companies to be more in tune with the public good in 2025 than today, and not just in a sideshow/corporate social responsibility/PR fashion. Companies abusing their customers or competitors or the planet will be the newly unsustainable ones by 2025, so they should be worried, starting today.”
Warren Yoder, longtime director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, now an executive coach, predicted, “I expect the American-based tech monopolies to be broken up because regulation is seen as too likely to fail. The tech sector has become way too centralized. This is diminishing innovation, reducing consumer choice and incentivizing big tech companies to lobby for regulation that cements in their dominant position. If this trend continues, big tech will govern the world in with a neo-authoritarianism that I find deeply disturbing.”
Nigel Cameron, president emeritus at the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies, commented, “The relentless monopolists must be curbed, or Google and the others will simply roll up yet bigger shares of the economy. Antitrust must get back into the blood of our politics in bipartisan fashion; Judge Bork’s baleful legacy needs to be buried. I’d also challenge the whole idea of ‘free’ – either outright by outlawing barter (which ironically is now the basis for a huge slice of the economy), or at least require data-barter companies like Facebook and Google to offer a fee-for-service alternative; $15 a month and you get to use the platform in complete confidence, and every three months consumers are required to reaffirm their choice after being reminded in tobacco-health-warning simple language of what’s happening to their data. We’ll likely see the continued erosion of jobs. Labor markets may just never recover from the jolt of 2020, as tech takes over more roles and unemployment levels keep creeping up (see my book, ‘Will Robots Take Your Job? A Plea for Consensus’). That will likely lead to better social provision, creeping toward European notions of the welfare state, especially if the anti-Trump backlash is severe and gives Democrats control of the U.S. Congress for the next few years.”
John Verdon, a retired complexity and foresight consultant, wrote, “I worry about the privateering of information and creativity (the enclosure movement) implicit in the neoliberal paradigm of capitalism. This entrenches deep inequity in social structures, processes and experiences and actually diminishes the flourishing of the human mind and spirit. Always and everywhere technologies can be weaponized – there is no technology designed for good that can’t be used for ill, and there is no technology designed for ill that can’t be harnessed for good. The determining capacity is the ‘response-ability’ of our institutions and our systems of governance. All technology should be open-source, transparent and all copyrights/patents significantly constrained for very limited timeframes. It is not technology itself, it is the business model and supporting economic paradigm, that enables the deeply malevolent use of technology to create monopolistic dependencies and haves-and-have-nots and users-and-used.”
Terri Horton, futures strategist and founder and CEO of FuturePath, predicted, “In the new normal of this decade, Gen Z and Gen Alpha, with values deeply rooted in transparency, truth, ethics and inclusion, will hold brands accountable for the promises of 2020 to address equity, social justice and sustainability issues. They will unzip and inspect brands and employers, with more precision than previous generations, for demonstrable strategies, actions and outcomes tied to societal challenges. They will continue to reward the winners and cancel the losers. As employers acquiesce to the COVID-19-adjusted new normal, the workplace – while highly AI-infused, data-driven and surveilled to spur productivity, performance and engagement – must become more humanized as employers seek to use data for good and to support workers in fulfilling their potential both personally and professionally.”
The director of a business consultancy said,“My hope is that tech and networks will accelerate a winner-take-all world. Structures that exist today have dumbed down thinking, and this has resulted in less choice and a concentration of wealth. Unless the plan is for information to be set free and more equitably enable everyone, technology will simply strip everyone of their money. The ownership models of business need to shift. Services that are effectively utilities – Uber is public transport, AT&T, etc. – are public information trusts and should be treated like the power grid, which is also a utility. Delivery to home is like the U.S. Post Office, so take a look at Amazon. Being able to share info/data in a world where data is free ‘peer-to-peer,’ even if that world is somewhat slower, will more correctly mimic human behavior and it will likely work to make a better world.”
Daniel Pimienta, internet pioneer and founder and president of the Network and Development Foundation (FUNREDES), based in the Dominican Republic, responded, “My hard-to-reach hope is for the end of a business model imposed by Google and major internet technology and content corporations in general that is based on advertisement revenues, which has helped to trigger the social and economic disasters we are experiencing. My primary worry is the continuation of (and amplification by AI resources of) the use of personal data as the engine of the business model.”
Irina Raicu, a member of the Partnership on AI’s working group on Fair, Transparent and Accountable AI, commented, “I have hope that developments in differential privacy and encryption and efforts such as federated learning will achieve more ethical data mining. And there is also a growing push for various tech companies to delete their users’ data, which would also make life better for users.”
J. Nathan Matias, an assistant professor at Cornell University expert in digital governance and behavior change in groups and networks, said, “In 2025, the public will be less patient with the promises and excuses of technology firms on the social impact of their products and policies. Instead, companies will be expected to provide evidence of their impact. In some areas at least, this evidence-based evaluation of digital power will satisfy critics and help companies turn a corner in public perception of their impact. Evidence-based governance of digital power will be important in 2025 because even more of society will depend on digital connections, from education to work to civic life and public health.”
Jonathan Taplin, author of “Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy,” wrote, “My greatest hope would be for Facebook to change from a tool of disinformation and social disruption into a community organizing platform for a decentralized America. This would require getting rid of Safe Harbor laws, so that Facebook would have economic incentive to act like the publisher it actually is. Slowly, politicians and interest groups would stop using it as a propaganda tool. That void would be filled by community groups and nonprofits using Facebook Groups to organize at scale.”
Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, based in the UK, observed, “We may become more mindful of decentralisation and distribution in tech devices and infrastructure. That’s not to say that it’s better than centralised intelligence models, but with the focus centered on clouds, AI systems and tools such as contact-tracing apps the presumption toward centralisation has been too strong. With the death of centralised social media, the discourse will become even more broken for a while until we find new ways to communicate and use media. I believe we can surmount that with a focus on building a humane society and an infrastructure that prioritises people and how we drive markets to do that over the type of market efficiency that drives profit decisions over our humanity. I’m not saying this as anti-market, rather I think markets have become obsessed with internal-facing restructuring for efficiencies for investment (e.g., securitisation of debt) and market growth without considering other things because they were deemed ‘costly.’ I hope we reevaluate this. The ‘innovator’ narrative has run its course and has been proven to be both a myth and a hazard for how we value innovation. Please let’s kill that noble inventor image and return to how we saw Gates and Microsoft in the 1990s and IBM in the 1980s. Then we may better scrutinise them and how they conduct business.”
Joan Francesc Gras, an architect of XTEC active in ICANN, wrote, “COVID has begun to relieve public fears of going all-in on the habitual use of technologies. Digital transformation has accelerated all sectors. Society has suddenly been virtualized, technology companies – now emerging even more as absolute economic leaders – have conquered the top of the mountain. We have been reminded that you can pay with your smartphone nearly everywhere and that we can avoid expensive and polluting train and plane trips to meet for a few hours. Science and technology are at the center of global competitiveness and security. If this situation gives a successful boost to cryptocurrencies, the future of large banks will also change. We will have more inequality and more poverty. Social and economic outcomes will depend upon the correct setting of the world’s priorities. A more humane economy will give better results. Maybe it is necessary to NOT return to normality and instead do things differently. Let’s change the world then!”
Anne Collier, editor of Net Family News and founder of The Net Safety Collaborative, responded, “I hope to see real momentum in the platform cooperativism movement – and of course more funding, legal support and success for platform cooperatives – which I see as the sequel to ‘the sharing economy’ that was actually on the trajectory of worker exploitation in the pre-COVID-19 economic reality in the U.S. As tragic as the pandemic has been for so many people, health-wise and economically, it may have had the positive effect of shaking us off a trajectory of income disparity and planet degradation as well data exploitation, which platform cooperativism eschews, with its aim of giving participants/members ownership of their data and their businesses.”
The quality of life will improve
A portion of these experts argued there will be beneficial externalities to the changes spawned by COVID-19 in the coming years. For instance, some argue the transition to home-based work will reduce urban air pollution, overcrowding and transportation gridlock and will improve quality of life, family life, accommodations for disabilities and other human-centered enhancements.
Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and former special assistant in the Obama White House for science, technology and innovation policy, said, “Like clean water, functioning public health infrastructure and stable electricity, world-class internet access – persistent, cheap, ubiquitous and symmetric – is clearly something everyone from every walk of life needs in order to thrive. Along with every other infrastructural/social values failure that has been made obvious, the COVID crisis has revealed just how inadequate the American ‘things could turn out great!’ approach to internet access continues to be. The status quo is clearly intolerable for great numbers of people. …
“Like many workers in the knowledge industry, I’m happy to be working remotely, on my own schedule, near my own kitchen. I recognize what a privilege it is to hold a job down in this fashion. I hope that remote work, remote health care and remote education remain key elements of most peoples’ lived experience; it would be good if people could work where they choose to live. I’m hopeful that non-tech, ‘we’re all in this together’ sympathies will expand, take hold and become part of the fabric of life in America in a way they have not been for decades. I recognize that this hope is unreasonable, but I still have it.”
Jay Owens, research director at pulsarplatform.com and author of HautePop, said, “The normalisation of working from home (broadband, video conferencing, collaboration tools) will create more flexible employment and offer some positives for workforce participation for mothers and people with disabilities. High-convenience online retail and delivery services will have negative consequences for urban space (see the collapse of the High Street) but some convenience benefits. We will be presented with a dazzling array of entertainment options, as some distraction from the collapse of a functioning public sector. Trends in place pre-COVID, such as the modal shift towards electric vehicles, will hopefully continue, with some positive environmental consequences. Consumer spending will tip towards investment in the home and domestic space, hopefully encouraging spending on energy-saving and green technologies such as home insulation, improved double glazing, solar panels, ground-source heat pumps and so on. The average person working from home may have reduced commute times and other positives for work-life balance. Some people may use this moment to be more engaged parents, with benefits for their own well-being as well as that of their children.”
