Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Experts Say the ‘New Normal’ in 2025 Will Be Far More Tech-Driven, Presenting More Big Challenges

2. Worries about life in 2025

Whether they expressed optimistic or pessimistic views about the “new normal” in 2025, these respondents also weighed in with their worries for the near future of humans and digital technologies. Their views embraced several overarching themes that can be summed up in one: The advantaged enjoy more advantages; the disadvantaged fall further behind.

Much of their concern focuses on the growing power held by the technology companies that control information flows into people’s lives and their potential to compromise individuals’ privacy and autonomy. Most respondents to this canvassing who discussed the problems tied to the business models of Big Tech said it is highly unlikely that there will be a successful movement soon to change market capitalism and the competitive imperative to make profit-making the primary priority. They noted that solutions to this problem have a double-edged quality because opportunity and challenge are equally present. Some argued that the spread of lies via social media and other digital platforms will damage social, political and economic systems. They acknowledged that some of the likely remedies may interfere with civil liberties. They maintain that the seemingly unstoppable flow of lies, disinformation and misinformation online is divisive, dangerous and destructive.

Many warned that health-monitoring, work-surveillance and security solutions that may be applied will expand mass oversight, threaten human rights and lead more regions of the world to become more authoritarian. Some pointed out a variety of downsides to telework, and said they worry over the accelerating automation of more business systems and processes causing the number of available jobs for humans to shrink. Additionally, they worry about people’s mental health at a time of so much isolation. Finally, they wonder who will take action to bring about the positive change necessary to tackle all of these obvious issues.

This section opens with a number of broad statements from respondents about these concerns, followed by sets of assertions sorted under themed headings.

The confluence of degrading economic conditions, civil unrest, uncertain long-term pandemic outcomes strike me as more likely to lead to technology-related harms and abuses than not, particularly as products rush to market with even less rigor applied to threat modeling, risk assessment, etc.

Soraya Chemaly, an advocate and activist with The Representation Project working to change attitudes about gender norms

Soraya Chemaly, an advocate and activist with The Representation Project working to change attitudes about gender norms, said, “Technology will become even more pervasive in our lives, every aspect of them. This will enable work, alternatives to school and improved health care, but will come at a high cost – increased surveillance, loss of privacy, greater risks – to both individuals and political systems. The confluence of degrading economic conditions, civil unrest, uncertain long-term pandemic outcomes strike me as more likely to lead to technology-related harms and abuses than not, particularly as products rush to market with even less rigor applied to threat modeling, risk assessment, etc. The panopticon worries me. The immense and largely unregulated power of technology companies operating with little or no transparency, accountability or oversight as proto-transnational governments worries me. The alignment of these companies with authoritarian and antidemocratic forces everywhere worries me.”

Jay Owens, research director at and author of HautePop, wrote, “Compared to, say, November 2020, the ‘new normal’ in 2025 is net worse for the average person, based on economic, health and well-being factors:

  • There is a significant likelihood of facing a long period of unemployment in 2020-21 if they work in a COVID-affected sector, with knock-on effects of increased debt, reduced savings, reduced salary progression.
  • Women with children have faced significant pressure to exit the workforce or go part-time in order to cover the child care gap caused by a) school closures and b) their male partners not taking 50/50 responsibility for their offspring. This results in lifelong financial impacts plus a sense of frustration.
  • There is a significant likelihood of ongoing disability following a coronavirus infection, given what’s emerging about the medium- and long-term lung damage and chronic post-viral fatigue.
  • In the UK, Brexit produces a further economic crunch for sectors that might have got through coronavirus reasonably well (e.g., manufacturing, food supply, logistics).
  • People will have significantly fewer friends, as relationships dwindle given the lack of regular in-person contact. I expect a somewhat neo-traditionalist intense focus on the couple and the nuclear family which will be rather stifling.

“I worry about technology companies’ monopolisation – a lot of activity concentrated in four or five megacorporations. See the negative impact of Amazon on the wider retail sector. There is too much reliance focused in these companies’ platforms, with screen-centricity for everything: social life, entertainment, work, the arts. There is an overemphasis in society on what tech can do well (convenience) and not what it can’t (the level of quality of the interaction or experience).”

Only we can save ourselves. The ‘new normal’ is a society that’s more divided than it has ever been in history. Already we’re recording every breath, every step, every heartbeat. Every thought is next.

A journalist and industry analyst expert in AI ethics

A journalist and industry analyst expert in AI ethics observed, “The focus during my long career in Silicon Valley and Sand Hill Road has been the art of the possible (innovation) and fast economic returns. This is not a sustainable model moving forward. Hence, my second full-time job, which is AI ethics (someone has to fight the good fight, even if it is idealistic at this point). We’re being forced to conform to the digitization of everything, which is separating people from each other, enslaving them, facilitating mass manipulation and oppression. Technology is becoming far too intrusive, and we are allowing it to happen. We have already become a surveillance state. Going completely digital is exciting and also dangerous, in my opinion, because it makes people and organizations more vulnerable to attacks. While there have always been divisions in society, people are now being manipulated into them artificially, which only adds to what happens organically. I, for one, am deeply active in AI ethics, however, ‘we’ operate too slowly as groups and there is so much money and power at stake that bad actors will have an advantage for the foreseeable future. Humanity is self-destructing. Only we can save ourselves. The ‘new normal’ is a society that’s more divided than it has ever been in history. Already we’re recording every breath, every step, every heartbeat. Every thought is next. Digital tools amplify everything that we do, but we don’t stop to think about what we’re doing in the bigger picture, and it’s going to be harder to do the right things for society at large when the mindset is individualism. There will not be one ‘new normal,’ but several. Most people on the planet will be disadvantaged, though not to the same degree by automation, economic structures. And downright control mechanisms that favor the few at the expense of the many.”

Cliff Lynch, director at the Coalition for Networked Information and adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, took a look at one worst-possible scenario, writing, “Herd immunity (and diagnostics, vaccines and treatments) might fail, or at least fall drastically short. We cannot rule this out. I don’t think we will even know if this is a possibility for a couple of years. This is a scenario that is not getting much attention because it’s so awful. In this world, we find vaccines don’t work well, or not for more than a month or two, and we find individuals can be repeatedly reinfected, perhaps with each bout worse than the last. There really isn’t a new normal to reach, only a continually unfolding disaster where I don’t understand the exit mechanism to any kind of genuine sustainable new normal other than perhaps through eventual biomedical breakthroughs.

There really isn’t a new normal to reach, only a continually unfolding disaster where I don’t understand the exit mechanism to any kind of genuine sustainable new normal other than perhaps through eventual biomedical breakthroughs.

Cliff Lynch, director at the Coalition for Networked Information and adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley

“Life in this continued nightmare is a constant trade-off between near-total social isolation and threat of death or disability. Day-to-day life in the face of this varies greatly, structured around paranoid protective measures for some, driven by duty and courage for others, fatalism and stoicism (and perhaps denial) for still others, and a steady drumbeat of human tragedy in the background for all. Technology is actually really important here. It can help people to function in this kind of environment and stay alive, but it can’t fix the mental or social damage.

“One thing I would expect in this scenario is the enthusiastic adoption of invasive tracking and monitoring technologies coupled to totalitarian political measures to try to control infections on a continuing basis, likely with only very limited success. This probably goes hand-in-hand with a lot of other bad political developments. At least for a while, I would expect some parts of society will continue to operate and perhaps prosper (or at least make lots of money) operating from isolation, remotely, defensively and with critical dependence on technology. This is somewhat similar to what is happening today with the relatively well-off and fortunate who can work from home and minimize social interactions, but much more so. I would expect to see an ongoing breakdown of society and the economy over time, and perhaps ultimately violence, revolution, martial law, economic depression, breakdown in food supplies and other supply chains and the like, all adding to the misery. And don’t overlook a major war as a possibility in this scenario either, either because a ruler needs to distract the population or because some nation judges an opponent as vulnerable. This future is a very bad place. I hope we don’t go there.

An anonymous respondent commented, “We are headed into the perfect storm of diminished democratic processes, increased medical vulnerabilities, increased wealth and power disparity and the confounding effects of climate change. The five-year period will encompass significant changes for the worse for the vast majority of people in the world. Those who currently control wealth will use every means at their disposal to maintain their position, and that will include the use of AI and private security (effectively private armies). It will be difficult to determine the difference between public assets such as police and military and assets of control at the behest of what will effectively become a new ‘ruling class.’ The vast majority of humanity will exist as wage-slaves and have little resilience in the face of dramatic environmental change. A consequence of climate change and humans’ desperate attempts to maintain a semblance of quality of life will be the development of further niche/novel viruses. Not factored into this are the use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by rogue states. I’m hoping that such events will not occur in the next five years because they would usher in a cataclysmic demise of much of humanity. Thanks for asking.”

I worry that there exists a world of tech geniuses who don’t know right from wrong and good from bad. And there is a world of tech users who’ll sell their soul for a giggling emoji.”

Frank Kaufmann, president of the Twelve Gates Foundation

Frank Kaufmann, president of the Twelve Gates Foundation, said, “I have no special worries any more than when they invented an ax to chop wood. Tech allows human badness to gain strength and power, to be more harmful and destructive and to cause more suffering and pain with each new tech development. At the very same time, the very same tech could be used to amplify our ability to do kind acts and to do good. The same tech China uses to record which stuffed animal my two-year-old daughter currently is playing with could as easily be used by compassionate geniuses to save her life in a moment when she otherwise wouldn’t have stood a chance. My worries are just the perennial ones. Tech gives bad people power to be worse. It gives good people power to be better. I worry that there exists a world of tech geniuses who don’t know right from wrong and good from bad. And there is a world of tech users who’ll sell their soul for a giggling emoji.”

Wendy M. Grossman, a UK-based science writer, author of “net.wars” and founder of the magazine The Skeptic, observed, “The upcoming economic catastrophe as government support runs out and rents come due means damage to millions of households who may recover by 2025 but whose children will be permanently changed. My parents and many of my friends’ parents lived through the 1930s Depression. It permanently changed how they thought about work, money and safety nets, often making them more frugal, less interested in consumerism for its own sake and more concerned to ensure that others could survive in difficult times. … I don’t think most people will remain enthusiastic about full-time working from home, and I don’t think it will serve most businesses as much as they think right now. We are currently coasting on social relationships that we’ve built over years of personal interaction. Everyone I know is tired of Zoom meetings. Side channels – an important part of any meeting – are missing in action; random meetings that produce new ideas don’t happen; and newcomers find it very hard to establish themselves as part of the group. My prediction is that the people who are now eyeing living in remote locations because they don’t have to commute any more will, in a few years, find the constant flying back for meetings annoying and expensive, and will be thinking of moving closer to work again, especially as climate change will force air travel to become more expensive and/or difficult.”

A director for a major global project studying emerging social, political and economic systems at a U.S. technological university said, “I worry that too much technology will be developed by computer scientists and engineers who have little understanding of human social behavior and this will cause inadvertent harm. An example of this is the biased machine-learning models that are used for profiling. I worry that large companies will drown out innovation from academia and small businesses and that large companies will begin to control funding and direct policies and thus determine which small businesses and universities survive. I worry that sets of companies will band together against other sets to make their technologies interoperable only within that set whereas common standards and complete interoperability of all technologies is needed to make the Internet of Things achieve its ultimate capability. I am concerned that policymakers who don’t understand the strengths and limits of technology will begin making premature policies.”