Al Sisto, CEO at Tern PLC, wrote, “The new normal in 2025 will be at the intersection of the old normal and the shape of living during the lockdown of the COVID-19 crisis. For example, we are learning that many businesses can exist in a work-at-home structure and students can learn subject material in online classwork. As a result, 2025 will be less about efficient rapid transit, affordable housing and school districts, and more about quality of life. As a result, current urban planning strategies are defunct. We will also see the application of technology to restructure retail, services and manufacturing. As we are now learning, offshoring has created a huge national risk. People were hungry for more forms of human interaction during the crisis – as demonstrated by the crowding of parks, beaches and restaurants when the lockdown was cut back in 2020’s early summer – are key indicators that online shopping and grab-and-go orders do not completely satisfy human needs. Main Street storefronts and restaurants operating in 2025 will have learned to create atmospheres and service levels available today in only the most exclusive establishments. Education will need to reembrace the arts and athletics as key instruction for developing individual definitions and concepts of teamwork. I believe technology will enhance the renewed adoption of these practices, as we are learning that a browser-based experience is as fulfilling as an impersonal interaction at a brick-and-mortar establishment.”
Chris Arkenberg, research manager at Deloitte’s Center for Technology, Media and Telecommunications, responded, “At the human level, more jobs will emerge on top of the next wave of technological transformation. The internet has created entirely new jobs, as have cloud and mobile. Likewise, 1o years ago there wasn’t even language to describe a social media influencer or professional esports player. As the human population grows, innovations will come along to yoke their labor to productivity.”
Adam Sah, an investor and adviser to startups who previously worked at Google’s Public Sector Engineering Group, predicted, “Life will be better for some people (‘digital winners’). … Improvements include flexible work schedules and locations, which make it (potentially) easier to interweave professional and personal lives. Post-COVID, people won’t freak if your kid screams in the background or there’s honking from the NYC street. Self-driving vehicles are a clear-cut improvement for the majority of people, who overwhelm the ranks of livery drivers who need to find another gig job. Improved treatment options are pretty clear-cut wins. As much as people love to hate it, Western health care is actually nicely optimized. What it lacks is a spokesperson to post on social media every time someone has a good health care outcome that was only made possible by recent technology advances.”
Leiska Evanson, futurist and consultant, disagreed about telework gaining significant ground, writing, “Remote work will not become mainstream. Most management is learned physically – years of playing on the playground, leading a sports or debate team, heading a volunteer club or doing education/personal projects. Most of humanity is built on close physical ties – family, friends, neighbourhoods, tribes, towns, cities, countries. Undoing centuries of human relationship and business practice is simply not feasible over five years. Furthermore, technology services in companies are currently stretched thin providing and assisting users remotely; chief information security officers will most likely centralise services once more with company computers and use only company networks.”
Anne Collier, editor of Net Family News and founder of The Net Safety Collaborative, observed, “Disruption and the loss of ‘normalcy’ gives us pause and compels us to look around and see where we are. I suspect that all this tech use – for social connection, school, work, entertainment, shopping – in the middle of an extended techno-panic (or a tech-focused moral panic) is helping us be more nuanced about technology’s effects. It’s no longer binary: good or bad for us; nor, as tech historian Melvin Kranzberg said, is it neutral. It’s a spectrum. It’s complicated. And it’s just here. So, what are we going to do with that? That’s the approach that the most ‘calm and confident’ parents interviewed by the authors of the new book ‘Parenting for a Digital Future’ took. … As for the ‘new normal’ and what it will look like in 2025 where tech is concerned:
- There will be pretty solid consensus in many societies that ‘screen time’ is a useful term. Parents, pediatricians, mental health practitioners and others who work with children will be asking about the types and contexts (home, school, social) of screen use and looking at it in the context of children’s fundamental needs: a healthy diet, physical activity, social activity and sufficient sleep.
- ‘Screens’ will be even more part of formal education, and digital inclusion/access will be a key part of societies’ social justice discussions.
- School schedules, like work ones, will be more flexible, and ‘work at home’ will be commonplace for people of all ages, so;
- even U.S. society will be well down the road of figuring out how to make child care available to parents in all income brackets.”
An anthropologist and writer noted, “What will have changed the most is our sense of being a part of a community greater than where we live or work. The pandemic reminds us that we are affected by the decisions and actions of those far away from us physically, those whom we can now reach much easier than we could 100 years ago. I think global conversations among the average person in the Millennial and Generation Y cohorts will become the ‘new normal’ as will wider efforts at cooperation beyond government-initiated cooperation.
“What will have not changed much at all? The percentage of people in my country – the United States – who resist any sort of change at all, and who resist cooperation for whatever reason: sexism, racism, an ego-driven definition of what liberty and freedom are. They will still be there, firmly rooted and a constant challenge to every bit of change (good and bad) in the years between 2020 and 2025. Perhaps even on a level that involves violence.
“As far as technology is concerned, I think the new normal will include a better understanding of and strategies for dealing with the isolation and vulnerability of elders and those living alone via technology. I think we will also see an advancement in VR technology and encouragement to explore the world that way. In fact, previously crowded tourist and other destinations may cap the number of attendees, much like some natural spaces already do, daily and work to offer VR alternatives for those who can’t travel, for education and for those locked out of attendance because of the capping of crowds.
“I think we’ll see an even greater push for access to health care, perhaps an understanding that health care costs can be out of reach even for our doctors and nurses. There will be a growing focus on the health care needs of families dealing with age-related dementia, which will bring an even greater focus on all aspects of mental health care and the burden to which families (and women) supplement health care for the elderly. I believe we might find ourselves doing a fair bit more of community and social sharing and trading via technology as the requisite part of being in a community. For example, the sharing of talent to help parents entertain and educate children when needed. We’ll also see a greater intrusion of technology into our private lives as not everyone has a way to stage where they engage in video conferencing [and] as it becomes a norm for everything from work, to family gatherings, to hobby and trade meetings and events.
“I hope technology increases each individual person’s reach to community and support – that it decreases isolation and that it provides access to collaboration in areas that might have been out of reach for some. I worry that the digital divide will only get bigger, not smaller. Companies still have too much power over the most basic element of access to online technologies – even in fairly populated areas it can be impossible to get anything more than a cellular-hotspot internet connection, while others are zooming along via broadband. This can have enormous implications when it comes to equity in education, but it also limits us having a shared culture, shared sources of news and entertainment, and can limit basic needs – like telemedicine and online ordering of groceries.”
Peter Levine, professor of citizenship and public affairs at Tufts University, predicted, “People who are able to return to pre-pandemic modes of working and socializing will mostly do so. Based on the experience of 1918-1919, I don’t expect people to change their preferred ways of communicating and associating much. But I do fear that a range of companies and associations may go bankrupt, leaving people without the same opportunities. Among the entities that may be most at risk are metropolitan daily newspapers, mass transit systems, and small-scale bricks-and-mortar retail.”
Eric Knorr, pioneering technology journalist and editor in chief of IDG, commented, “My hope is that the current disastrous response to the pandemic will induce a permanent political change, giving rise to a global society where science is embraced, common interests are recognized and demagoguery is exposed and rejected.”
Joel Arthur Barker, futurist, lecturer and author, noted, “I chose ‘mostly better’ with some assumptions. 1) A vaccine will have been found and distributed at no cost for COVID-19 and a more generalized vaccine for new viruses. The key is ‘no cost’ because the cost of not having people vaccinated is much higher. 2) The world has begun spending large amounts of money to slow down climate overheating. This spending will increase good paying jobs around the world even as it begins to draw down the CO2 in the air. Also, carbon will be captured from the CO2 and used to make all sorts of carbon products, especially graphene and graphene derivatives which will sequester the CO2 in useful and long-lived ways. The money needed to pay for these things will come from the world’s military budget because the world will have decided that that is the greatest threat to humanity and Gaia.”
Deirdre Williams, an independent researcher expert in global technology policy, responded, “I prefer using the term ‘now normal.” Normal is always a standard, although it may change over time. The standard now is probably not the standard that will be ‘normal’ in 2025. The virus appears to be carrying out a ruthless pruning process that may affect world demographics and may also change global priorities for the investment of resources. The ‘average person in 2025’ will probably have a more convenient but less private life. The virus reminds us that there is such a thing as ‘too big,’ so I think big cities, big political groupings, will begin to break down into many smaller but networked units. I hope for an improved awareness at ‘average person’ level that will lead to a similar breakup of big businesses – multinational corporations – but I am more pessimistic about this. I would make Forster’s ‘The Machine Stops’ required reading in all schools. I hope for more government transactions being available online – a reduction in queueing, chasing papers, driving, wasting time – but this will probably take more than five years.
“I’ve observed beneficial changes over 50 years, but five years may be a bit too short for this one. For example – when I first moved to Saint Lucia in 1972, everyone’s driving license needed renewal in January. There was only one place this could be done, and there were long, long queues in the hot sun. Staggering the due dates helped a lot. Now, the queue is shorter and it is indoors in an air-conditioned building. You still need to go to two places, but they are both in the same building. One is to submit the forms, and one to pay. This process is being digitized. My worry is the opportunities governments and corporations have to manipulate and indoctrinate the ‘average citizen.’ Perhaps we should add Huxley’s ‘BraveNewWorld’ to the reading list. The proliferation of new projects, initiatives, platforms. Divide and rule?”
Mike Sellers, director of the game design program at Indiana University and an AI researcher and consultant, said, “In particular I believe the following will see marked, nonlinear improvement over the next few years: more universal access to health care; more equitable funding and incentives for education; better work-life balance (including but not limited to more work-from-home situations); and continued acceleration of adoption of renewable energy sources (wind and solar in particular). One big unknown is the near future of transportation; are we able to get to Level 5 self-driving cars? If so, this will make for great economic upheaval (e.g., loss of truck-driving jobs), but it will also do a lot to relieve existing sprawl, as the ‘live in the suburbs, work in the city’ model may finally be dethroned in favor of more, smaller economic centers.”