Inequality and injustice are magnified

A notable share of these experts predict that the pandemic and quick pivot to the use of digitally driven systems will widen divides and expand the ranks of the unemployed, uninsured and disenfranchised. The power imbalances between the advantaged and disadvantaged are being magnified by digital systems overseen by behemoth firms as they exploit big data and algorithmic decision-making that themselves are biased. They predict that more people will be pushed into a precarious existence that lacks predictability, economic security and wellness.

danah boyd, founder and president of the Data & Society Research Institute and principal researcher at Microsoft, observed, “The tech sector has built the new Gilded Age. Inequality has been a problem in our society for a long time, but the relationship between the tech sector and late-stage capitalism is insidious and getting worse. It’s also affecting other sectors. For example, most of philanthropy is dependent on the logics of the tech sector. Tech sector wealth is creating new philanthropists, and endowments are heavily dependent on growth coming from the tech sector. Unsurprisingly, philanthropy has adopted many of the same logics as tech, from tech solutionism to the fetishization of ‘move fast and break things.’ This weakens civil society, which is crucial for holding tech, politics and capitalism accountable. This systems-level issue will have all sorts of ramifications for individuals, but I think that the costs will be significant. Our polis will be less informed and less financially stable. Technology will also continue to amplify neoliberal logics that put individuals in a very precarious place. Nowhere will this be clearer than in the realm of health care. We have so much technology in the health space, so much knowledge, and yet our supply chains are broken and inequality in access to health care is at an all-time high.”

Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member and former chief technology officer for the Federal Communications Commission, said, “Countries like the U.S. that utterly failed in their response will find that many young people will have had extended disruptions to their educational progress, from K-12 to higher education. Many entry-level job opportunities will have vanished simply because of retrenchment in service-oriented industries as disposable income decreases. This will strongly depend on the availability of a vaccine, highly effective non-pharmaceutical interventions such as air filtration and UV-C lights, more effective treatment protocols. If neither exists in 2025, many sectors such as restaurants and live entertainment will disappear except in countries that manage to suppress the virus in their population to levels that make indoor gatherings plausible. Many of the new touchless technologies, e.g., in hospitality, will also decrease the need for entry-level, customer-facing jobs and will likely be made permanent.”

Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and former special assistant in the Obama White House for science, technology and innovation policy, commented, “I am worried that the caste system in America will be increasingly entrenched and amplified by technological asymmetries – as access to health services, jobs and opportunities of all kinds becomes more and more targeted to people who have the money to access the platforms that provide them.”

John Harlow, smart cities research specialist at the Engagement Lab @ Emerson College, wrote, “The most vulnerable people (poor, disabled, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA+, women, children, religious minorities, geographically vulnerable) will likely suffer between now and 2025.”

Micah Altman, a social and information scientist at MIT, observed, “The pandemic holds a mirror to society, revealing the existing faults in our digital infrastructure and the grave inequities in the distribution of resources and opportunities to make use of them. For example, the difficulties encountered by public primary and secondary schools in attempting an abrupt transition to distance learning due to underinvestment in education, not (generally) poor technology choices by school administrators. None of these problems will be fixed by 2025, and few areas will see substantial progress (with the possible exception of partially reversing some of the worst policies of the [Trump] administration).”

Benjamin Kuipers, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan known for research in qualitative simulation, warned, “If technology companies focus on maximizing profits – which has been ‘religious’ economic dogma since the 1960s – rather than on demonstrating their trustworthiness to individuals, they can drive the economy down the path to dystopia and they will not even get the profits they seek. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is not just a toy thought experiment. Only trust in each other provides a good overall solution. Trying to maximize individual reward leads to an outcome where everybody’s reward is poor.”

A key point is a lack of accountability of technology companies and their sheer arrogance at not addressing the identifiable harms caused by their products.

Simeon Yates, a professor of digital culture at the University of Liverpool and the research lead for the UK government’s Digital Culture team

Simeon Yates, a professor of digital culture at the University of Liverpool and the research lead for the UK government’s Digital Culture team, wrote, “Many recent technologies have exacerbated, enhanced or extended the effects of long-standing social, economic, cultural and political issues, but they have not fundamentally changed them. Inequality is still excessive in nearly all nations. The benefits of ‘working from home’ accrue to a small proportion of the population. Shifts to new forms of remote access to services (e.g., health) end up excluding those most in need. The drive by governments towards greater use of data and algorithms in response to acute planning need will only likely lead to further automation of inequality. In general, the predictions as ever focus on the technology and what it can do, and not on the underlying social forces and structures and general human behaviour. A key point is a lack of accountability of technology companies and their sheer arrogance at not addressing the identifiable harms caused by their products. As operators of limited-choice platform economies they have both a moral and an ethical duty to address these issues, to become more transparent and frankly more open and democratic in how they are run. They need to show citizens and consumers greater respect. Rather than cosying up to these platforms, governments should be protecting their citizens from the worst excesses of these companies.”

J. Nathan Matias, an assistant professor at Cornell University expert in digital governance and behavior change in groups and networks, said, “The pandemic will continue to widen economic and social divides around the world. People whose work requires them to be present in physical locations will lose more economically. The pandemic will also normalize levels of surveillance and social control that previously seemed unimaginable, especially for individualistic Western societies that have traditionally valued individual civil liberties. The impacts of that surveillance disproportionately affecting the least powerful in society. Because online education tends to privilege students who have access to technology and private spaces, the pandemic will have a lasting impact on diversity in the technology industry. On one hand, tech firms will continue to have a more remote workforce, which will distribute the industry’s wealth more geographically widely. On the other hand, that workforce might become even less diverse than it was before the pandemic due to disparate impacts among the most vulnerable.”

David Barnhizer, professor of law emeritus and author of “The Artificial Intelligence Contagion: Can Democracy Withstand the Imminent Transformation of Work, Wealth and the Social Order?” responded, “When the U.S. economy was ‘globalized’ over the past 30 years and became intensely interconnected and interdependent, anything that significantly affects one or more of the major economic powers (U.S., UK, EU and China) has heavy impacts on all of them. Exactly what they are, how deeply they will penetrate, whether we have the wisdom, tools and strength to respond positively to the pandemic is not obvious. What has occurred in the past five months relative to the virus unfortunately fits in much too closely with predictions of contagion, about a U.S. torn apart by wealth inequality, racial and other critical tensions around competing views of social justice, the difficulty of coping with an incredibly large and rapidly increasing national debt and annual budget that even before the pandemic stimulus was growing more than $1 trillion per year, aging population demographics that Pope Francis has referred to as the ‘Age Curse,’ along with health care issues and underfunded pension concerns facing the federal, state and local governments (as well as corporate pension and health plans).”

Kevin T. Leicht, professor and head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, commented, “Rosy predictions of the future don’t have a good track record. In the end, every technology has five different features: 1) what the inventor believes the technology will do, 2) what the buyer of the technology thinks the technology will do, 3) what interested observers think the technology will do, 4) what the new, front-line users of the technology think it will do, and then 5) what the technology actually does, which is rarely if ever a neat summary of 1 through 4. … Technology and technology companies have (inadvertently in most cases) aided in the creation of a rolling cultural and economic disaster. The lethal brew involves the connection of technological innovation with governments that have been asleep at the switch for almost 40 years. We have almost no antitrust enforcement. No IRS auditing. Extensive financial deregulation. Almost unbelievable economic concentration in leading sectors.

Technology and technology companies have (inadvertently in most cases) aided in the creation of a rolling cultural and economic disaster. The lethal brew involves the connection of technological innovation with governments that have been asleep at the switch for almost 40 years.

Kevin T. Leicht, professor and head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

“Because of this, almost none of the rosy projections of what technology and technology companies would do, as described in the 1980s and early 1990s, have come to pass. Technology has not rendered the world ‘placeless’ – it has created unprecedented concentrations of economic power in winner-take-all, global cities. Technology has not reduced educational inequalities because educational inequalities are created by families rather than schools and technology increases those family-based inequalities. Technology and tech companies haven’t reduced our dependence on carbon-based fuels (at least not yet). And technologies have to take some of the blame for destroying the labor markets of the middle class. Do most of our students in colleges really want to be ‘entrepreneurs’ or are we peddling that route because we’ve destroyed credible career trajectories through work? It is true that technology did not create the cultural and economic disaster we’re experiencing. But the ability of technology companies to exploit cultural and economic weakness to benefit themselves has far outpaced any outcome that could be viewed as a public good that has reduced inequalities. In the absence of drastic, non-technological intervention, these problems will only get worse rather than better.”

Mirielle Hildebrandt, expert in cultural anthropology and the law and editor of “Law, HumanAgencyandAutonomicComputing,” said, “I worry over society’s baseless trust in crappy digital decision-systems, with few options to opt out and even fewer options to contest decisions outside of prefab boxes with preformatted complaints. There has been major investment in so-called ‘AI’ systems without any evidence for the claims their advocates put forward, and they are running amok and causing widespread frustration, fear and cynicism in those who employ them and in those subject to them. I worry over the further increase of inequality and the ridiculous amount of economic power held by Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Law, Big Finance, all sustained and enabled by a mistaken enchantment with ‘digital,’ ‘AI,’ ‘algorithms’ or ‘big data.’ I am concerned about the further disruption of the public sphere, resulting in dangerous populism and cynicism.”

Richard Lachmann, professor of political sociology at the State University of New York, Albany, predicted, “Most people will be poorer, and they will have more-precarious jobs. The relatively privileged will work at least part time at home, reducing their social interactions, with serious consequences for their mental health. Important institutions will have been bankrupted in the aftermath of the pandemic. America will have fewer theaters, restaurants, coffee houses, concerts and universities. The U.S. will be much more isolated in the aftermath of COVID-19. Even if Trump is not reelected, other countries will have learned that America both is incapable of keeping its population healthy and is vulnerable to electing unreliable and bizarre leaders. We can expect other countries will take steps to reduce their reliance on and interaction with the U.S. Foreign students who sustain American universities’ science and engineering programs will go elsewhere. That will lead American high-tech corporations to relocate more and more of their research and development to other countries that will be attracting the best students and that will be able to keep the best graduates. The shift to work-at-home will lead to social isolation and a dispersal of the population into exurbs that use more energy and destroy nature. Tech companies will increase their surveillance abilities. People will spend more time online, reducing their social interactions and making them ever more vulnerable to manipulation by advertisers and extremist politicians and groups. The most ominous development could be a permanent shift to online education. New York Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo’s plan to enlist Bill Gates to reimagine schools is a warning signal. Gates’ record of ‘reforms’ that disempower teachers makes it likely he will propose, and Cuomo will try to implement, rote learning rather than the sort of education that happens when students and teachers interact in unscripted ways.”

Wendell Wallach, ethicist and scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, observed, “Digital technologies exacerbate inequalities not only in the U.S., but throughout the world. Addressing the downside, the economic impact of the pandemic and of structural inequality will require major reforms in the political economies of larger countries. The COVID-19 crisis is further centralizing power among the digital elite and among those best able to take advantage of high stock valuations for those companies that are thriving during the pandemic. There will definitely be an expansion of applications that improve the quality of life for a large portion of users and even ameliorate the downside of digital application. However, without serious reforms I expect that the overall trade-offs will be a net loss for the average citizen, and particularly for underserved communities. This may, of course, be masked by highly publicized applications that generally improve some aspects of life for specific communities. My worry is too much concentrated power! While a few powerful companies are seriously interested in ethical considerations, most continue to be primarily focused on their image. The deterioration of privacy is likely to continue as it serves the bottom line. More importantly, surveillance technologies in both democratic and more authoritarian countries will place a damper upon, if not actually suppress, free expression.”

Rebecca Theobald, assistant research professor at the University of Colorado–Colorado Springs, wrote, “If income inequality, both at the national and global level, persists, then there will be a dystopian existence, with only a few people benefiting from the technological improvements created by clever minds, locked away in their gated communities and hopping from wormhole to wormhole ignoring the majority of people. If there is to be an ‘average person’ in 2025, then people will need to figure out how to maintain their connections to families, geographies, cultures and ideologies without squashing others in the process. We need people to speak truth to power, and to have the power to listen. And we need people to cooperate. From the vantage point of 2020, in 2025, people will likely be more entrenched in smaller and smaller tribes, talking only to each other and less inclined to give up what they feel they have earned. People in developed regions will have more flexibility in work and will be continually monitored. Health care will change because people’s health and genetic history will become available, and we will grapple with questions about who should or should not receive treatment. We will still not be willing to pay people who do what has been deemed ‘essential work’ during the pandemic a living wage.