Robert W. Ferguson, a hardware robotics engineer at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, wrote, “We will see renewed interest and support for public health, for public health policy and for universal health care. Companies will require vaccination records for employment. There will also be additional recognition of the need for a new policy on climate change. Everyone living in a city saw how much cleaner the air was during April-May when fewer automobiles were on the road. Many discovered that it is possible to work remotely much of the time. There is still value in casual conversation in the workplace. One needs a chance to mull over an idea with a colleague. Perhaps we will learn to be more cautious about conclusions from machine learning. Causal analysis has already demonstrated our ability to extend philosophy of science. It also forces the researcher to make explicit about the way in which he considered the problem. Unsupervised machine learning, on the other hand, is still fundamentally flawed. The data contains biases, so we have discovered a pattern that suffers from what Rene Descartes said: ‘We do not describe the world we see. We see the world we can describe.’ The data is sampled based on the pattern set by the data collectors. They are simply unaware of their own biases. Unsupervised machine learning is generally malfeasance and bad practice.”
Thomas Birkland, professor of public and international affairs at North Carolina State University, predicted, “What is not going to change, I think, is the way in which we value human connectedness and the need for us to be physically among other people. Once this pandemic passes we will be able to gather in groups again, at sporting events, conferences, in bars and night clubs, at concert venues, and we are going to notice how deeply good this feels, and how we don’t want to lose this again. But while the pandemic is happening, people are learning how to use technology to at least partially fill this void, and people are going to learn that they like some of these tools. It’s a pity that it took a pandemic to teach these lessons.”
Sean Munson, professor of human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington, said, “In general, we will give more care and intention to when we gather in person versus when people are remote, so that companies and other organizations can be more person-friendly.”
Mark Maben, a general manager at Seton Hall University, commented, “Post-pandemic, we will live in a much more digital and technological world than we did on Jan. 1, 2020. This will be true in every country across the globe. In the United States, the technological impact of the ‘new normal’ will be seen in two profound ways in which the pandemic will reshape America by 2025: through an increase in remote work and a decline in employer-based health insurance. The massive unemployment caused by COVID-19 has finally awakened a critical mass of Americans to weaknesses inherent in a health insurance system that is dependent on employment. Simultaneously, the pandemic has also helped telemedicine flourish. The benefits of telehealth during COVID-19 will drive the creation of a form of health care and health insurance that isn’t employer-based and relies heavily on technology to control costs. Whether this will be a public or private form of health care/health insurance will depend on a number of factors, but the need for such an alternative has never been clearer to consumers and policymakers alike. Released from the bonds of employer-based health insurance, individuals will be better positioned to flourish as entrepreneurs, small-business creators or independent workers.
“The pandemic has also accelerated the switch to remote work and helped dispel the notion that people are less productive when they work from home. The improved worker productivity that many businesses have seen during the outbreak, coupled with the improvement to the bottom line that comes from having a smaller facilities footprint, means companies will be adopting policies that encourage work from home on either a flexible or full-time basis. Small businesses will be changing, too. Curbside pickup from local shops will continue after the pandemic. While companies like Staples, Amazon and Kroger will utilize autonomous vehicles for contactless delivery of household and business supplies, so too will small businesses use technology to alter the way they deliver goods and services. There is always a dark side to digital technology, but the pandemic is giving us a once in a 100-year opportunity to reshape market capitalism into something more responsive to the needs of workers and our society. Our current reawakening on social justice, economic inequality and the need for a more activist government will help drive digital technology to uses that benefit most people.”
Joseph A. Konstan, distinguished professor in the department of computer science and engineering at the University of Minnesota, said, “We’re going to see at least two big changes as we move to a new normal: 1) A rethinking of the benefits of, drawbacks to and alternatives to physical presence. This could lead to greater options for remote work, greater empowerment (and job-to-job mobility) for workers, new models of education, less business travel and – possibly as a result – fairer hiring practices as well (less discrimination based on appearance and against those with mobility limits or no caregivers). I have some hope that even as travel for leisure increases, total travel may not, with positive environmental impacts. 2) Sustained awareness of, and I hope action to rectify, racial and ethnic discrimination. Technology use is central here. There are many other things to be aware of, the lack of ‘off’ time being one, surveillance being another.”
Scott Santens, professional writer and full-time advocate of unconditional basic income (UBI), observed, “We haven’t adopted universal basic income yet, and technology is continuing to cause people more economic insecurity and distress instead of liberating them with more access to resources and more time to access those resources. In order to escape the economic ramifications of the novel coronavirus crisis, we will have to implement some form of basic income guarantee, and also move to shorter working weeks, most likely in the form of a four-day week. These changes will themselves lead to a lot of other positive changes. People will have more power, more freedom and more time. Due to being trusted more, they will also have more trust in institutions, and each other. UBI and shorter weeks will also lead to a redefinition of the inherent value of work, and thus people will be reoriented more around spending time with friends and family and letting automation do more of the work. There will be less time spent traveling to and from places of employment, and more time spent working at home, doing both paid and unpaid work, and also more time spent enjoying life. We’ll also see less depression and better health due to greatly reduced economic insecurity and increased social cohesion. I hope technology will be seen as something that should be making everyone better off, not just some people, and that, as a result, the paychecks not being provided to machines will instead be provided to every citizen in the form of universal basic income. I also hope that we have come to see our data as ours, and thus everyone starts getting paid for their data.”
Yves Mathieu, co-director at Missions Publiques, based in Paris, wrote, “For the average person in 2025 it will be normal to conduct social relationships online. Real meetings will receive a higher social value. People will focus on relationships that matter. Being together will be more appreciated. Personal risk management will be different; people will be more informed about risks and will accept physical distancing. The use of technologies other than the telephone to keep in contact will be more common. Online medicine will be practiced more on a global scale. It will be possible for a U.S. resident to consult a physician in Asia, for example. I hope that individual technologies for personal health monitoring will be cheap and widely used to allow a more efficient practice of medicine at a much lower cost. I hope refugees will be equipped with devices that will give them more protection against criminal organisations, more connection with ‘guardian angels’ and much higher chances of survival. I hope that all over the globe people will have their life spans extended by 10+ years due to better information about the quality of their food thanks to technologies. I hope voting will be easier for all, so the level of participation to elections and public decision-making will reach 90+% of voters. I worry about the global ignorance about what is done with individuals’ digital data and the high level of tech illiteracy.”
Doris Marie Provine, emeritus professor of justice and social inquiry at Arizona State University, said, “Competition with China may encourage Americans to think more about what it means to be an American – especially the balance between government and the private sector. For national security, I’d like to see strong investment in tech in the U.S. compete successfully with more control-based economies. How to preserve innovation while doing a better job of protecting Americans from harm will be a big question that is finally coming into focus. With Black Lives Matter and associated movements, we will also be thinking more about membership and exclusion and disadvantage. Technology can demonstrate the realities of inequality, but without strong political commitment, nothing will change; digital tools may assist in this examination.
“The new normal will also have more room for technological solutions to problems of getting together. Hopefully, there will be less business travel and more Zoom meetings. I don’t see a permanent online move for primary and secondary schools, but the trend at colleges and universities has been in this direction for some time. It’s cheaper and solves space limitations. I hope to see more work-from-home businesses and more laddered workday start and finish times to relieve the crowded roads and the resulting assault on the natural environment. I’d like to see shorter workdays and workweeks, with a growth of interest in physical self-improvement and caring for each other and animals and plants. At a cultural level, these technologies of working from home may make kids more reluctant to act out in adolescent ways. There will be lots more college-aged kids living at home, with working parents, and maybe live-in grandparents (since nursing homes and assisted living are going to be less sought after). That intergenerational mix and the economic situation may drive our young people in a more responsible direction. At the same time, youth has a lot to say to the older generation on inclusion of all stripes, so there should be a good give-and-take that will affect political choices on all sides.”
Warren Yoder, longtime director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, now an executive coach, responded, “I expect a resurgence of trust in life sciences with a successful COVID-19 vaccine. I expect that there is some serious grappling with the future of AI now that we are past its hype cycle and into a dawning realization of the things it can and cannot do. And I hope for a genuine reworking of the social contract to restore respect for labor (broadly defined) and increase its share of the economic and cultural wealth we produce together. I hope some degenerative diseases start to yield to the life sciences: cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes. There are large groups of people denied full lives by chronic disease. With scientific advances, useful technology would become quickly possible. So much of human life is a struggle that could be made substantially easier. I hope augmentation tech moves from the experimental to common and affordable: smart glasses that work for sight-impaired people, brain stimulation for epilepsy, exoskeletons for manual workers, assistants for the elderly. I hope for new approaches to artificial intelligence. We seem to be stuck with the same techniques in machine learning, natural language processing, pattern recognition. Let’s think more deeply about using the edges to inform the graph. Or embodied computing. Or think about how computation-built environments work and might be improved (think about the contemporary monetary/banking system as an example).”
Willie Currie, who became known globally as an active leader with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, observed, “My life under lockdown in South Africa is entirely governed by access to mobile and fiber broadband. I do executive coaching on Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp. I order food, things and entertainment online. I do Pilates online. I’m learning to play the piano online. I’m marketing a book online. Last week I facilitated a workshop online. I no longer fly. Driving a car is minimal. I’m unlikely to return to the real world to do these things as a matter of normality. Going out for any of these things is likely to be the exception rather than the norm. I expect this will be what it is like in 2025.”
Nigel Cameron, president emeritus at the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies, predicted, “Business travel will drop 50%+ long-term, with a huge impact on airlines and hotels and big impact on the conference industry (I suspect that will shrivel by more than half, it’s an industry that’s been ripe for disruptive innovation for many years). There will be big environmental benefits, of course, but this will be a disaster for many workers in these sectors. Teleworking will be a standard option in many businesses, government departments and so on. Hybrid tele/office working will be common as we learn what has and has not worked during the Great COVID-19 Experiment. Workers gain social benefits of course, but this also leads to potential big savings for employers. One development I’ve expected for years is the formal expansion of coffee houses into teleworking centers – Starbucks putting in printers and video-conference rooms, for example, creating halfway houses between home and office.
“In education, I suspect there are big potential savings out there, and the possibility of enhanced experience if hybrid models emerge for secondary and postsecondary students – say two days a week on campus, three days at home, with master-teachers in massively open online courses (MOOCs) delivering big slices of the curriculum. The experiences of Los Angeles and San Diego school districts and other major education departments will likely lead to radical changes, especially as there are big potential cost savings. Schools’ physical footprints can be halved, there will be fewer teachers needed and I expect big moves into this space by tech companies. Also, pandemic preparedness will finally be taken seriously at many levels, and many of us will keep wearing masks when we travel. With greater dependence on digital provision I suspect privacy concerns will, as it were, be mainstreamed and lead to big shifts in the way data is handled, though this could move the other way as people care less. This crisis may be what was needed for [MOOCs] to take off for high schoolers and college students, and for lifelong learning. Also, I suspect many of us will continue to have groceries delivered, as sophisticated ordering systems are rolled out by every supermarket chain and other suppliers.”
Garland McCoy, president at the Technology Education Institute, responded, “I think life will become much better in the future because of technology. It will challenge humans. Humans need challenges, they need to fix things, they need to be busy in ways that accomplish useful outcomes. I believe there is a learning process that seems to have helped humans adapt and change in mostly positive ways. So, I will press ahead with my optimism and look for a future where we will have learned from both the medical and social challenges we are currently facing. That being said, we are quickly approaching the world population tipping point where the UN and other scholarly entities see an extension of what has been unfolding in Japan, Russia and Europe (regardless of the immigration waves). A fundamental transformation will need to take place as consumption of resources and consumer-driven economies will be challenged. We will be seeing the beginning of this in 2025. We have never experienced the precipitous decline in human population, and it will shake society to the core – I know, where is the optimism in this?”
Valerie Bock, lead at VCB Consulting and former technical services lead at Q2 Learning, said, “I expect a ‘new normal’ for office workers will involve only part-time commuting to an office. I hope this will not mean a complete abandonment of face-to-face team gatherings, because it really does matter that people gather in full bandwidth in situations that allow for casual chit-chat before and after formal gatherings. The importance of quality child care and quality child education will have been driven home to fathers and mothers forced into the emergency no-care/home-school scenario. Having been exposed to the worst-case online learning scenario, parents will be skeptical about signing kids up for online educational experiences. This is a shame, since excellent online learning programming does exist. But it’s best used in concert with high-quality in-person tutoring, which even the most dedicated parent struggles to balance against their own job responsibilities. Telehealth should also become much more widespread, fulfilling its promise now that health care insurance companies will pay providers for offering it. The option of not dragging one’s sorry sick self to the doctor’s office to infect everybody there will be a major increase in quality of life for all concerned, but especially for those in underserved rural areas.”
Dmitri Williams, a communications professor at the University of Southern California expert in technology and society, wrote, “Technology is a disruptor, and the pandemic is accelerating its power in several areas in ways we can see and others that will become clearer later. Work-from-remote is the obvious one. This may lead to efficiency, social distance in a bad way and perhaps to some new setting of priorities. Getting Americans out of cars is likely to be a net positive, while jobs lost to automation will be a net negative. Education was ripe for disruption, and in fall of 2020 we will see a large shift in how universities and colleges grapple with their roles and how people see them. I expect a lot of smaller colleges to fail and top-tier ones to survive, but the net effect may be more access to more information by more people in the long run, and that’s a good thing. Our general reliance on digital tools for socialization has been in overdrive during lockdowns, and I hope it’s shown the importance of physical presence. We miss each other! When we can reconnect, I hope we’ll have learned something about this, though convenience and shallow relationships will still play an outsized and harmful role. Our well-being has suffered in the crisis. Here’s hoping we learn from all of this and emerge with a commitment to valuing healthy lives over just having more apps. Technology should free up our time for things that matter. Getting out of cars would be a huge boon for our well-being, our free time, the safety of our neighborhoods and the cleanliness of our air. If telework allows more of us to use that new time for things that contribute to community and our social lives, that will be a big upside. If it’s merely more working hours to squeeze out of the middle and lower classes, it will set the stage for upheaval.”
Neil Davies, co-founder of Predictable Network Solutions and a pioneer of the committee that oversaw the UK’s initial networking developments, commented, “I expect less ‘forced travel’ to work (cubical farms) and fewer low-value, face-to-face meetings, the hope being that a broader assessment of true opportunity costs – not just money – will have started to become the norm. The hope is that the bravado and ego posturing often present in the pre-COVID meeting culture is, rightly, contained and that respect for such things as supporting family, engaging in nonwork pursuits, improved attitudes to racism, sexism, etc., bear some fruit. I expect the rise of a reflective approach to life, which will be necessary because of climate emergency issues.”
Gary L. Kreps, distinguished professor of communication and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University, responded, “As dependence on the use of digital communication technologies increases due to the pandemic, it will force greater investments into building our digital infrastructure, technologies and programs, providing new and improved ways to use digital tools to achieve goals. It will increase opportunities for interactions and collaborations between people and improve access to relevant news and information. It will also improve access to needed social support. The public is becoming increasingly dependent on technology and technology companies, so any disruption in digital services can block achievement of important tasks and goals. I hope digital services companies will be responsive to needs.”
Moira de Roche, chair of IFIP IP3, predicted, “The new normal will be much more flexible, technology-enabled working environments. Individuals will use a variety of devices to interact and do work. Technology will be a must-have, not a nice-to-have. Individuals need to exercise a duty of care to keep themselves safe when using technology. Everyone needs 21st-century digital skills, especially a knowledge of privacy and security. Access to medical care will improve due to online services being provided – these must be responsive so that they can easily be accessed from mobile devices. Data prices will come down. Employment opportunities will be available everywhere, no longer bounded by geographical locations, however, this will change our view of employment security as many more people will be freelance and have to take care of their own medical insurance, retirement funds and savings for bad times. The way employment is viewed will be quite different. Daily routines will mostly be affected for the better, as people will not have to commute to their workplaces every day, reducing stress and allowing individuals to work to their own patterns (early start, late start, etc.). My hopes are for improved data access and lower costs with 5G and beyond, improved access to learning opportunities and a restriction in the need to attend school or university, with a concomitant leveling of the playing field as access to quality education will not be dependent on socioeconomic factors.”
Fernando Barrio, a lecturer in business law at Queen Mary University of London expert in AI and human rights, said, “The increasing use of digital technologies in agriculture and food production would allow a more sustainable increase in the volume of food produced in a context of population growth and environmental protection. The expansion of smart farming can result in more and better food while using less arable land. The combination of smart farming with urban farming can also increase production while reducing the CO2 produced by food transport.”
Kevin T. Leicht, professor and head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, wrote, “My biggest hope (and that is really all it is) is that technology-related changes will be used to reduce inequality and advance the dignity of every human being. For example, it should become very difficult to hide and launder money and avoid taxes. It should become very difficult to engage in off-the-books employment of unskilled people, paying them less than minimum wages and violating safety, wage and hours laws. It should be possible to deliver basic health care any place that can get an internet connection. It should be possible for governments to make royalties from the scientific innovations they start via funding from public agencies. There are a lot of ‘shoulds’ here of course. These are hopes.”
An anonymous respondent commented, “In my most hopeful moments, I wish for the development of algorithmic systems that are capable of, and worthy of, the trust we would have to place in them, for us to rely upon the advice, recommendations, warnings and guidance about the choices we face in the short and long terms. These trusted systems would course have to be ‘smart,’ but they would also have to have developed a capacity for understanding the moral and ethical systems of value that each of us have developed (or are developing) for ourselves. These systems would have to be strictly constrained against sharing information and inferences that they have developed in order to serve our interests with others that we have not specifically granted access to information (and inferences) about us, our status, our goals, our strengths, our weaknesses, etc. We will continue to be assessed by other algorithmic systems, but I am only referring to those systems with which we establish a relationship specifically for the purpose of gaining insights/guidance about how we should proceed toward the future.”
Gary M. Grossman, associate director in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, responded, “My hope is that information technology will force the transparency necessary to bring about global change rapidly. This will not be automatic nor absent a share of conflict. However, while the path will not be straight, it will tend toward positive directions for democracy. Indeed, it already has. Much more is to come. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the extent to which the ‘old normal’ reflected a world full of nations with much less capacity than was reasonable to expect. Even authoritarian regimes, presumably with their governing rationale of being powerful enough to solve problems, have shown very clearly their social, political and economic bankruptcy. New forms of governance are needed and there can be no doubt as to this because we have arrived at a point, thanks to technology, where secrets are no longer possible to keep. This alone will be progress. The ‘new normal’ of 2025 will look different in many ways from 2020, and we will be on the road to many new institutional forms. Technology companies are currently operating in a ‘Wild West’ type of environment. This cannot and will not last. Life will stabilize and new patterns will emerge, as has happened in every period of human social evolution. Further, centers of power are too decentralized for any one platform or interest to prevail globally. I consider this to be a good thing.”
David Karger, professor at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, observed, “Rapid technological progress has created many opportunities to do things differently from the past, but we creatures of habit have often stuck to the old ways. The pandemic has forced us to change, broken us of our old habits and helped us realize the benefits of new approaches. We’ll see far more working from home, shopping from home and learning from home. In academia, we’ve talked for years about moving our conferences online ‘someday.’ That day is here; it’s hard to justify burning carbon for thousands of people to travel thousands of miles just because it’s more fun to grab drinks together in person. We’re making strides in infrastructure for online learning in fall 2020; that infrastructure will remain even when the pandemic is over. In knowledge work, work-from-home won’t be universal (many people need a better environment than they can find at home), but it will be common. I expect many companies to evolve towards time-shared spaces for employees who only come in a couple of days per week. We might even see two companies sharing real estate, so one company can be onsite Monday-Tuesday and another Wednesday-Friday. The move towards online encounters has certainly highlighted the limitations of existing technology, and I expect a huge burst of activity and progress in VR/AR, not to create fantasy landscapes but simply to create a full illusion of presence in online meetings. The main remaining reason for in-person encounters is social. I expect activity in cities will evolve away from business and productivity – much of which can happen online – and more towards leisure activities.”