“Without a change in philosophy, particularly in the United States of America, geospatial technology will be used to manage and manipulate people rather than to make their lives better. I hope by 2025 efficient pooling of information about ways to improve people’s lives – whether it be about health, economic or social issues – can be readily transferred from community to community. Economic inequality will decrease because everyone will be able to access how much money people make, how much they pay in taxes, and how they contribute to their community through contributions to philanthropic causes or political campaigns. Public transportation will become more efficient with more information about which bus/train/metro/trolley is arriving when and where, with more participants and public funds, fewer individual vehicles and less pollution. People who make public statements or declaim something on social media about scientific or historical issues not based in fact will be immediately quashed with data. If those in power – governments and corporations – contain technology advances and manage them to their advantage, everyone will suffer over time.”

Paul Henman, professor of social sciences at the University of Queensland, predicted, “There may be some flow on discussions about taxation and revenue reform, but the essential power imbalances between rich and poor, disadvantaged and advantaged – both within and between countries – will continue to be a strong force that will draw the above changes back to pre-COVID-19 realities and fissures, albeit with a post-COVID-19 hue. In short, COVID-19 has not fundamentally challenged these social structural realities. I worry that the use of tracing and public health surveillance technologies and the associated supporting legislation necessary to respond to the pandemic will continue to be deployed once the pandemic justification has receded. These will be used by actors who will seek to reinforce control and reinforce preexisting social categorisations of dis/advantaged.”

Sarita Schoenebeck, an associate professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan, said, “The pandemic has made visible country-level variances in child care policies, worker rights, health care policies and economic issues. … I’m hopeful that by 2025 technology activists have been able to impact technology design and law in areas like facial recognition and privacy. I’m hopeful that similar advocacy will encourage technology that meets the needs of people with disabilities, reduces harm towards minoritized groups and prioritizes democratic principles. I’m worried about the unfettered role that technology companies have in people’s lives. Some of it produces good, but it also produces so much harm for people and societies, including harassment, disinformation and inequity, and those harms seem to be gaining steam rather than losing it.”

Jim Witte, director of the Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University, observed, “There is the possibility that this transformation could lead to greater equality, democratization, and a further ‘flattening’ of the world, as described by Tom Friedman in his 2005 book ‘The World is Flat.’ But, as I have argued elsewhere (shameless plug, ‘The Internet and Social Inequalities,’ 2010) technology embedded in a capitalist economy and society is far more likely to reproduce inequality and stratification than to reduce it. The pain will be felt acutely in the developing world, where progress has been made in meeting basic needs, but the blow to the global economy will make this difficult to sustain.”

An expert in in the history of U.S. foreign relations and the international human rights movement wrote, “I worry that without taking steps to shore up our education, health care, the environment and safety net or taking action to prevent mass evictions, the closure of small businesses, hunger, unemployment, poverty, etc., the gaps between the wealthiest and the rest of us will grow to intolerable levels. Furthermore, without action to end systemic racism, state violence and mass incarceration against Black and other marginalized Americans, we will rightly continue to have protests. Without making strides toward providing child care and maternity leave, to creating stronger protections and more security for contingent workers, all of the technology in the world will not solve our problems. Already, we are seeing the negative effects of the existing income gap damaging our society through the rise of violent right-wing nationalism, anti-immigration sentiments and rising isolationism. I fear we will just see increasing unrest. Republicans will likely continue to trot out their tired canards about the threats of socialism, but no party has done more to make socialism appealing to the masses than selfish conservative policies that have redistributed wealth upwards to the wealthiest, while the rest of the country is left with stagnant wages, poor health care, a degraded environment and few protections from rapacious corporate greed.”

June Anne English-Lueck, professor of anthropology at San Jose State University and a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, said, “Global economic disruption has exposed and exacerbated economic inequalities. The experience of work differs dramatically for those who can protect themselves and get access to preventative care and treatment and those who do not have access. Mobile devices linked with place-based surveillance are ubiquitous as contact tracking continues. The focus should be on the issues of division based on class, race and the many flavors of gender, the clash with the immediate public health needs, which will be exhaustingly present in 2025, and the ever-more-pressing woes of climate change.”

Brian Harvey, emeritus professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, predicted, “The virus will accelerate the growing divide between the rich and the poor – in this case talking not only about the very rich, but about intellectual workers like me, who may discover that they can avoid the traffic jams going to work. Meanwhile the poor have jobs that can’t be done from home, those of them who still have jobs at all. A possible benefit would be if the United States developed a social conscience and instituted the kind of safety net that civilized countries have. I am assuming that eventually there will be a vaccine and/or an effective cure to this virus, but the writing is on the wall: There will be more such viruses, and the poor will suffer disproportionately.”

Michael Muller, a researcher for a top global technology company whose work is focused on human aspects of data science and ethics and values, wrote, “If we have a non-vaccine new normal, poorer people will continue to do the most COVID-19-hazardous work, while wealthier people continue (as we do now) to work remotely. This situation is unjust. If it became perpetuated, then this aspect of injustice would also be perpetuated. Our lives are already riven and sickened with injustice. I hope we can find ways to reduce injustice. So far, COVID-19 is mostly making it worse.”

Michael Marien, director of Global Foresight Books, futurist and compiler of the annual list of the best futures books of the year, said, “Life will be better for some in 2025, but worse for most people within and among nations. COVID-19 is clearly worsening inequality worldwide, and the worst impacts of the pandemic are yet to appear due to underreporting in ‘developing’ countries, many of which will be ‘undeveloping.’ COVID-19 is ‘the great equalizer’ in that anyone can catch it and suffer, but ‘the great unequalizer’ because it will impact the poor in crowded slums and the informal economy who have little or no access to health care and, for many in the near future, food.”

Alice E. Marwick, assistant professor of communication at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and adviser for the Media Manipulation project at the Data & Society Research Institute, predicted, “Five years from now I expect that working from home will be normalized for most white-collar industries. The pandemic has shown us that people can be productive without an office environment, and many people who believed they had to live in very expensive metro areas to work in their desired field will opt to live in lower cost-of-living areas while still being active participants in their workplace. However, I do not envision system-wide reforms for some of the systemic inequities that the pandemic made highly visible. The three-tiered employment system of the unemployed/furloughed, the ‘essential workers’ who primarily work in low-wage, low-prestige jobs that require in-person engagement, and professional/white collar workers shows no signs of abating. The immense difference in the U.S. between people who have caregiving responsibilities at home and those who do not will not change without systemic investment in child care, elder care and disability benefits. The difference between parents who can afford to hire nannies, teachers or tutors for their children and those who cannot will manifest in greater educational inequality along lines of race, class and income level.

Expansion of surveillant efforts of the state and criminal justice system will further marginalize the poor, people of color and political activists. The use of algorithms to distribute social benefits punishes the poor, especially the elderly or those without access to the internet.”

Alice E. Marwick, assistant professor of communication at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and adviser for the Media Manipulation project at the Data & Society Research Institute

“Even if we assume that COVID-19 is no longer a threat in 2025, those inequities will remain unless there is a nationwide change in funding priorities and an end to partisan gridlock in Congress. Many of the economic effects of COVID will continue to be felt five years from now, from urban centers that never fully regained their economic vibrancy to long-term salary depression on people who were laid off or entering the workforce during the pandemic. In addition, without national-level, comprehensive privacy reform, the use of social technologies by the criminal justice system, the police and the government will continue and will further entrench unevenly distributed levels of privacy. Expansion of surveillant efforts of the state and criminal justice system will further marginalize the poor, people of color and political activists. The use of algorithms to distribute social benefits punishes the poor, especially the elderly or those without access to the internet.”

Alice Xiang, a researcher at The Partnership for AI whose work is focused on fairness, transparency and accountability, wrote, “We have already seen that COVID has affected people very differently along existing socioeconomic and demographic lines. I think the ‘new normal’ will reflect further-entrenched inequalities. The demand for those with technology-related skills will likely increase as more of people’s lives are conducted virtually. While in-person service jobs have provided significant employment for lower skilled workers, those industries will likely still suffer in 2025.”

Amy Sample Ward, CEO of NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network, said, “Most of the systems that surrounded our lives before the pandemic – for education, health, work and beyond – were overly reliant on offline interaction and not made from values or processes that enabled effective shifts to more virtual environments. As we’ve seen with the way many of these systems have been forced to find new ways to operate during the pandemic, systemic oppressions, issues of accessibility and competing systems of capitalism have prevented many communities from being able to stay safe, access services or continue working. Building ‘back’ from here will be a very long road and one that will, unfortunately, continue to burden most those already most impacted by these systems. Until there is real investment in ensuring that everyone has reliable access at home, reliable and appropriate devices (not only a smartphone) and the skills to use the internet for their needs, any tech-related changes that may be developed will continue to serve mostly those with more privilege and access to resources. The very real needs facing our communities during this pandemic present challenges ripe for technical innovation and solutions, however those facing the most needs today are also those most likely without service and devices. We need to have our collective interest in change include bringing everyone online. The role of private equity should worry everyone, as well as the continued monopolization of technology, especially AI tools entering homes.”

Jon Stine, executive director of the Open Voice Network, responded, “I worry that, from policy and investment perspectives, the national digital divide will be of little interest to those in power. And that many of our leading technology firms take little or no responsibility in addressing the fact-free narratives that increasingly shape societal attitudes and political decisions.”

Craig Spiezle, managing director and trust strategist for Agelight and chair emeritus for the Online Trust Alliance, said, “We are facing a perfect storm: levels of civil unrest, extremes in political discourse and lack of faith in our government. I fear it will be long road to recovery not only from the economic damage but the impact to trust and integrity, not to mention the unknown long-term impact from social isolation. … The new normal will arise with a transformation of many jobs and of the overall economy. While we have high hopes for technology, COVID has taken the divide between digital inclusiveness and digital inequality to a new level due to the need for home schooling, remote work and telemedicine. While affordable, fast and reliable connectivity is paramount, the issues are not limited to access. Key digital obstacles include but are not limited to basic online literacy, language capabilities, understanding of relevancy and access to technical support. Combined with increasing privacy deficits and risks of fraud, these issues are impacting several segments of society more than others. Pew released research in June 2020 showing 65% of adults [ages 30 to 49] say the internet has been essential to them during COVID, compared with 31% of those 65 and older. This is not surprising as older cohorts in general have not embraced a digital lifestyle and do not understand what they are missing.”

Tech skepticism will (and should!) exist at all levels of socioeconomic status, but I worry the working poor and the poor will experience technology only as a negative force leveled against them by employers.”

Perry Hewitt, an executive with Ithaka

Perry Hewitt, an executive with Ithaka, responded, “2025 is too soon for us to expect that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fissures in inequality and health care disparities it exposed, will have receded. 2020-2023 will feature massive disruption to educational attainment and employment that will affect everyone, with a particular blow dealt to teens and young adults. For white-collar workers, the forced mass adoption of collaboration tools will provide some more efficient and better ways to work. With the outlier remote worker reimagined as the norm, entrenched assumptions about ‘facetime’ and acceptance of astronomical rents and outlandish commutes will diminish and improve work life through technology. And here’s hoping that by then we view video as a tool to use in a particular context, and not a blanket replacement for in-person connection. At the same time, three years of unemployment will redirect power into the hands to the corporations wielding those tools. Productivity and connection tools are uncomfortably close to remote-worker monitoring, which is also on the rise. Technology exists today that could enforce social distancing in meatpacking plants, and yet laws enable these health and safety measures to be circumvented. Tech skepticism will (and should!) exist at all levels of socioeconomic status, but I worry the working poor and the poor will experience technology only as a negative force leveled against them by employers.”

Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, based in the UK, observed, “We will still be in recovery in 2025, but will potentially be building a better world – recovering in regard to economic, psychological and physical health. We probably will have another rise of populism and anti-poor and anti-foreigner sentiment unless a National Health Service-like attitude prevails for a new morality around people being humans who are deserving of humane treatment without regard and despite differences in status and origin and ethnicity and identity.”

People are becoming more reliant on digital technology, thus they need to understand how it is created, understand the motives of the technological giants that make it.