Chris Caine, president and founder of Mercator XXI, previously with IBM for 25 years, predicted, “Business models will be changed significantly. People will be more socially conscious of our interdependencies with each other. Government will address gaps in the social and economic supply chains that the pandemic revealed. And a new focus, appreciation for and investment in health care and scientific research will come forward to help prevent future impacts of virus-like pandemics. Public sector management practices will be different and more real-time. We will develop a more mature and complete understanding of the power of new technologies (i.e., AI, machine learning, remote sensing) as well as of the risks to society and individuals. We will improve life because new, civilized protocols will be created to govern behavior that aligns with societies’ civil norms. These protocols will allow new technologies to be applied to aspects of our lives that will reveal the power of having more information upon which to make more real-time, informed decisions and the accountability that vastly increased transparency will bring with it.”
Dan S. Wallach, a professor in the systems group at Rice University’s Department of Computer Science, wrote, “By 2025, I expect that the population will be immunized against COVID-19, and we’ll certainly be capable of resuming the ‘old’ normal, if that’s what we want. What will change in the meanwhile is that we’re (by necessity) getting much better at distance working and learning, meaning we’ll be able to get together in person because we want to, rather than because it’s the default. Just considering ‘work from home,’ it’s easy to see a sea change in people working where they live versus where they work. There’s no need to physically be in Silicon Valley to do a wide variety of software development tasks, nor to physically be in New York to do a wide variety of financial tasks. As with too many other things, there’s going to be something of a divide between poor and rich workers. A low-income professional doesn’t just need the right credentials and clothes to get hired. They need the right sort of home-office environment. This suggests a market opportunity for ‘hot desking’ services, where you rent a 10×10 foot cubicle with a decent network and computing facilities. If done right, this could be pretty cool. Imagine all-in-one services where you’ve got daycare adjacent to an office facility. If a substantial fraction of office work shifts from in-person to remote, that will have a variety of downstream impacts. There will be less commuting, less pollution and less air travel for business meetings. That also means more development in suburbia and less development in downtown areas.
“On the flip side, what we’re almost certainly figuring out right now are the limits of work-from-home, especially in K-12 and higher education. Everybody who thought that online education would render the traditional university obsolete is now observing what that would be like, and so far, it’s not looking very attractive. For similar reasons, work-from-home will inevitably hit its own limitations. William Gibson famously said (in 2003) that ‘the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.’ To that end, we can look at what’s really expensive or exotic today and assume that such things will become cheaper and more widespread. That’s likely to include things like faster residential broadband. Similarly, you can look at home health-measuring smartwatches. Today, at the high end, you get heart rate measurement, including abnormality detection, blood oxygen saturation and a variety of AI-driven features on top of that (sports activity measurement, sleep cycle measurement, etc.). That sort of thing will become much more present. It’s also easy to predict electric cars and solar panels becoming cheaper and more popular. All of these changes plus the broader adoption of work-from-home will have real impacts on fossil fuel usage and thus impacts on pollution, although the bigger impacts will be well beyond 2025.”
David Cake, an active leader of ICANN’s Non-Commercial Users Constituency, said, “I expect long-term changes of more flexible working hours and conditions, reduced commuting, climate-change improvements and increased health, hopefully leading to improved physical well-being for many. These will be balanced by increased workplace surveillance by other means than the physical, less employment security and serious risks of physical and emotional conditions made worse by lack of regular contact, so the amount of improvement in the average person’s life will depend on government and employers’ choices about how to balance more flexible options with a changed range of services that are important to offer. Full acceptance of the practicality of virtual workplaces in industries that had not previously considered it will change established norms in many industries that had previously taken a physical workplace as a necessity, and full acceptance of it should force workplaces to properly deal with issues like disability, family care responsibilities, costs of commuting, the downsides of urban centralisation and many other problematic issues. For many workers who are essentially knowledge workers, this increased flexibility, total or partial, will improve quality of life significantly.”
AI, VR, AR, ML will yield good
While many experts worry about the trajectory of technological change and the implications for the power of tech firms and privacy, a portion of them noted there could be any number of improvements in the human condition thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, deep learning, machine learning and natural language processing. Among other things, many believe the changes in sophisticated technology will make virtual spaces feel much more real, in-person and authentic.
Jeff Johnson, a professor of computer science at the University of San Francisco who previously worked at Xerox, HP Labs and Sun Microsystems, predicted, “I hope better speech recognition, automatic translation, captioning, autocorrect, etc., will have many useful applications. Better (lighter, longer-lived, smaller) batteries will improve many existing devices and enable many new ones. More ubiquitous Wi-Fi will mean more universal internet connectivity, which will be a positive development. More universal internet connectivity will make it possible to find devices, possibly making theft (and even kidnapping) a thing of the past. And, in the right hands, drones have a variety of applications that could really improve society. I worry that tech companies will continue to exploit human psychological weaknesses, e.g., promoting addiction to mobile phones and social networks, thereby distracting people from leading productive, useful lives. And that, in the wrong hands, drones have a variety of nefarious applications that could really damage society.”
Henry E. Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, responded, “Here are some of the possible uses of emerging technologies: Better and more immersive online communications technologies. Better ways to use technology where it can be useful and to have ‘in-person’ (perhaps over the internet) one-on-one interactions. Better health-monitoring devices and ways they can be made useful to individuals and to public health authorities (the latter requires dealing with the vexing issues of privacy). Better ways to distribute goods using technology. Driverless delivery vehicles. Online supermarket shopping that ‘feels like’ going down the aisles of a grocery store and that is linked to an automated packaging and delivery system. Better ways to deliver services – this may be the hardest to improve. I am very worried, however, that some of these might also destroy jobs and thereby increase inequality. … I am worried about algorithmic fairness, and I think that serious questions have to be raised about who owns all of the technology that will be created. One version of this problem is ‘who owns social media data?’ but an emerging one is ‘who owns the robots and driverless cars?’ The average citizen needs to have some ownership over this capital if we are to have an equitable and fair society. I am also worried about the threats to privacy from all of the data that can be used and combined. On the one hand, this allows us to manage problems better, but it also allows an authoritarian regime to ‘manage’ people in ways that are worrisome, as we are seeing in China.”
Jonathan Kolber, a member of the TechCast Global panel of forecasters and author of a book about the threats of automation, commented, “I expect that the emergence of quantum computing will make transactions more secure by 2025. This will notably affect financial activities and other transmissions of secure information and it will continue to proliferate thereafter. I also expect VR and AR to begin migrating into professional and educational areas. VR with zero latency, 4K visual acuity and comfortable headsets should be replacing in-person meetings. This will further accelerate the trends toward remote work collaboration which were already accelerated by COVID-19. The combination of zero-latency VR with quantum computing and AI should enable the generation of evolutionary ‘virtual worlds’ that conform to the laws of physics. Within such worlds, people will be able to create new kinds of societies, with realistic social and technological systems that evolve. Unlike existing societies, these will not be constrained by legacy systems, and may embody systems of sustainable technological abundance. The evolution will result from experiments within these ‘evolutionary societies,’ each of which will offer experiences and support values consensually supported by its participants. Over time, some such societies will become attractive enough that participants will begin the process of instantiation to the real world. In this way, Celebration Societies and other evolutionary societies will be born. Such design may even take the form of a contest or contests, with winners receiving actual land when their design is instantiated on uninhabited land, such as re-greened desert.”
Michael G. Dyer, a professor emeritus of computer science at UCLA expert in natural language processing, said, “Technology for improved virtual reality will also accelerate over the coming five years, but I do not see widespread use of the sensory suits, body motion sensors, 3D glasses, multimedia databases and network bandwidth that are needed for full 3D virtual experiences (which [will] not become more common until 10 years from now).”
A distinguished professor emeritus of engineering wrote, “I hope there will be innovations in tele-presence and multiparty interaction that make face-to-face meetings less important, but I’m skeptical. This need to see and touch each other is deep in our biology.”
A global intelligence expert observed, “My hopes lie in the application of AI, mostly in areas in which repetitive human action is required. Two examples come to mind: 1) The transportation application AI as an active partner in man-in-the-loop operators. Here is your AI executive assistant that observes the operator’s routine habits and errors and, from those two inputs and others, offers real-time advice to operators to aid in risk mitigation and accident avoidance. 2) More – much more – of what is already underway in medicine. Specifically, chart readers and radiologists should be on the verge of extinction because AI is better than humans; it filters out and eliminates that. This will assist in decreasing patient death. This is already happening.”
A journalist and industry analyst expert in AI ethics said, “Technologically, we’ll achieve things we never were able to do before, such as AI-brain connections, nanotechnologies, AR/VR/XR, autonomous robotics, etc. Could all of those things be used for good? Yes. But we must evolve our thinking if the good is to outweigh the bad. Until we value the right things (humanity as a whole and its well-being), technology cannot solve the world’s problems itself. It’s simply a tool. There’s a lot of room for innovation and creativity, and even more room for oppression until we change our thought patterns.”
Jon Lebkowsky, CEO, founder and digital strategist at Polycot Associates, noted, “It’s clear that virtual gathering has become the new normal, and I think that will stick, which means that platforms for meeting (e.g., Zoom, Google Meeting, Microsoft Teams) will continue to evolve and thrive and will be widely used.”
Alexandra Samuel, technology writer, researcher, speaker and regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review, predicted, “The shift towards remote work could and likely will inspire innovation in remote-collaboration and remote-work technologies, which is great. But what would be really transformative is a mental and behavioral shift in how people work with these technologies. The longer we’re at home, separated from our IT teams, the greater the pressure to develop individual competency when it comes to choosing and using digital tools. If home-based workers invest in the tech skills that make this possible (and if companies empower workers to make their own choices, rather than forcing them into a common, easier-to-surveil toolkit), the tech marketplace will be more sophisticated in another five years. More knowledgeable and sophisticated tech consumers will not only create a market for more advanced and sophisticated workplace tools, they may also create more demand, pressure and business opportunity for social and recreational platforms that offer choice instead of simply plug-and-play. Think: Video games that offer opportunities for co-creation or mixed-mode play because gamers are now more adept at customizing their game play, building their own mini-apps or stories within games, or simply setting up their consoles and game rooms so that streaming video or multi-screen play becomes a lot more feasible. Or think in terms of participatory theater and video projects that invite people to collaborate because it’s no longer so daunting to get on screen or run the controls for a live interactive event. Perhaps even imagine a world in which people feel so comfortable with tech configuration that they actually dig into the privacy settings of their social networking platforms, taking the steps to protect their individual privacy and thereby pushing the big social networking platforms towards a business model that doesn’t depend on unfettered access to user data.”
June Anne English-Lueck, professor of anthropology at San Jose State University and a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, commented, “For the global middle class, digital technologies will provide access to work, education, care and social connectivity. Robotic agriculture and other food-tech innovations will keep the supply chain working and reassure consumers about the ‘healthy hands’ that touch their food.”
Colin Allen, a cognitive scientist and philosopher who has studied and written about AI ethics, wrote, “I expect 1) Better virtual meeting spaces that will allow ‘free’ circulation of participants within a virtual space (already under development). 2) Zoom should zoom. What I mean by this is that there should be a software layer between the camera and videoconference feed that automatically zooms and pans to allow the participant to be standing/moving around while remaining in frame and focus.”
Christine Ogan, emeritus professor of journalism, informatics and computing at Indiana University, said, “Applications like Zoom will become far more sophisticated and interactive in a way that simulates face-to-face contact more – and there will be lots to choose from. Online education will advance along with this technology allowing for the kinds of instruction that are now difficult – dance, music, demonstrations of processes, laboratory instruction of all kinds.”
Tim Bray, technology leader who has worked for Amazon, Google and Sun Microsystems, responded, “I hope that mobile device hardware improves to the point that ubiquitous augmented reality will become practical, as this has the potential to dramatically improve the human experience of the internet and the world more than anything else I see on the horizon.”
Jim Witte, director of the Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University, wrote, “My greatest hopes for tech-related changes in the new normal lie with a renewed interest in virtual worlds. While the allure of Second Life and similar platforms faded in the early 2000s, immersive and engaging digital environments offer a means to recapture some of what is lost through physical distancing. Advances in hardware, rendering of objects and flexibility of sensors, as well as in software can dramatically improve the virtual world experience, further blurring the line between digital and analog, as well as between synchronous and asynchronous interactions. Advances in AI can lead to agents (scripted bots behind representations of human actors) that act and interact in a ‘natural’ fashion that supplants avatars (virtual world representations of human actors guided by humans). As with any technology, however, whether smart agents are used for good or evil will depend on how they are deployed and the social and economic order within which they are embedded.”
R. “Ray” Wang, principal analyst, founder and CEO of Silicon Valley-based Constellation Research, commented, “I hope computer vision and AI are used to prevent violent crime and be quickly applied to apprehend those charged with a deadly crime. Improved natural language search and brain wave navigation will help improve accessibility to those with disabilities and help them navigate the internet.”
Kate Klonick, a law professor at St. John’s University whose research is focused on law and technology, said, “I am optimistic that we will create new and better ways to interact with each other, whether through 3D meetings or improved audio and visual experiences. I am also optimistic that this experience will revolutionize the technology and techniques in the biomedical industry around vaccines.”
Andrea Romaoli Garcia, an international tax lawyer active in multistakeholder activities, urged, “AI should be adopted to audit government decision-making processes for more transparency and to assure the processes focus on public interest. AI can be used as a forensic tool to audit judges and verify the principle of impersonality in decisions. The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need for investments in education and health as a way to accelerate economies. All countries face an economic recession, but technology will be used to accurately integrate demand and supply, avoiding losses and reducing risks. The Internet of Things, AI and blockchain can be applied to transportation planning, and they can be applied to employment processes and lead to more jobs. This is an encouraging scenario, but it is impossible to achieve if there is no investment in seeking a society that is free from corruption because, currently, organized crime has overtaken most of the global cash flow.”
Charlie Kaufman, a security architect with Dell EMC, wrote, “There is enormous potential for improvements in software that enables people to work together. We have been focusing on making teleconferencing as similar as possible to face-to-face meetings, missing out on opportunities to have a superior experience. For example, when multiple people are competing for airtime to express their ideas in a meeting, in a face-to-face meeting it often goes to the most aggressive. In virtual meetings, things get awkward as there is a delay in people discovering that they are talking over one another. In a meeting where listeners get to vote on who they want to hear more from a whole new social dynamic could develop. It’s also possible that all parties could talk simultaneously but be heard serially by listeners.”
Ben Shneiderman, distinguished professor of computer science and founder of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, commented, “As human-centered AI becomes more common, interest in user-experience design will grow. Already, Google is offering MOOCs for training UX designers more widely, helping to promote the design excellence that made web-based services and mobile device apps such successes. Google’s People and AI Research guidelines are a good step forward and Apple Design Guidelines are even more effective in clarifying that the goal in high levels of human control and high levels of automation. The misleading directions of humanoid robots and full machine autonomy will continue to be promoted by some researchers, journalists and Hollywood script writers, but those ideas seem more archaic daily. AI and machine learning have a valuable role, maybe as the embedded chips of the future, important, but under human control through exploratory user interfaces that give users better understanding of how the embedded algorithms perform in meaningful cases that are relevant to their needs.”
Monica Murero, director of the E-Life International Institute and associate professor in Communication and New Technologies at the University of Naples Federico II, predicted, “In 2025, I expect the ‘new normal’ for the average person will be AI-based human-machine assistive technology embedded in smartphone apps, tablets, wearable, cars, pets accessories and other realms. I see ‘external’ devices in this way: 1) Playing a central role in home-focused professional and personal practices. 2) Devices such as AI-enable smartphones playing a pivotal role in mobility. 3) I see a slow rise of implantable AI-based devices that will overcome the separation between external and mobile points of assistive technology. Individuals’ personal lives will become more and more enabled by digitalized practices. I foresee the rise of ‘internet-mediated digital agents’ (interdigital agents) taking over more and more repetitive or time-consuming tasks and creating convenience and dependency for users. Regarding economic security, I do not expect dramatic changes in Europe (where I live) in the next five years. Privacy and security will still be at risk, possibly even more. I hope that tech-related changes, for example AI-based digital health, will accelerate knowledge in any field, particularly in health care and well-being so more people can access science and have positive outcomes in the coming years in convenient and safe ways.”
Fabrice Popineau, an expert on AI, computer intelligence and knowledge engineering based in France, responded, “I hope that AI and digital technologies will be used for more-efficient education. Education is the key for a global better good. There are many efforts in public and private research, and it is a difficult area. One of the main difficulties is related to data collection because it bumps into privacy. Not all countries value privacy the same way.”
Jerome C. Glenn, co-founder and CEO of the futures-research organization The Millennium Project, wrote, “Tele-everything increases. This reduces environmental impact and increases family life for those now able to work at home. AI applications increase. This reduces labor, costs, accidents, and for some, augments and improved labor productivity. Together, tele-everything and AI will free people to begin to make a living by connecting to those around the world who will pay for what they want to do, eventually leading to more of a self-actualization economy.”
Mike Sellers, director of the game design program at Indiana University and an AI researcher and consultant, observed, “One big unknown is the future of AI in daily life. I have long believed that we will see the ‘virtual concierge,’ but the problem remains stubborn. I think we’ll see AI improvements along the lines of an Alexa+ in the next few years, but not to the point that AI in production achieves anything like the informal goal of making computers act like they do in the movies. I hope for far greater adoption of renewable energy (especially solar and wind) on a nonlinear growth path. Shutting down of more coal and oil plants due to economic nonviability. Some level of augmented reality in daily use, though I think five years is still early to see this in ubiquitous use.”
Glynn Rogers, retired, previously senior principal engineer and a founding member at the CSIRO Centre for Complex Systems Science, predicted, “The drastic response to the COVID-19 crisis has forced a reevaluation of the way in which work and other group activities are performed. … It can be expected that incremental evolution of the technologies involved will enhance the effectiveness and desirability of working from home with consequent improvements in productivity. The well-understood and critical role of body language in communication provides a major challenge for display technology and video transmission. Enabling this emergence may well require the full implementation of the Internet Quality of Service technology explored by the IETF some two decades ago as well as the widespread deployment of software-defined network technology. The latter in particular would enable internet service providers to create specialised products to support new forms of online social and professional activity that would come to be experienced as entirely natural, i.e., the ‘new normal.’ Over and above the immediate COVID-19 crisis, climate change looms as the major threat to our way of life. There are a number of ‘tech-related changes’ that can at least ameliorate the impact:
- Evolution of new forms of online social and professional interaction enabled by a ubiquitous high-speed internet based on software-defined networking technology.
- The rapid deployment of electric vehicle technology with the required infrastructure of charging stations, etc., as well as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the transport sector. This would have a major impact on city pollution levels both in terms of gas and particulate emissions, as well as noise.
- The development and adoption of the hydrogen economy will enable us to maintain a reasonable level of transport of people and goods over large distances, preventing a major disruption of the economy and our way of life.”