Luis Germán Rodríguez, a professor and expert on the sociotechnical impacts of innovation in education at the Universidad Central de Venezuela

Luis Germán Rodríguez, a professor and expert on the sociotechnical impacts of innovation in education at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, wrote, “The ‘new normal’ will involve forced behavioral changes that are not internalized for the majority of the population. This pandemic is unprecedented for a humanity that has achieved, thanks to its technological development, degrees of mobility that are a threat to strategies necessary for containing and controlling the virus. The precarious state of information literacy in all the strata of society is a danger. Rather than creating tools in a way that allows users to solve problems as they wish, technology designers force users to think within the logic of the tools. People are becoming more reliant on digital technology, thus they need to understand how it is created, understand the motives of the technological giants that make it. People in organizations, governments, private companies of all sizes and civil society are lagging behind in understanding the role of technology in the ‘new normal’ and they need help mastering digital literacy. A digital emergency should be declared, similar to that decreed in the face of climate change, in order to take measures that guarantee the individual liberties of each person, including those of information and expression. … The best thing that technology can bring to the years to come is to add transparency and auditability to its operation. Stop being a ‘black box’ for citizens. Rescue and preserve the individual freedom of each one and stop encapsulating people as a user-product. Technological resources, mainly those based on artificial intelligence, must guarantee the interpretability of the results they yield. This applies to developments promoted by technology companies as well as to those promoted by governments. The digital environment is consolidating as a bubble that limits the possibilities of individual development and conditions communications between humans.”

Valentine Goddard, the founder and executive director of the AI Impact Alliance, which aims to facilitate an ethical and responsible implementation of AI for all humanity, said, “When confinement measures were imposed, most of us were forced to rely on digital tools for communication. Our dependence on digital tools is now higher than ever. Those who are equipped with digital capacity are pulling through, but those who aren’t are losing access to basic needs and rights such as access to work, education and health care. Recent research shows that the digital divide is growing, and that will have an impact on our capacity to achieve the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). COVID-19 is highlighting the unequal distribution of resources and power in the digital economy.

“As the digital transformation is accelerated by COVID-19, the preexisting ethical, social, legal, political and economic implications of AI and big data are more critical than ever. Yet, [in] society’s haste to prioritize economic recovery, AI’s ethical requirements risk being overlooked. Given the current distribution of capacity and resources in AI and AI ethics, given the underrepresentation of women in AI, gender equality will take a huge step backwards. For the average woman, that would mean adapting to digital tools designed and deployed by men in all spheres of their lives (employment, economic security, well-being, civic participation). If we focus on access to work, for example, new research shows that due to COVID-19, the participation of women in the workforce has been set back 30 years already. Previous research has shown that women’s jobs were more likely to be automated, and therefore replaced.

“Prospects for 2025 in those circumstances should be of high concern and a top priority for governments around the world. Meanwhile, in Big Tech – a sector that employs roughly under 15% of women in AI – profits are skyrocketing. Technology companies play an increasingly important role in everyone’s lives, including our civic capacity to engage with democratic institutions. The digital divide, left unaddressed, will silence the voices of digitally illiterate citizens as well as those of entire communities who don’t even have access to internet. As governments are digitizing services to citizens, their reliance on private technology companies is proportionally increasing, giving them more and more power. Not to underplay their expertise and capacity to contribute positively to society, but these are privately owned and managed for-profit organizations that suffer from a critical lack of women and diversity. There is currently no legal obligation to socialize the benefits of the data they collect. Furthermore, from startups to mid-sized businesses in AI, AI expertise is either underfunded or nonexistent. Given the current landscape of uneven access to AI, the lack of large-scale efforts to help citizens understand the implications of AI and data governance, the diversity and gender crisis in AI technology companies, the nonexistence of social impact assessment frameworks, the absence of an obligation to use AI and data to achieve SDGs, I am concerned about the increasing role of technology companies in the lives of citizens in 2025.”

Gary A. Bolles, chair for the future of work at Singularity University, responded, “My worry is over the increasing power of the winner-take-all tech companies and the lack of viable competition; a venture-fueled, extractive approach to innovation that guarantees the incumbents will win, as they buy startups designed specifically to be purchased. There is a lack of collective commitment to default processes that work primarily to the benefit of humans, such as a fundamental right to data ownership and privacy. The continued dependence by many governments on legacy processes and old technology that keep them from nimble response to citizen needs is a negative. There is a lack of widespread commitment to ethics and inclusion, leading to the continuing dehumanization of technology.”

Ronnie Lowenstein, a pioneer in interactive technologies, commented, “My concerns revolve around: 1) Economic distress worldwide. 2) Continued and escalating social unrest. 3) Political strife threatening democratic institutions. 4) Inadequate models of schooling. While technologies hold promise, as tools of transformation, exponential speed of change minimizes the potential benefits. It takes vision and political will to harness technologies for benefit. The lack of coordinating mechanisms among people within and across nations are negatively impacting response to [the] pandemic. We need global dialogues to create ‘regenerative’ collaborations institutions harnessing the collective intelligence. Emerging cyber-civilization could improve lives only if leaders apply systems thinking and foresight management in the design of policies that ensure the traditionally marginalized communities are supported with technology access, technology education and training and economic opportunities for wealth creation and sustainable, meaningful career paths. My worries are related to: 1) Ethics and privacy rights. 2) Growing impact of misinformation and inability to actually discern reality in technology doctored videos, or the truth in media. 3) The lack of critical thinking/media literacy skills in populations. Since 2009 the UN, UNESCO and U.S. Department of State recognized that without media literacy skills, our democratic institutions are threatened.”

Elwyn Davies, mathematician, internet architect and consultant, observed, “Unless there is a sea change in government attitudes, it is looking increasingly likely that many of the cultural aspects of pre-COVID life will not be supported through the economic turmoil that has ensued. The creative and cultural industries are currently at the back of the queue for support. This will make the world a greyer place, and mental health will suffer. The current focus on getting the old-style, so-called ‘productive industries’ restarted just means sending the wage slaves back to work to ensure the that the rich keep their fortunes intact and continue to enjoy a nice life. Lower down the scale, life will be more constrained, with many jobs keeping us locked up in our homes and personal contact minimised. On the technical side, the internet will be ever more critical to how life functions. I fear also that governments will not take the opportunity to embrace a greener regeneration. Here in the UK our so-called government urges us to ‘build, build, build,’ but to build houses to last century’s standards rather than with heavy duty insulation, low-carbon heating and with solar generation on every roof. Sorry to be so pessimistic but we seem to have been cursed with a mostly short-sighted and venal collection of leaders at this juncture.”

Hopefully as we acknowledge where technology leaves people and businesses behind we will leverage technology to solve for those predicted negative outcomes.”

Ryan Sweeney, director of analytics for Ignite Social Media

Ryan Sweeney, director of analytics for Ignite Social Media, said, “I’m worried most about the furthering of the class divide in a country which is already sitting on a powder keg of inequality. One of the biggest changes will be in terms of working from home. Looking specifically at companies and people who can afford to work from home, the value of doing so will be redefined. The ‘office’ has been evolving away from tradition, as working from home becomes more commonplace. … Pessimistically, in the ‘new normal’ for people who are unable to afford to work from home and have been financially harmed by the pandemic we will likely see further isolation. If it becomes commonplace for social interaction and financial transactions to happen online, those who are unable to afford high-speed internet (or even the internet in general) will continue to be left behind, furthering the class gap. Generally, I hope this pandemic and the issues it has raised within our society will lead to positive innovation as opposed to further class segregation. Hopefully as we acknowledge where technology leaves people and businesses behind we will leverage technology to solve for those predicted negative outcomes.”

Tommy Johnson, a technology developer/administrator, observed, “The internet has been more and more dominated by proprietary systems. Email is probably the last protocol in use which one can use without having to agree to terms of service with some pointless third party. Even the web has been usurped by requiring that one have a signed key from a gatekeeper like Let’s Encrypt. Let’s Encrypt may give you a key now, but the keys they distribute are intentionally short-lived and can disappear at any time. They are as much a gatekeeper as Verisign. People could have used SIP clients instead of Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams. But they aren’t. And the final result is that participating in society while also managing to avoid the pointless rent seekers is impossible. The pandemic has changed the set of winning rent seekers, but not the fact that the public square is now under an end-user licensing agreement. Absent some unimaginable event, I cannot imagine the rent seekers being reined in.”

Vince LaPiana, an information security analyst at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, wrote, “If we consider only the subset of people in North America, Western Europe and the economically developed countries around the world, working people who use and depend on technology may be better off, as the abrupt change to more remote working will provide this group greater flexibility in where they work, greater mobility and greater freedom of choice. It will also accelerate overseas work in places like India and China, where labor costs are significantly lower even for educated technology workers. I fear we will see a greater economic division and a worsening situation for workers outside of the technology arena, such as people in service industries. People whose service jobs align well with technology workers’ needs may do well, but others will not. This economic bifurcation, if it occurs, would be socially unhealthy and disruptive for everyone, including the technology workers who, on the face of it, would be better off – but won’t be, if they’re living in societies with less economic equality.”

Kate Klonick, a law professor at St. John’s University whose research is focused on law and technology, said, “The new normal in 2025 might be better in some ways, but will mostly be worse. While working at home can be incredibly beneficial to some people, the loss of ‘hallway effects’ gained from business travel, daily commutes and work environments will be significant. While I believe most of the risk of COVID spread will be mitigated by 2025 so that people can generally return to ‘normal’ will be an ever-present fear of reemergence. I am most pessimistic about the pandemic’s impact on education, from K-12 to college to professional schools, and on small businesses. I believe the models those systems function under will be the longest for recovery (close contact, indoors) and thus the most economically damaged and least likely to recover. I worry people will become out of practice with in-person interactions. I worry that rushing to certain types of technology to stop the spread of COVID, like contact tracing, will have terrible long-term effects on privacy with little benefit.”

Arnaud Gahimbare, network administrator at the East African Court of Justice, commented, “The way technology is bringing services closer to individuals with minimal physical effort will increase the rate of noncommunicable diseases due to lifestyle such as obesity and related diseases. Also, technology will kill some careers, and those who will not be able to adapt to new ways of working will lose their jobs. The average person in my part of the world is mostly uneducated, a farmer, living in a rural area without electricity and water. So, for the average person in my part of the world, the new normal in 2025 will be worse. Not much will have changed in the way s/he lives. The rest of the world will be operating within a digital economy that will negatively affect the average person in my part of the world since trading will be done and decisions made with him/her not being involved and yet the consequences will follow on him/her. I hope technology will make the world smaller and services affordable and much more reachable.”

Alan S. Inouye, director of the Office for Information Technology Policy at the American Library Association, responded, “In 2025, the question will be, ‘What is the proper proportion of in-office workers vs. remote workers?’ For many of these workers, increased flexibility will be obtained, with the possibility of hybrid models. A major revolution in the office/organization paradigm will be taking place. Those whose work is not so place-dependent, based on their human capital and expertise, and can be done via technology may well be winners. Others not. The others include most of the service workers who do the physical work to make the economy go, such as restaurant workers, brick and mortar retailers, agricultural and meatpacking workers, janitorial workers and many others. Their work is primarily tied to a place, and place may well still be compromised in 2025.”

Faisal Nasr, an advocate, research scientist, futurist and professor, wrote, “If national policies fail to address the use of digital technology in all walks of life, especially ensuring access to all layers of society, then other responsible organizations – public, private, CSOs, universities and others – have to do their part in ensuring productive and fair digital technology utilization free of abuse in labor markets and mindful of people’s work and meaningful contributions. … As a professional economist since 1975 in academia and international development, I have found that the excessive emphasis on the profit motive is very dangerous, is contaminating the world and is negatively influencing democratic governance and the real role of the public sector as the conscience of society to ensure fair and inclusive economic growth and development. The private sector is very important for economic growth, but private sector institutions have to see themselves in a very different light than the past: one with a social responsibility to share the gains which stem from society, to ensure future balance and stability.”