Michael Wollowski, a professor of computer science at Rose-Hulman Institute, said, “People will more seamlessly integrate technology into their lives. We will be required to be ‘on’ (or available) at an even higher rate than is expected today. This will add more stress to our lives. Perhaps AI can help; think along the lines of a personal digital assistant that answers most of the trivial questions people might ask you, or one that politely suggests that someone will call them back.”
Greg Shatan, a partner in Moses and Singer LLC’s intellectual property group and a member of its internet and technology practice, wrote, “The evolution of the Internet of Things will bring more and cheaper smart devices and smart homes. I hope for faster, cheaper connectivity. More equity in connectivity, so that your income and where you live do not dictate whether you have internet connectivity, broadband access, etc. More smart, time-saving technology. Cheaper hardware! Where is the $100 laptop?”
John Lazzaro, retired research specialist in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, responded, “As an optimist, I believe the sort of ‘giant leap’ I experienced as a word-processing user in the 1980s will happen again, to improve the way groups of humans virtually interact using cameras and microphones. If I knew how to make that leap, I would be out there working on it myself. But I believe that out of the millions of K-12 and college students who have been frustrated with their remote education experience, hundreds of them have ideas on how to solve the problem, and several of them will succeed beyond our wildest imagination.”
Smarter systems will be created
A share of these experts expect that municipal, rural, state and independent services, especially in the health care sector, are likely to begin to be modernized to better handle future crises. They say services and systems should allow for quicker identification of emerging threats and better sharing of critical information with citizens in more timely and helpful ways.
Chris Arkenberg, research manager at Deloitte’s Center for Technology, Media and Telecommunications, predicted, “Automation, data analysis and machine intelligence will continue to slowly transform every industry to be more efficient, more transparent and less wasteful. Overall, this should lead to greater flexibility and resiliency against disruptions but with a lighter carbon/resource/pollution footprint. With the ability of sophisticated AI to model complex systems, we may become better able to understand and manage our impact on them. Everything from global supply chains and energy flows to pandemics and economic mobility could yield to data insights that enable better outcomes. Arguably, we as humans have been very good at building things at scales beyond our own ability to understand them. This results in unforeseen outcomes, adjacencies and mismanagement. Designing for emergence is really tough, but machine intelligence is able to address such complexities and scale.”
Nathalie Maréchal, senior research analyst at Ranking Digital Rights, observed, “By 2025, employers and employees will become more comfortable with working remotely and using technology to increase efficiency and productivity. At the same time, we will have a better understanding of what technology cannot substitute for, at least over time. … Beyond the use of technology for work and learning, we will also have confronted the limits of technology for all kinds of uses, including public health. By then, the consensus will be that so-called contact tracing or exposure-notification apps are not worth their costs, and that more human, analog processes are much more efficient and effective. … I am hopeful that in five years, we will have a widely available vaccine for the novel coronavirus (even if it doesn’t provide long-term immunity), a global public health system that is prepared to react to the inevitable next pandemic and social infrastructures that are resilient to this kind of disruption. But it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
Lee McKnight, associate professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies, wrote, “By 2025, I expect we will be on a new, long-run, more sustainable growth path with a new wave of crisis-spawned innovations finding wide application and new uses. Just one example of how daily life will be smarter in 2025: The wastewater in hotels, cruise ships, ports and airports, office buildings and schools will routinely be monitored for an ‘early warning’ indicator of a hazard. A wide array of innovations in sensed and computed conditions developed after the pandemic will also improve other aspects of life. Communities will take control with their own secure cloud architecture to guard against viruses of the computer type and malicious actors. These systems can build in governance of privacy, security and human and property rights, improving well-being by confirming individual and community autonomy even in this dangerous world. The economic and social inequities made blatantly clear by the pandemic and the racial and economic injustices also very apparent today will remain a focus for social and political action, and this will impact everyday life. … We all have been forced in 2020 to face the need for trusted (blockchain-including, rights-upholding) cloud-to-edge services. To ensure those digital technologies are not misused as surveillance technologies, or are not routinely stealing user’s data, certified ethical AI will be required by any municipality before it agrees to deploy anything. Life will be better when smart buildings do not only optimize on energy use or on economic efficiency, but also on disease prevention. Planes, trains and cruise ships will similarly all be smarter, and be able to give health report cards or at least share data to Open Data Observatories worldwide for civic scientists to also contribute to the health of their and other communities.”
Paul Henman, professor of social sciences at the University of Queensland, commented, “There is no doubt there are going to be changes from pre-COVID-19 to the new normal post-COVID-19. … The various experiences of health systems (including public health and communicable disease) and safety net/social security responses are likely to have an ongoing effect on sociopolitical discussions about the quality, design and funding of health and social security systems. … There will be some tech-related change, but more social changes involving tech. The new normal is being constructed out of our experiences of having to use tech to navigate our worlds during COVID. These experiences will create ‘lessons’ for how we use tech in ways we may not have wanted to or have considered feasible prior to COVID.”
John Lazzaro, retired research specialist in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, observed, “The pandemic has reshaped the way patients access health care in the United States, and the current view is that some of the changes may be permanent. To quantify these changes, I quote from several interviews by leaders of Kaiser Permanente (KP), an integrated health care system that serves 12.5 million members in the United States. According to KP, telemedicine has grown from 18% of all visits pre-pandemic to 80% at the end of April 2020. KP physicians performed as many video visits in a day as they did in an average month in 2019. Pandemic-era oncology patient consultations have been 95% virtual. KP’s current view is that once the pandemic is over, the ‘new normal’ will be about 60% virtual, 40% in-person. With this setup in mind, I address how digital technology may impact these changes. As described in the KP interviews, virtual visits rely on doctor-patient communication, aided by whatever visual information a well-placed smartphone camera can deliver to the doctor. What is usually missing is the point-of-care data collection that a physician assistant collects during the pre-consultation (blood pressure, heart rate, SpO2, temperature, body weight, etc.), condition-specific measurements the doctor may take during the visit (stethoscope, etc.) and quick-turnaround lab tests that may be needed to confirm a diagnosis (flu diagnostics, urinary tract infection tests, etc.). Remote patient monitors and at-home lab tests for many of these measurements have long been available. However, monitoring is usually prescribed for use by a patient who has been diagnosed with a particular condition.
“In my view of the ‘new normal,’ when one signs up with a health care provider, part of the ‘new member welcome kit’ will be a remote monitoring console, capable of the most common measurements taken during an initial consultation with a primary care physician. When a patient signs up for a video visit, she may be instructed to use the console to take certain measurements in advance. Ideally, the console will have a low-bandwidth cellular data link, so that measurement results will be accessible by the physician before the video visit. The hope is to increase the odds that a patient can be successfully diagnosed during the video visit. Reference: These statistics are from website interviews with Dr. Richard Isaacs, CEO and executive director of the Permanente Medical Group, Dick Daniels, Kaiser Permanente Executive Vice President and CIO and Dr. Stephen Parodi, associate executive director of The Permanente Medical Group, and from an editorial written by KP oncologists in the journal JCO Oncology Practice.”
Kenneth A. Grady, adjunct professor at Michigan State University College of Law and editor of The Algorithmic Society on Medium, wrote, “The new normal will involve greater use of technology to monitor and respond to people’s health. The trend to use digital devices to monitor health was established by the time of the pandemic. The relative ease patients and health care professionals had switching to telehealth, and the associated reduction in cost, demonstrated that some health care practices could benefit from digital technology. As the technology to monitor health becomes less costly and more accessible (e.g., attachments to smartphones that enable monitoring health metrics), telehealth becomes a more attractive alternative.
“The counterforce of privacy concerns will remain well past 2025 and will serve as a check on the growth of digital technology in health care. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done or that it will be accepted. We see a steady stream of ways in which companies abuse the privilege of having data about people’s lives. The temptation to misuse the data seems to overwhelm even the most conscientious of companies. Regulatory controls, penalties and public shaming seem to have little effect on preventing misuse. Of course, not all companies misuse data and not all incidents involve egregious abuse of the trust placed in those who have access to data. Nevertheless, the risks of data misuse present a formidable counterweight to the benefits of the data. Unfortunately, the pandemic seems to have exacerbated the challenge. Those companies that had already amassed great data troves have grown more powerful and have found additional ways to gather more data. The impact regulating trillion-dollar companies could have on the economy will be balanced against the perceived benefits of the regulation. It is unlikely that any legislative body will want to pass legislation that could harm such companies, especially given that the projected time for the economy to recover from the pandemic lasts well past 2025. This will leave consumers having to answer the question: How much privacy risk am I willing to incur in exchange for the perceived health care benefits I may get?”
Alexandra Samuel, technology writer, researcher, speaker and regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review, predicted, “In the best-case scenario, the temporary income supports that some countries have put in place will establish an enduring basis for cushioning the impact of automation and economic dislocation. We will finally address growing income inequality by providing a guaranteed basic income for everyone. We will embrace the shift to remote work and the reduction in business travel as the necessary (but insufficient) ingredient for reducing our collective carbon footprint, and rebuild the economy around working from home, online, so that a shift to virtual work enables long-run sustainable growth in place of a relentless acceleration of climate change. We will double down on the ‘temporary’ experience of online socialization and recreation, making the arts more broadly accessible and normalizing the idea of social connection as an anytime, anywhere part of our lives. But that requires governments to commit not only to short-term income supports, but to long-term changes in tax policy so that the winners of automation and digitization actually pay enough taxes to subsidize a guaranteed income. We need to restructure our economies, our businesses and our personal expectations so that we’re not holding our breath until commutes and travel return – we’re actually embracing a work-from-home, low-travel future. We need to evolve our conversation about ‘real’ life and ‘real’ theater and ‘real’ friendship so that we stop framing our online experiences as second-best, and instead find the ways to make them deeply satisfying. Sadly, I don’t see a whole lot of that happening, with the possible exception of a wider and more enduring shift to remote work. What’s missing are the business and government economic policies to ensure that that shift actually provides widespread social benefits, and not just a cost saving on office rent.”
Neil Davies, co-founder of Predictable Network Solutions and a pioneer of the committee that oversaw the UK’s initial networking developments, wrote, “There will be a plethora of new (probably local and small-scale) solutions to displaced needs such as work socialisation, face-to-face training, etc. Looking back at small-scale responses that occurred in the 1990s might well point to the style of solutions that emerge, e.g., shared workspaces that are accessible by foot or cycling, the disintermediation of current delivery chains, etc. This is predicated on effective digital service delivery that is trustworthy and fit for purpose. There is already a preexisting technical movement – one I’ve been actively involved in for 10+ years – that is now beginning to bear fruit at an international body level where real technical change occurs, defining technical engineering standards that will shape the digital delivery supply chain market.
“The emergent outcome of this is to reduce the power of the ‘presenteeism’ management style; reduce the lure of high-density conurbations (where will the ‘smart city’ be? in the ‘smart town’?) – again to head towards a more sustainable resource-consumption profile. This will be because more options will be available where people can pursue a career without the necessity to kowtow to the near-feudal structures that are prevalent today. The risk? The winners in the feudal structures of today force patterns of behaviour/interaction that actively undermine the potential effectiveness – their fear (however that is wrapped up) driving them to resort to abusive use of the de facto ‘golden rule’ of today, which is: Those who have the gold make the rules. I hope we start to get effective and assured (hence trustworthy) service delivery in the digital supply chain in regard to fitness for purpose and economic and environmental sustainability.
“This is all becoming a utility of the level of reliability of electricity supply (in say, the UK), one where failure to deliver is a rare and noteworthy (if not newsworthy) event. The issues of performance isolation, assured service delivery, etc., will have been recognised as the overarching factors that are, to a large extent, independent of the latest ‘G’ness (4G, 5G, 6G …) that is being hyped. Once the ‘applied physics’ nature of these constraints is recognized, then perhaps the industry can recognise where they are reinventing previously failed approaches and better engage with the science of their industry, all of which could mean upheaval within existing technological islands we have today. Much if not nearly all of the commercial delivery structure in the digital supply chain today is based – and actively required to be through legislation – a set of transferable or dominant-cartel monopolies. There are dangers and benefits in such monopolistic power. Like most technology, this is in principle morally unaligned. It is the human structures that shape the moral outcomes. The commercial structure forces vast waste – think way over 50% of underlying assets are not available to create overall systemic economic value. The systemic shortcomings of the IP protocol and the delivery stacks built on it lie at the heart of technical factors that underpin the set of monopolies that exist today. The worry is that this cartel of monopolies increases its stranglehold, the existence of their service delivery models destroys any alternatives, they become ‘too big to fail’ and the world ends up in a more fragile position.”
Cliff Lynch, director at the Coalition for Networked Information and adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, commented, “We have done idiotic things with supply chains in seeking ‘optimization’ at the expense of resilience in many parts of our society. These were terrible choices that often crept in gradually under the guise of efficiency and cost savings. Some of this has become very clear, and hopefully it will be rolled back, ideally deliberately undone. Resilience needs to be a much more fundamental goal in everything we do as a society and an economy. There’s been a huge investment in biotechnology (broadly), and in vaccine technologies, diagnostic technologies, and epidemiology (including tracking and modeling tech) that I hope will serve us in good stead in the future.”
Oksana Prykhodko, director of the European Media Platform, an international NGO, noted, “The COVID-19 outbreak has led to dramatic increase of the use of digital technologies, and this is very positive outcome. Over the past few years we have seen a lot of negative aspects of the wider use of technologies – from violations of privacy by tracking applications to more crimes because of lack of experience of newcomers to digital age. Nevertheless, I am sure that in 2025 the ‘new normal’ will be better because of a lot of decisions in various sectors regarding privacy and other issues, and also due to a higher level of digital literacy. I am a fan of global multistakeholderism, in which people across nation-states and across various parts of society work together to improve outcomes, and I expect a new culture of decision-making by 2025. I worry about the marginalization of those who do not have access to the internet or the knowledge and capacity to become proficient at participating in digital life. I welcomed the UN decision that access to the internet should be a human right, but we need more practical tools to ensure this right, such as Universal Service obligations on the government level and private initiatives such as the Future of Life Institute’s work investigating artificial intelligence.”
Jeanne Dietsch, New Hampshire senator and former CEO of MobileRobots Inc., said, “The use of AI to optimize the logistics of resource use could dramatically improve our nutrition, education, health and even our social interactions. The addition of sensor feedback into automation of all types, from traffic handling to regulatory regimes, could greatly improve the functionality of our systems.”
Mirielle Hildebrandt, expert in cultural anthropology and the law and editor of “Law, Human Agency and Autonomic Computing,” wrote, “I’d like to see more preparedness for the next pandemic and other potentially catastrophic events, including a thoughtful balance between well-organised human interaction and digital support to counter threats to public health, to support and guide migration due to catastrophic climate change and to quickly reorganise supply chains if needed. There should be more and better ways to involve citizens in the development of digital systems that will run their lives, especially at the level of infrastructure (Internet of Things, connected cars, remote health care, teleconferencing, financial transactions, renewable energy and smart grids, etc.).”
Katie McAuliffe, executive director for Digital Liberty, commented, “Life will be different. Change is hard and often painful, but humanity overall has a remarkable ability to adapt. We will continue to adapt to new routines over the next few years, as comfort levels will remain variable. The obvious beneficiary of the pandemic is telehealth. Individuals, regulators and businesses have been forced to accept and incorporate it – this makes us better off.”
Alex Halavais, associate professor of critical data studies, Arizona State University, said, “My hopes are largely around sociotechnical systems, rather than the technology itself. I have great hopes that the move to high-quality online education may provide access to those who live in parts of the U.S. and the world that would otherwise not be possible. There are also very real possibilities that this will provide opportunities mainly to those who already have access. Already, we have seen the growth of automation, particularly in food services, accelerated by the pandemic. Movement of more people out of food preparation, delivery and similar positions was already underway, but it was made more pressing by the potential for infection. Obviously, automation is a mixed blessing and poses significant social challenges.”
Andrea Romaoli Garcia, an international tax lawyer active in multistakeholder activities of the International Telecommunication Union and Internet Society, observed, “The ‘new normal’ after the COVID-19 pandemic will bring change to the economic, health, education and business sectors in different ways. Challenges and existing critical points in society have been exposed. It is clear that decisions made by any one country affect the entire planet because we all share planet Earth. Life will be better for most people than life was at the time the pandemic began – for instance, the smart cities process is gaining accelerated improvements.”
A scenario that looks back from 2025
One respondent started his answer in the year 2025 and looked backward. Stuart Henshall, a director with Convo Research & Strategy, shared this scenario: “It’s Jan. 21, 2025, and I’m hoping the year ahead is much better than the last five. America has elected the first Independent People president and Cabinet and it is directing the great reallocation. The hope is that the old parties are finally being snuffed out. The platform has shifted to community and commons.
“Financial markets are in ruins, so the allegiances and institutions managing daily lives are again increasingly scientific, fact-based. The last four years have seen 90% of the U.S. population lose all their savings, years of rioting and large-scale flight from the cities. Masks were just a Band-Aid in 2020 until the moment in which the suffering went beyond politics. By early 2021, despite an overwhelming democratic majority and health care providers declaring bankruptcy protection, it was increasingly clear no one was ready to address bankruptcy laws. As long as the same people acting as the country’s ‘rulers’ were protected, they hid behind the curtain and the financial shenanigans were able to continue. The concentration of wealth had accelerated over the last two years and government continued to hold on by issuing law-and-order responses. Protesters, rioters and militant responses to them made it dangerous to leave your neighborhood.
“When COVID-19 arrived, many Americans were unhappy about the tactics proposed to track and trace the virus. However, by 2022 it was clear that collective community intelligence (motivated by personal and family safety concerns) would be expected to be gathered about anyone nearby who might present a known risk. And the awarding of [social credit] ‘plus points’ for those who help others and boost community spirit were winning over large groups of people. This shift enabled many to see the power of community again. However, the real power was in the AI that was working to bring people together and overturn biases.
“Open source software began to have an impact and, concurrently, communication began to bypass traditional providers to shift to emerging ‘free-slow’ exchanges. Meanwhile, self-isolation, ‘cells’ and ‘bubbles’ were counterproductive. As AI systems worked to create safe, productive community meetings and protests, an agenda for real change started to emerge. The cost of a broken economy was clear, the numbers of people who had reached out and brought strangers into their lives to provide assistance brought forth a ‘the more you give the more you get’ credo.
“However, rebuilding trust would be hard without the reestablishment of principles. Companies and financial markets had been shown to have no principles in this period. Without anchors or guarantees it took the full economic collapse for people to see that a winner-take-all mentality resulted in most people being broke and broken. By 2023 there was some shift towards both the sharing economy and working co-ops. It became increasingly obvious that many of the services we need as part of life were something we all needed to take part in. Amazon became the people’s target. With most Americans spending 50% of their discretionary funds there, it was clear that ‘delivering goods to home’ at size and scale was a utility like the post office. There were only two ways forward: Either the people should own Amazon, or the government should.
“The government was slow to move, community-based private networks based on semantic knowledge representation (SKR) started to thrive, as the dollar became increasingly worthless. The black market thrived, and income had gone underground. So, we arrive at the promise of 2025. While communities are more stable, health care remains in crisis and there is nowhere safe for your money outside local private networks, which are no longer small. IDs are authentic and shared however the individual wishes, and the individual owns all the information about themselves, from where they have been to what they have bought. Finally, individuals are able to broker their information. The information economy is finally evolving to a world where the people controlled their information. All searches are transparent and monitored by millions of AI bots. All bots are open source. In this world, no bot can be owned for profit. All are for the betterment of all, with bots checking on bots. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes the podium, the ‘free bots’ are already dismantling the information economy. The utility of the future is a New Deal for you and me. The amendments to the Constitution are expected to pass within the first sitting of the new Congress.”