The director of an artificial intelligence research institute said, “Networked technological systems – those that we refer to when we talk about ‘tech’ – are tools of centralized control. The technical systems that are clustered under the banner of ‘AI’ require massive infrastructure, huge stores of data and elite training to produce and maintain. In the Western context such resources are only available to a handful of large tech corporations, who effectively form a monopoly. As these technologies are further threaded through sensitive domains, from COVID-19 contact tracing, to determining which students get into which schools, to deciding who goes to jail and who gets bail, to determining who gets a loan and much, much else, we are increasingly ceding control to these sensitive decisions to obscure and unaccountable companies. Because such systems are almost always developed and sold by private companies, they are hidden behind corporate secrecy, and not open to scrutiny by researchers or the public. And, when they are deployed in specific domains, frequently they are procured and implemented in secret, without robust democratic debate, or the people on whom they’re used even knowing that their lives and opportunities are being shaped by ‘tech.’ There is nothing magical, or even necessarily competent, about these technologies. What they are particularly good at is centralizing power and helping obscure regimes of social control that accrue more power to those who already have it, while further disempowering those who don’t.”

Ben Grosser, associate professor of new media at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, predicted, “Governments and corporate employers will use this moment to dramatically expand computational surveillance, particularly into the home environment. Employee activity will be increasingly tracked, measured and analyzed through quantification, and this encroachment will have a significant negative effect on individual agency, happiness and safety. The divides between those who have adequate technological resources and those who don’t will widen. I hope there is a renewed interest in building, deploying and adopting decentralized noncorporate infrastructure for tasks that are now provided by companies like Facebook. However, it’s already an inarguable disaster that a single corporation such as Facebook holds so much personal data about nearly 3 billion humans on the planet. Such platform dominance and the perils it presents will only expand.”

Brian Harvey, emeritus professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote, “My friends in the computer world tend to believe that the solution to bad technology is good technology. But when it comes to the social implications of technology, I have the old-fashioned view that it’s human decisions, not technological imperatives, that usually matter. Shoshana Zuboff gives the example of Google quietly abandoning the ‘don’t be evil’ slogan when they figured out that they could make more money collecting dossiers on everyone than on search itself. It would help, for example, if rising unemployment (already underway before COVID-19 but much worse now) finally led to a worldwide guaranteed basic income – an adequate one, despite the word ‘basic’ in its name. Everyone is already worried about the fact that four people rule the world, answerable to no one. Well, I guess Apple isn’t quite just one person, so three people and one small group. The problem is, as usual, worst in the U.S., where technology bubbles have given rise to a ‘post-truth’ politics that is truly frightening. But, just as in the case of fast food, the rest of the world has been eager to import the very worst things our society produces (instead of toilet paper, the only thing we do better than the rest of the world). The computerization of elections is another terrifying development.”

I worry that, as the world becomes more virtual, companies could end up owning and controlling all our virtual ‘possessions.’ If you buy a physical book you can give it to someone else; not so with a virtual book.

Michael G. Dyer, a professor emeritus of computer science at UCLA expert in natural language processing

Michael G. Dyer, a professor emeritus of computer science at UCLA expert in natural language processing, said, “I worry that, as the world becomes more virtual, companies could end up owning and controlling all our virtual ‘possessions.’ If you buy a physical book you can give it to someone else; not so with a virtual book. You will use someone else’s software to create your virtual ‘building’ in which your employees meet and interact. What happens if you, for any reason, annoy the company that maintains and licenses to you that business environment? We already are seeing the incredible power that Amazon, Facebook and Google have over the businesses and people who use their software. At some point such companies will have to be broken up unless proper laws can be crafted that rein in that power. …

“The acceleration of the already ongoing trends of robotics and virtual interactions will continue to make life worse for the poorly educated and better for the highly educated. Some form of universal basic income (UBI) will need to be implemented, hopefully coupled with the requirement that those who receive it must at the same time be acquiring educational credits. Over time, more and more people will be educated via online targeted courses with targeted certifications. Only the wealthiest will be able to afford a traditional education in which they physically gather on campuses to learn philosophy, history, science, mathematics, etc.”

Annette Markham, a leading expert in digital ethics, identity in sociotechnical contexts and futures of technology, responded, “Predictive analytics and the invasion of digital tech into our personal and work lives will certainly continue. In 2025 we can expect blanket surveillance and deeply personal data collection. But this will not be without strong voices continuing to hold corporate and governmental entities accountable. We can expect that additional tragic events and unjust outcomes of predictive policing and data breaches will have helped create stronger public pushback against invasive technologies.”

John Sniadowski, systems architect, predicted, “The gap between people able to work from home and those forced to go to work because their job needs physical input will widen.”

As risk grows, security must also; privacy falls and authoritarianism rises

A significant number of these expert respondents argued that the health crisis spawned by the pandemic and the accompanying broader dependence people have on the internet heighten threats of criminal activity, hacks and other attacks. Some noted that optimized security solutions are likely to further reduce individuals’ privacy and civil liberties. They said the mass surveillance that seemed necessary to fight the pandemic is likely to expand the opportunity for authoritarian states to silence dissent and abuse citizens’ civil rights.

Michael R. Nelson, research associate at CSC Leading Edge Forum, said, “The need for better medical information (to track COVID-19 patients, for instance) may make us figure out how to properly handle digital health information – and lead us to get better, more rational privacy policies for ALL types of data. … Governments are going to have to decide how to reconcile contradictory policy goals. One possible solution would be end-to-end encryption (and cloud services that let me encrypt my data using keys only I control). Another solution is ‘data trust’ or ‘data unions’ that store data about me and let me know who is accessing it and why. There is a lot of innovation yet to come – if governments don’t insist that there is one solution for every problem, when allowing different approaches for different communities with different needs makes a lot more sense. I am excited about the ‘Cloud of Things’ – what happens when each of us have 50-100 networked devices helping us live easier, safer, more organized lives. But that requires networks that are reliable, ubiquitous, flexible and affordable – and interoperable. (That means a lot more than just the 5G solutions that some companies are pushing.)

“I’m also excited about the promise of big data and machine learning – if we can overcome the fear of the future and techlash that are leading to dystopian visions of a future where the Tech Titans control everyone and everything. I worry that governments are writing rules to regulate the Tech Titans and not realizing that those rules will kill the opportunities for new entrants to provide new services and compete with the established players. This is particular true in regard to copyright, privacy, the ‘right to be forgotten’ and hate speech. I’m also concerned that authoritarian countries will develop and export technologies for tracking their citizens – and lead to a backlash to some of the most exciting potential applications of the Cloud of Things.”

Giacomo Mazzone, head of institutional relations for the European Broadcasting Union and Eurovision, commented, “The COVID-19 crisis will accelerate changes that normally would have occurred in two decades; they now very likely will happen within the next five years. If Europe will not be able to counter and resist the pressure of the internet giants and reestablish ethical and human rights-based principles in the digital world, nobody else will do it for us. Especially not China, Russia or other totalitarian states that see in this change an opportunity to replace the old-fashioned Stasi’s service with more efficient and less costly apps, like Clearview. It also will be important to understand the 2020 elections in the U.S. Those with wealth will pay to protect (as much as they can) their privacy and their valuable information. The new poor will simply give their identity in exchange to access to basic services that appear to be available for free.”

Jonathan Kolber, a member of the TechCast Global panel of forecasters and author of a book about the threats of automation, wrote, “I am concerned that universal surveillance will become the norm due to drastic reductions in the cost, size and mobility of sensors, and antennas, as well as the AIs that will monitor and sift through surveillance data. I expect an Orwellian model, albeit in somewhat softer form, to proliferate in China and nations under its growing influence, as well as in democracies that cannot effectively adjust to the triple pressures from a Depression, accelerating automation and environmental crises. Universal surveillance can actually become a tool for both public safety and protection of individual rights, but it will require a radical rethinking of societal design, including how that surveillance is implemented.”

The new normal might superficially look quite a lot like the old normal, just less forward-looking and risk-taking.

Alf Rehn, professor of innovation, design and management at the University of Southern Denmark

Alf Rehn, professor of innovation, design and management at the University of Southern Denmark, responded, “The new normal is likely to be one of insecurity – social, economic and existential. A sense of unease regarding the next crisis is likely to become a default state for many, with the attendant shortening of planning horizons. There is a risk that people will become less prone to take risks such as getting a new education or starting a new business, as the focus shifts very much to the immediate future. People will still believe in innovation and new technology, yet there is a distinct risk that there will be far less investment and support for the same, as fear drives organizations and societies to take less long-term risk and focus more on a few key areas (such as health care). The new normal might superficially look quite a lot like the old normal, just less forward-looking and risk-taking. … The short-term benefits may be dwarfed by the long-term risks of focusing too much on things that can go to market in a 12-to-24-month span, and not enough on the research and development that might not create an impact until 10 years down the line. We need to be careful that we’re not selling out the future when dealing with today. There are of course many things one could worry about – privacy, data security, the fragility of systems and so on – but the thing that worries me the most is that companies may cut down on the kind of long-term research and development that we will need in not just 2025, but in decades to come. If countries, too, abandon basic research, we may be setting up an innovation time bomb that will be felt beyond 2030 when the needed advances simply haven’t emerged.”

Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst for Altimeter Group, predicted, “We will never completely return to the period of relative innocence (or willful ignorance) we enjoyed before January 2020. That world is gone, and we’ll need to be vigilant both from a personal and public health perspective from now on. Humans being what we are, we should expect lapses, flares and inevitable restrictions as part of our ‘new normal.’ As we’re rapidly learning, there is no ‘one and done’ when it comes to novel viruses. Since the beginning of 2020, we’ve seen organizations accelerate their digital transformation efforts and the move to cloud computing. A few years ago this was considered innovation; now it’s survival.”

Seth Finkelstein, programmer, consultant and Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award winner, observed, “The potential misuse of surveillance and tracking is mind-boggling. We have many communications highly centralized in a few large corporations, location data tracked by a similar handful of large corporations and are moving towards having delivery of the necessities of life increasing under the control of some large corporations. This is all a totalitarian’s fantasy toolbox. It’s possible that contact-tracing infrastructure implemented to minimize spreading the virus of COVID-19 could be repurposed against spreading the virus of subversion. While this is not a new dilemma – a standing army that can defeat a foreign enemy can also potentially be used against a domestic political rival – I worry there’s not comparable effort to effectively deal with the risks.”

Morgan G. Ames, associate director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Science, Technology & Society, wrote, “Surveillance technologies and the erosion of privacy and civil liberties are already well underway and could be significantly worse all around the world by 2025. There is little incentive for technology companies, especially less high-profile but more specialized ones, to avoid close cooperation with fascist regimes around the world. While there has been a lot of focus on the role of Microsoft, Google, Apple and especially Amazon and Facebook in this already, there are many others who have avoided scrutiny in this area. I fear that there is little to stop this expansion.”

William L. Schrader, an internet pioneer, mentor, adviser and consultant best known as founder and CEO of PSINet, predicted, “Privacy will be lost forever. The internet does not sleep and does not forget. People who control these firms have inordinate power now and into the future. They are quite capable of being shallow and selling out to the U.S. government, or any government. So, they will. The poor people and those who are cognitively limited will always be at a disadvantage. However, they won’t be the primary targets for the theft and abuse by governments. Technology will be a mixed blessing in the future. Reread ‘NineteenEightyfour.’”

Anthony Clayton, an expert in policy analysis, futures studies and scenario and strategic planning based at the University of the West Indies, said, “There will be an increased emphasis on cybersecurity, as an explosion of fraud, misinformation and fake news came with the virus. The FBI, for example, reported that COVID-19-related scams had approximately doubled the total volume of cyberfraud in the U.S. Scammers took advantage of the chaos and offered fake advice on COVID-19 to induce recipients to click on their links, which allowed them to download malware and capture personal and financial information. I worry about the extraordinary concentration of power in the hands of a tiny group of technology firms, one or two of which have shown an insouciant attitude to the various harms they were allowing, such as the use of their platforms by criminal, terrorist and extremist groups.”

Jean Seaton, director of the Orwell Foundation and professor of media history at the University of Westminster, responded, “The shape of all the issues has to be struggled for by determinate political actors. Surveying the world, they don’t look a promising bunch. However, there may be a new will. Similarly, the shape and use of technology will be changed by collective decisions to use it in ways that are in the collective good. Right now, the model of viral advertising is triumphant (see TikTok). It is a dreadful way to run polities, let alone international collaborations. We haven’t even begun really to have the discussions about ‘privacy’ that we need to have. Plus, on top of another economic shock, many of the jobs that poor people all over the world do may disappear. I wouldn’t want to be a dissident in 2025. The big companies cannot and are not fit to make a new political space. Meanwhile new, messy authoritarian states and old hyper-authoritarian states will use the technology without any limitation to produce compliance, satisfaction and order.”

Doug Schepers, a longtime expert in web technologies and founder of Fizz Studio, wrote, “My worries are the steady erosion of privacy in the form of surveillance capitalism; the growing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, especially executives of tech companies; the decrease in empathy for others due to physical distancing and remote working and living; increasing influencing of elections via digital tools like social media deepfakes and sockpuppets.”

Barry Chudakov, founder and principal of Sertain Research, commented, “It goes without saying that as we move more of our lives online, and self-presentation becomes more virtual than actual, security of identity and sensitive information will become a paramount concern. We will develop better protocols to handle these issues, but we will give up privacy to do so. Privacy will be like a luxury yacht: available only to the wealthy.”

In 2025, what people could trust would be technologies that support self-organizing local response to local problems. In other words, a fractal organization of response to global problems, one that is distributed rather than centralizing.

Garth Graham, a longtime leader of Telecommunities Canada

Garth Graham, a longtime leader of Telecommunities Canada, said, “The structure of international institutions that balanced global issues since World War II is disintegrating, in part because trust has largely disappeared within the connective benefits of information and communications technologies that enable globalizing structures. In 2025, what people could trust would be technologies that support self-organizing local response to local problems. In other words, a fractal organization of response to global problems, one that is distributed rather than centralizing. However, there’s no sign that awareness of a need for heightened sensitivity to local conditions and ecologies can face the challenge of all the calls for a revitalization of existing sources of power.”

Andrea Romaoli Garcia, an international tax lawyer active in multistakeholder activities of the International Telecommunication Union and Internet Society, wrote, “New technologies are being adopted indiscriminately, without any respect for ethics or human rights. … We should not accept that tracking people and scanning their faces or looking inside their bodies should be the new normal. We should remember that when technology brought socioeconomic acceleration to the 21st century it also introduced new and lethal means and weapons of war. AI is advancing human health; it is also allowing drones to choose young men as military targets. For this reason, the ‘new normal’ reinforces our need to respect human rights and accept only ethical technology. The violation that was deemed necessary in the COVID-19 crisis should not be accepted as the definitive measure. After the COVID-19 pandemic, health protocols deserve special attention. Experienced professionals must join young professionals to build safe algorithms to assure health protocols.

“After the COVID-19 pandemic, countries with dictatorships or weak democracy have suffered from organized crime and retrocession of human rights. Corruptors plunder the public trust. Freedom of Expression is threatened as new laws are being established in some places to allow censorship. The COVID-19 pandemic has been used as an excuse to withdraw individual rights and guarantees permanently. Individual freedoms and guarantees have been violated. These are fourth-dimensional fundamental rights that, from the Fourth Industrial Revolution onwards, open the need for a sixth dimension of human rights to guarantee human security and to establish equitable justice that is reinforced by access to technologies.

“These are forgotten themes when leaders of technology companies discuss their profit plans. Just as it is illegal to trade parts of the human body, the same rule should be applied to individuals’ data and their individual freedoms. If this continues to be overlooked, technology will not be beneficial to the future of humanity because individuals will be unable to experience its awards. … Personal information is being used and multiplied infinitely. This must be tackled now for a better life in 2025 and to prevent a long economic recession. The roles of technology and technology companies in individuals’ lives in 2025 are crucial to preventing the rich turning richest and the poor turning poorest.”

A distinguished professor emeritus of engineering observed, “Everything that is networked is insecure. Companies are failing on security and fraud prevention. Enhanced services require access to data, but I want to have control over the ways my data are used. How can I achieve that? Technology tends to constrain my behavior by guiding it toward well-understood channels. Tech companies need to detect this effect and respond in agile ways. How can we scale personalization and flexibility? Rigidity leads to catastrophic failures (not to mention loss of customers).”

Gary A. Bolles, chair for the future of work at Singularity University, responded, “Privacy will be under much deeper strain, as governments and high-tech giants continually iterate their ability to gather data with relative impunity. … There is a lack of collective commitment to default processes that work primarily to the benefit of humans, such as a fundamental right to data ownership and privacy.”

Narelle Clark, a longtime network technology administrator and leader based in Australia, said, “I am concerned that we will see even more unreliable, insecure digital technology emerge and it will increase the risks to an already vulnerable population. People accept what is ‘free’ but cannot see the trade-offs they are making. The shift to ‘apps’ on handsets and personal computers has rendered the technology largely opaque, even to experienced and technology literate users. This means an increase in software vulnerabilities. The massive take-up of ‘contactless’ payment and other interactions due to the pandemic means that even people who were resistant to tracking, identity and technology-enabled theft will become more vulnerable. We will see increases in the unreliability of infrastructure due to cyberwarfare from the unstable geopolitical scene. More online theft will take place due to more desperate people – because of the economic circumstances. We will see increased human rights abuses by increasingly authoritarian and intrusive governments who will abuse the pervasiveness of technology into people’s homes and lives. People may be ready to adopt contact-tracing apps during a pandemic, but these will be coupled with data mining by both governments and technology companies to increase their power and economic value. With the increase in telehealth and closed supply chains, medical technology will increasingly harvest data from unknowing populations and use it for private profit, not necessarily public good.”

Fernando Barrio, a lecturer in business law at Queen Mary University of London expert in AI and human rights, commented, “In a system that takes as a given that technological development is good and that the main purpose of corporations and individuals is to maximize profits, the future is bound to be one where technology is designed and used to trample individual rights. Already privacy is almost fictional, and the right to express ideas is being manipulated. This is twisting the political processes in democracies. See examples like the last U.S. election, the Brexit referendum and many other elections in supposedly democratic countries. The combination of lack of regulation, oligopolistic IT ownership and populist governments, from the right, center and left, results in technology having an overall negative role in society’s development and in individuals’ lives. The rise of an Orwellian society is already a fact in certain countries, and others that are allegedly democratic are sleepwalking towards them because naive individuals are happy that they can find a recipe by simply asking a device that hears everything one says inside ones’ home. Another issue, with larger impact on societal levels, is the deployment of so-called artificial intelligence to decision-making processes that affect individuals’ lives, from social security decisions to criminal system ones, with an expected exponential rise of biased decisions, which would have been naturalized beforehand by the media and academia. We already see and hear the calls to not regulate AI so ‘it can be fully developed.’”

The head of research at a major U.S. wireless communications trade association predicted, “Powerful institutions will use technology to control the freedom and ability of people to determine their lives, while allowing for more thorough-going surveillance and ‘social ranking’ to preserve power, at the cost of social and economic advance, and even long-term stability. Technology companies will be neutral players in this; simply advancing technological capabilities, by perceiving their roles as limited, apolitical entities, simply pursuing a course of technological development. Individual technologists, leaders and employees may have – and express – qualms about the potential misuse of some technological capabilities, but this will not prevent their development and deployment, although it may cause some companies to forgo involvement. Individuals and populations will remain vulnerable to the security applications of technologies for surveillance and control. Both hostile state actors and nonstate organizations (and individuals) may also use improved technological capabilities to perform terroristic attacks and hacks aimed at disrupting society and harming lives (such as the viral attacks on power companies in Eastern Europe).”

Dan McGarry, an independent journalist based in Vanuatu, wrote, “The original dream of a federated and centerless internet has more or less died. It is now well within the grasp of most nation-states to exert sufficient control over the data passing within their borders that they can consider it a sovereign sphere. The arguments in favour of leveraging this capability to fight the pandemic are in equal parts compelling and frightening. We are, alas, at a point where the machine is running at such a rate of speed that our only options are to continue accelerating or risk the whole thing breaking apart. Technology is the prime enabler of this situation. Despite the risks, however, the majority of political power brokers in the world seem content to send a succession of shocks through the system that not only threaten its smooth operation, they threaten its ability to work. We are entering a phase of global society, therefore, in which the new normal requires we deal with higher stakes than at any point since World War II. I fear collapse. It would be exceedingly hard to achieve, but some days it seems we’re hell-bent on achieving it nonetheless. Better communication brings more prosperity. This a demonstrable and well-understood fact. If we don’t screw the rest of it up, we will become more prosperous globally than we have ever been.”

Garth Graham, a longtime leader of Telecommunities Canada, said, “Breaking up the Big Five [Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft] is not just a consumer issue, it’s a human rights issue. While there is some growing awareness that the data tracks expressing the extension of the person into the online world are and should be owned by the person they describe, I don’t believe that enough public consciousness of the need to express that right in law exists to provoke political action.”

Tracey P. Lauriault, a professor expert in critical media studies and big data based at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, commented, “I foresee increased surveillance/dataveillance that will be rationalized under public good, public duty and public health. I foresee greater ICT solutions that will track, sort, leash, fence people more and more. The technologies may start as a public-health tool, but they will leapfrog into other areas such as in workplace, at play, during travel, in the smart home, the smart housing estate, the smart city, the digital twin and other national and international interconnected smart technologies or large social and technological systems. The rationale for the increased levels of ‘observation,’ ‘surveillance,’ ‘monitoring’ via registration; biometrics including facial, fingerprint, DNA and gait, UIDs, etc., will go ungoverned, as there is currently a lack of accountable, informed, technical and legal actors involved in any form of data and technological governance.

The technologies may start as a public-health tool, but they will leapfrog into other areas such as in workplace, at play, during travel, in the smart home, the smart housing estate, the smart city.

Tracey P. Lauriault, a professor expert in critical media studies and big data based at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

“It is for the moment laissez-faire of the companies to ‘self-assess’ with impact assessments and no inspection, and most decision-making is at the limited level of privacy protection and cybersecurity, which may protect an individual from harm, but the social and group privacy and implications of these technologies to control, be biased, exclude or include into the ‘wrong’ group are not assessed as the conversation is about innovation and efficiency.

“We have not learned to be technological citizens in our technological societies, we have not considered large social and technological systems, assemblages and ecosystems and infrastructure, and as the platform of politics and deliberation, which limits our ability to do technological citizenship. Even suggesting these ideas in some circles is to be considered as anti-progress, old school, traditionalist, impeding progress and the like. There is also no opt-out, as opting out causes suspicion; ‘you must have something to hide’ mentalities. There is also very little use of these technologies to liberate, but they are to control, and there is little scrutiny as to who gets control, and what social and technical biases will be encoded into these new technologies. The technologies will, of course, be reflecting the concerns of politicians, economists, existing legal frameworks and of course the companies that will profit from these.

“There will be very little deliberation that will be open and transparent in communication to the public; there will be little oversight, let alone any holding people accountable should things go wrong. Interoperability and standards are our friends, but in this case, when the ecosystem of data, software, apps, code, sensors, readers, devices, platforms, massive data storage, data brokers and geodemographers, chip manufacturers, the states, the private sector and some large alliances, interoperability becomes a foe, as there will be no workaround. Anonymity will be replaced by autonomous systems; agency by automation; heterogeneity by rule sets to sort.”

Irina Raicu, a member of the Partnership on AI’s working group on Fair, Transparent and Accountable AI, said, “As earlier Pew Internet studies have shown, Americans have been increasingly worried about their privacy and feeling powerless to protect their data – especially online. While most of us have been grateful for the key role that the internet has played during this time of pandemic, we have also felt forced to make some choices purely as an emergency response – choices we might not have made otherwise – about what data to share with which entities. Given the push toward contact-tracing apps, various tech tools that offer to protect people as they return to work and other surveillance technologies being deployed in the name of health or national security, and given the vast numbers of people who are losing their jobs who might therefore feel compelled to accept privacy-invasive conditions on their employment, I believe that, out of fear and a sense of lack of choice, Americans will feel even more powerless to protect their privacy.

It is hard to know what the role of technology and technology companies will ultimately be. ‘Tech for good’ might be repurposed in ways that no one anticipated.

Irina Raicu, a member of the Partnership on AI’s working group on Fair, Transparent and Accountable AI

“At the same time, state privacy laws that were passed pre-pandemic, such as the CCPA in California, might offer some protection against unfettered data collection and use. There are also efforts to pass some privacy-related federal laws, but the clashing agendas of various stakeholders might prevent their passing. We increasingly rely on technology to keep us safe, keep us connected, keep us employed. The lines between data collected by private companies and data collected or used by governments was already blurry; it is getting even more so now that data-sharing is seen as one way to combat the pandemic and its related challenges. Given ongoing justified concerns about data that is purportedly collected for one purpose but then used for others, it is hard to know what the role of technology and technology companies will ultimately be. ‘Tech for good’ might be repurposed in ways that no one anticipated.”

Olivier MJ Crépin-Leblond, entrepreneur and longtime participant in the activities of ICANN and IGF, responded, “This is a significant time for change: Whilst populations are focused on survival (in the economic sense) in light of COVID-19, some significant geopolitical moves are happening: 1) Tightening of the internet’s control – touted as needed for cybersecurity. 2) Erosion of privacy – touted as a process needed to track COVID-19 cases. 3) Political advancement on a global context – mainly by China – as a strategic move forward. None of these processes is good for the public nor for democracy as a whole. In 2025, the new normal is a world that has moved from ‘relative freedom’ to ‘managed freedom.’”

Cliff Lynch, director at the Coalition for Networked Information and adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, commented, “What has changed here is that there’s a new nexus between tracking and surveilling of people (and self-surveilling) and the perceived public interest in doing this to help enable things like contract tracing (and, perhaps, quarantines). The more panicked the public gets during the pandemic, the more leadership may choose to normalize and enforce the adoption of these tools which will also enable lots of extra data collection by technology companies and government. It feels like the boundaries between corporations and government are getting very porous again, in much the same way as it happened after 9/11. Both collect huge amounts of data on everyone, and it’s being passed back and forth freely with little transparency or oversight of the process. It is summer of 2020, and I am watching the not-much-discussed nexus of citizen reporting via cellphone, security video, facial recognition, cellphone tracing and the identification and potential prosecution of protesters and looters in the recent unrest.

“The federal government has come a long way in its ability to track and surveil since the days when it tried to identify and watch protesters against the Vietnam War. During the pandemic an assortment of technologies have gained ground that I can only describe as disgusting. They should probably be banned or intensively regulated; organizations that adopt them need to do some very serious soul-searching about what they’re doing. Two poster children: remote-examination proctoring systems in education and systems that allow employers to monitor and track employees working at home. There are doubtless numerous others.

“One other thing I wonder about: I think many people are exhausted and frustrated at the tech vendors’ heady pace of planned obsolescence, of gratuitous and unnecessary disruption and change for change’s sake. They are inflicting this on their consumers. It’s costly, not just in terms of the expense of replacing products that are still working well, but even more so in terms of time and disruption. In today’s world, people are depending on products to work reliably, and to continue to work. It’s harder to get support and help. There’s going to be a lot less money for useless upgrades, and people have much less time to waste on this. Is there going to be a recalibration on this in the vendor community, and are consumers going to vote with their dollars in support of this recalibration?”

Perry Hewitt, an executive with Ithaka, wrote, “As a society, we (including myself!) have made the decision to trade privacy for convenience. As technology becomes more ubiquitous and systems potentially interoperable (what are my Whole Foods app and my Withings scale telling Blue Cross Blue Shield about my health status?), this trade-off is increasingly dangerous. The ability to monitor and surveil as corporations and governments is largely unchecked, in part because of the lack of tech savvy of lawmakers involved in public policy.”

Melissa R. Michelson, a professor of political science at Menlo College, observed, “The more of our lives that is online, the more possibilities there are for data-gathering about our private lives, and of course the more vulnerable we are to hacking, to identity theft and to fraud. Large social media companies do not have good track records on these issues; if we are conducting more of our lives online, then there are more possibilities for misuse of our personal data and of negative impacts on individuals.”

Charles M. Ess, a professor of media studies at the University of Oslo expert in information and computing ethics, said, “There is an ongoing shift towards what Habermas identified decades ago as ‘the colonization of the lifeworld’ by the market logic of capitalism, both directly and indirectly (i.e., as more and more people seem incapable of thinking about values and relationships in anything other than market terms of competition and profit). Both governments and the tech giants will continue to push for intruding technologies in the name of greater efficiency, including surveillance tracking of the virus and its inevitable successors, as well as marketing claims of greater fitness, well-being, etc. Profit through data collection is a powerful engine and one difficult to resist much less regulate . …

“The forces in favor of greed, individual ‘success’ (whatever the cost to others), and corporate profit/socialism are very strong and now very deeply embedded in the political institutions and mindset of very large numbers of people. So long as the latter prevail, well-being – which I understand in classic virtue ethics terms as the consequence of cultivating a number of capacities and habits (‘virtues’) that foster communication, deep relationships, long-term commitments to both self and others, and the pursuit of a sense of contentment (eudaimonia) that goes beyond the simple pleasures of conspicuous consumption – will be out of reach for most people. … Life will be much more about the struggle for economic survival – survival that will be more precarious and hence push more and more people to accept invasion and control. As a few commentators have argued, surveillance capitalism is closely analogous to medieval societies. Worst case: A few will be the very grand and wealthy lords and ladies (e.g., ‘the billionaire kings’ such as Jeff Bezos, as but one example of tens of thousands) and hundreds of millions will be the equivalent of unwilling serfs and peasants, thoroughly trapped in highly sophisticated technological systems and economic/legal arrangements favoring the well to do – systems of all but unbreakable control and repression.”

The director of a business consultancy predicted,“Expect the hacking world to become many times more dangerous, and that may be the biggest worry of all. We won’t be able to tell if it is a single hacker who brings down the power grid or launches a rocket or if it was some government actor. The political dialogue around whatever happens is no longer trustworthy. When there is no trust in tech – we will find ways to destroy it. The tech companies will increasingly be blamed for their failings. All are based on manipulation of large-scale exchanges. Some are more open than others to outside abuse. All have a concentration of information that can be leveraged. All either are regulated or have a regulated compact that protects their position. All communications have a ‘charge,’ whether monetary or included in the information. Government is far, far behind. The systems are all broken or managed by outside contractors and thus, again, set up in the interest of generating profit and power for a few rather than for the betterment of all.”

People will be more dependent on technology, but trust it less. I hope that someone will develop ‘privacy as a service’ and ‘security as a service.’

Susan Ariel Aaronson, a research professor of international affairs expert in digital governance and human rights

Susan Ariel Aaronson, a research professor of international affairs expert in digital governance and human rights, responded, “People will be more dependent on technology, but trust it less. I hope that someone will develop ‘privacy as a service’ and ‘security as a service.’ Moreover, a national data-protection law may be a fantasy. There are other ways to encourage companies to protect privacy, including mandating that they are transparent about how they do it, how much they spend and how they have failed.”

John Harlow, smart cities research specialist at the Engagement Lab @ Emerson College, said, “Contact tracing will likely see an explosion of international activity. Some innovations will be useful beyond COVID and may help fight other diseases. Some will be dark and become permanent surveillance architecture. … I worry about the amount of data generated about an individual and how it can coalesce into a cross-referenced profile across sources, i.e., simplicity of tying government data to mobile phone data to hacked purchase data to society-scale, real-time gait and facial (and other) recognition across widespread public-surveillance video feeds.”

Simeon Yates, a professor of digital culture at the University of Liverpool and the research lead for the UK government’s Digital Culture team, wrote, “Tech is not something that has singular impacts, good or ill. Where it will help is in managing COVID-19 – though it might come at the cost of privacy (see the failed UK virus app).”

Marcin Cieślak, a futurist based in Europe, said, “My worries are more surveillance technologies. I am afraid we will take the silent acceptance of the surveillance technology to the next level.”

Steve Jones, professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago and editor of New Media and Society, commented, “The obvious worries include surveillance, privacy and data rights. Nothing really new here. I suspect we’ll have the same worries then as we do now, with the possible addition of concerns regarding skin electronics and vehicle security.”

Without legalized encryption, consider a tiny portion of a virtual day: I attend any type of virtual meeting: Everything I saw and heard at that meeting can be captured and stored digitally, for some authority (or hacker) to later analyze at leisure.

Michael G. Dyer, a professor emeritus of computer science at UCLA expert in natural language processing

Michael G. Dyer, a professor emeritus of computer science at UCLA expert in natural language processing, responded, “The trend toward loss of privacy will continue because without laws to force that all communication and resulting data be highly encrypted, more and more of everyone’s life will become less and less private. This is a ‘natural’ consequence of virtuality. Without legalized encryption, consider a tiny portion of a virtual day: I attend any type of virtual meeting: Everything I saw and heard at that meeting can be captured and stored digitally, for some authority (or hacker) to later analyze at leisure. If I wore a virtual suit, then authorities would be able to know also everything I have felt during those virtual interactions.”

Paul Epping, chairman and co-founder of XponentialEQ and keynote speaker on exponential change, wrote, “Cybercrime will jeopardize vital systems in our societies, including electricity, water and communication. Sensors will flood the world, measuring whatever you can think of, including our bodies. It is not clear who will own the data, nor what the analyses might be and what the results of that will do to us. We will face big control issues that will lead to political instability. The growing dependency on digital technology will create a paradise for hackers, so cybersecurity will be one of the top priorities, costing society trillions. It can eventually evolve into a ‘symmetrical escalation war’ between AI and ML and less control by humans because we can’t oversee the entire spectrum anymore.”

Wendy M. Grossman, a UK-based science writer, author of “net.wars” and founder of the magazine The Skeptic, said, “I’m hoping less for actual tech changes than for changes in our response to technology changes. I’d like to see us be more thoughtful both as individuals and as a society about the technology we adopt and how we let it permeate our lives. Surveillance capitalism is possible partly because companies take advantage of us, but partly because of weak regulation and a social and educational failure to push back against it. The early promise of the internet was a decentralized system in which millions of small businesses flourished. Increasingly, we have built a highly centralized system that supports mass surveillance. This is the structure we are transferring into the physical world via the Internet of Things, smart cities, connected cars, algorithmic decision-making and robots. Often, adoption of these technologies is proceeding against what most people would want. I’m thinking of real-time, automated facial recognition, for example – airports and police forces don’t ask public opinion before running trials or adopting the technology. There is loss of choice and autonomy and the loss of anonymity. Increasingly, every transaction – financial or personal – is being intermediated. People talk to their friends and Facebook takes a slice; they pay for a newspaper article and Apple takes a slice – and in both cases the data gathered is then repackaged, resold and repurposed. There is a lot wrong with Europe’s GDPR but it is a valid attempt to restore the balance of power between these large, remote corporations and individuals.”

Randall Mayes, an analyst at TechCast Global, observed, “Using an AI/deep learning analogy, the nodes are economic development, international competitiveness and the social impacts. China, Europe and the United States weigh the value of these nodes differently. For similar situations in the future, policymakers and businesses will not have to start from scratch in working with supply chains, medical responses and economic safety nets, rather they will have case studies for what works effectively. Each sector of the economy will experience transformations that enable it to perform more efficiently. Individuals who understand these changes and are prepared for them will become better off. One worry: Individual private data doesn’t have economic value, but, collectively, private data does. Without a mechanism for compensation to individuals, technology companies will reap the economic benefits. Once possible solution is blockchain/Etherium which utilizes smart contracts and micropayments to individuals. Several companies are proposing placing electronic health records and our genomes in accounts where we can sell our data directly to pharmaceutical companies and bypass middlemen (tech companies).”

Chris Savage, an expert in legal and regulatory issues based in Washington, D.C., predicted, “Remote work will be part of the new normal. It is much easier to engage in surveillance of what employees are doing when more of what they do is mediated by computers/the internet. Therefore, I suspect that overall privacy will be degraded as a result of these changes.”

Leiska Evanson, futurist and consultant, wrote, “People will not change their current online behaviours regarding the ways in which data privacy is balanced against their need to socialise. After a period of protected quarantines, lockdowns and illness, they will lean more on social media to stay connected, with less concern that their data is a commodity. Only if the service requires payment will users care, as this type of contract is well-known to be legally binding vs. free use still requiring due diligence, e.g., a bank or Amazon breach vs. Facebook selling data to third parties.”

Maja Vujovic, a consultant for digital and ICT at Compass Communications, commented, “The idea of personal data protection will not only take a hit, it will have to be sacrificed altogether. Identity certification may get relegated to a consortium of big tech companies, based on their existing profiling data ownership, via social media and subscription data, in lieu or in support of state-certified identities.”

Threats to work will intensify from automation, artificial intelligence, robotics and globalization

A share of these experts concentrated their concerns on the future of work. They predicted a number of things to happen in the coming years: In order to survive, businesses are reconfiguring systems and processes to automate as many aspects as possible. While artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will enhance some lives, they will damage others as more work is taken over by machines. Employers may outsource labor to the lowest bidder globally. Employees may be asked to work for far less; they may have to shift to be gig and contracting workers, supplying their own equipment, and they may be surveilled at home by employers.

Gary A. Bolles, chair for the future of work at Singularity University, predicted, “A much higher percentage of people will work at least part of the week in non-office environments. Many workers will have ‘portfolios of work,’ a variety of work activities including a day job, gig work and startup activity. While this will encourage more variety and fluid relationships with hirers, it will also create more economic uncertainty and precarity for many. Many businesses will have accelerated their use of a range of enterprise technologies – from implementing digital nonhuman labor such as software bots to utilizing skills banks – to manage their increasingly fluid organizations. More workers and teams will use AI-fueled tools to help them coordinate and collaborate more effectively. Education will become significantly unbundled, with a range of learning contexts beyond traditional schooling.

Many workers will have ‘portfolios of work,’ a variety of work activities including a day job, gig work and startup activity. While this will encourage more variety and fluid relationships with hirers, it will also create more economic uncertainty and precarity for many.

Gary A. Bolles, chair for the future of work at Singularity University

“My hope is for a human-centric world that requires new technologies to be designed for the benefit of people, with penalties for what used to be considered negative externalities. Software will help humans to better understand, develop and augment their skills and help them find and create a broader range of work opportunities. Hirers will embrace software-fueled strategies to ensure that workers in nonstandard work roles will have many of the same rights as full-time employees, such as unbundled benefits and reliable shift work. As a result, high-tech and other companies will stop depending on nonstandard workers as a fungible commodity. Organizations will shift to a ‘NetWork’ model that maximizes the human potential of all their stakeholders, in a range of different work relationships with the organization. Teams will have the tool set that will allow them to dynamically and rapidly bond around problems to solve.”

David Cake, an active leader of ICANN’s Non-Commercial Users Constituency, said, “One significant worry is that companies may take advantage of an increasingly online workplace to use globalisation and informally set hours to continue to push workers towards increasingly economically uncertain and precarious employment. Some employers may try to shift costs towards workers using private equipment, taking on both expenses and liability and increasing economic divides. Another worry is that as employers unused to remote working in their industry use it more they will begin to make increasing use of surveillance techniques on their workers, and this surveillance and control may become increasingly intrusive into workers’ homes.”

Barry Chudakov, founder and principal of Sertain Research, responded, “Individuals’ personal and professional lives will merge. Work (performed online) and personal presentation (also performed online) will resemble each other, even become interoperable. Employment, having a job, will become increasingly STEM-dependent. For the rest, jobs will become scarce as the COVID pandemic gives employers plausible deniability to downsize. All workers’ roles will continue to morph into some manner of tool manipulation and enhancement – creating software and hardware or robotics that support some aspect of the mirror world – while employee loyalty to a company diminishes or vanishes as employees become brands that are bought and sold like toothpaste. In effect, much of the economy becomes a gig economy while self-branding becomes as essential as a seatbelt. Economic security will be available only to those who can repeatedly adapt to multiple simultaneous accelerations and self-brand as they do so. This will affect our individual and collective sense of well-being since many will be unable to successfully adapt and reconfigure their careers and lives.”

Seth Finkelstein, programmer, consultant and Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award winner, observed, “The key point is that the pandemic has decreased labor’s power with respect to capital. When that’s combined with extensive damage to the economy, the average person is going to be worse off. A major factor has been accelerating the winner-take-all trend of monopolistic corporations dominating their markets, thus away from jobs protected by unions. Now, there is a section of the professional class, the ‘knowledge worker,’ which may benefit somewhat on the whole. There’s more online work, and greatly increased demand for more support of technological infrastructure. This group includes pundits, and hence basically everyone responding to this survey. However, it’s a relatively small slice of all workers overall. Small businesses which are replaced with low-wage, no-benefits delivery jobs will not be nearly as well represented in media stories about employment changes. The pandemic has accelerated the long-standing trend for professionals to do telecommuting, internet meetings and similar. But it’s made life literally much more dangerous for work which is not information-based, i.e., manufacturing where one must be in a factory or services which need to be done in person. This is another factor producing further stratification of society and dangerous levels of inequality.”

Michael G. Dyer, a professor emeritus of computer science at UCLA expert in natural language processing, said, “COVID-19 will accelerate the trend toward more robotics (they can’t get sick). Is this better or worse? It will obviously be worse for those who lose jobs in meat-processing plants or in warehouses but will be a benefit to shareholders and the public at large.”

Benjamin Grosof, chief scientist at Kyndi, a Silicon Valley startup aimed at the reasoning and knowledge representation side of AI, wrote, “There is tremendous opportunity for the increased concentration of military power – including police power and political power – in the hands of a very small number of people due to the potential for effective surveillance and physical control, by using AI (e.g., facial recognition and integrated data analysis) and drones (e.g., to track, drug or kill). This is an unprecedented challenge for the whole world. It will start playing out in some nations over the next five years as well as beyond that for the next several decades. There is an urgent need for governments to make their ‘default setting’ a policy of strong privacy for individuals – including in shopping and communicating – rather than the current policy which results typically in cognitively burdensome, confusing and overall weak choices and protections about privacy.”

Dan S. Wallach, a professor in the systems group at Rice University’s Department of Computer Science, observed, “To look for dystopian aspects of technology in 2025, we can look for them today. One example is Amazon’s invasive monitoring of its warehouse workers’ productivity. It’s easy to predict this sort of close monitoring stretching to all sorts of disciplines, ranging from farm labor through any of a variety of office tasks. Inevitably, that will come with pushes to ‘optimize’ productivity, creating stress and burnout. Relatively few workers will have the luxury of working at their own pace. Needless to say, more-invasive monitoring implies issues with privacy. If every conversation happens through a computer, will there still be a place for ‘private’ conversations? Will it be possible to separate one’s personal life from one’s professional life? It’s easy to see concerns for people who have reason to hide their whereabouts (e.g., victims of spousal abuse).”

Who knows the impact of the virus on anyone younger than 22 today? Every month without teachers who inspire will be a net negative.

Rosalie Day, a policy leader and consultancy owner specializing in system approaches to data ethics, compliance and trust

Rosalie Day, a policy leader and consultancy owner specializing in system approaches to data ethics, compliance and trust, commented, “In 2025, the pandemic will have caused the widening wealth gap to be hastened. American society will stratify a little differently with respect to who gains and who loses. Employment will mostly be better for the last half of Millennials through college graduates in 2020. Employers will cite experience with remote access, gamification and general economic malaise as further reason to cut total salaries. Older Millennials and Generation X will be lumped together as being too expensive. This will result in even more ageism and increased AI-driven ageism, and the ‘out’ generations’ fortunes will fall even further. Retired Boomers who have good retirements will continue to have good retirements because the capital markets will still be driven by corporate boards that look like much they do today; and further, the same incentives will apply. The Boomers who have inadequate financial reserves who have stayed at home during the virus due to health risk will not be rehired. Their places will be filled with adults in their 20s who are not college graduates. Who knows the impact of the virus on anyone younger than 22 today? Every month without teachers who inspire will be a net negative. I can imagine productivity leveling off because the gains of machine learning and deep learning will be a wash or swamped by the losses of experienced middle managers and specialists. Since most data scientists surveyed say that decision makers at their companies do not use their evidence to support important decisions, data will continue to be artificially valued. I expect reinvention of the wheel, or the not-well-founded conventional wisdom of consultants who have never worked in large organizations (for example, McKinsey’s open-office floor plans to ‘increase collaboration’) to be prevalent.”

Beth Noveck, director, NYU Governance Lab and its MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance, said, “Especially with the need for social distancing, I am very concerned that more companies will turn to the use of AI-based recruitment, interviewing and selection tools to reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of hiring. Many of these tools perpetuate systemic bias by, for example, comparing new applicants to existing employees or creating arbitrary scoring mechanisms that serve to disadvantage diverse candidates, leading to discriminatory practices. In all arenas, I am concerned that the move to more life online as a result of the pandemic could lead to greater surveillance and abuse of personal privacy and private information by the tech companies providing us the platforms we now need to work and learn.”

Katie McAuliffe, executive director for Digital Liberty, wrote, “In terms of employment, contract, gig and distance-based positions will become more important, and large employers will need to learn how to manage without micromanaging a dispersed workforce. The industries and individuals who adapt to this environment will be better off. I imagine a new type of economy will emerge – like the app economy after the introduction of the iPhone – but I don’t know what that might look like. Automation has likely received a bit of a jolt, but humans will still need to maintain oversight and quality control – this makes us better off preventing injuries and creating distance but does decrease some job availability. Individual tutoring online will likely supplant or augment much of teaching, especially if schools don’t start teaching coding. Learning to code early on will make people better off in terms of employment options.”

Benjamin Shestakofsky, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, observed, “The most vulnerable workers are most likely to see their privacy, well-being and economic security threatened by digital technologies. I fear that employers will continue to use technology to intensify work and subject workers to new systems of surveillance and control in ways that will jeopardize their well-being and economic security. Barring legislative and regulatory changes, low-wage workers will continue to be most vulnerable to these changes.”

Jonathan Kolber, a member of the TechCast Global panel of forecasters and author of a book about the threats of automation, said, “More and more work functions will be automated by robots and AIs, reducing the need for human workers. This, coupled with the economic Depression I expect from COVID-related effects on hospitality, entertainment, transportation, retail, restaurant and other service industries, will create increasing pressure for a viable and sustainable universal basic income (UBI) such as Michael Haines’ market-oriented UBI proposal.”

Chris Savage, an expert in legal and regulatory issues based in Washington, D.C., wrote, “More remote work will lead to significant contraction in commercial real estate (who needs a full-time office?) and less business travel, even when fear of infection has passed. This in turn will lower employment in those sectors.”

Erhardt Graeff, a researcher expert in the design and use of digital technologies for civic and political engagement, commented, “The economic churn emerging from this pandemic is displacing workers across several industries. They will not return to pre-pandemic levels. We will see continued growth in consumers’ appetites for online shopping, which will be matched by technological and logistical changes that will erase even more jobs. This workforce revolution will not see sufficient retraining or redistribution of jobs by 2025, meaning long-term unemployment for many and worse outcomes. Even if governments are able to increase their social safety nets to keep folks at a baseline standard of living, mental health problems from the trauma of the pandemic as well as from the loss of meaningful employment and concomitant losses of one’s purpose and sense of self will mean post-pandemic life will be worse on average. I worry that governments and society will be on the hunt for silver bullets and put their faith in technology companies to produce ‘solutions’ for the complex challenges we are facing individually and collectively. Misplaced hope in this approach will delay work on structural changes necessary to actually address the social and economic upheaval wrought by the pandemic.”

Richard Salz, senior architect at Akamai Technologies, responded, “My worry is that global society will get more divided into the digital haves, who can and do work from home or otherwise remotely, and the (for lack of a better word) essential workers who are the plebians on the backs of whom society will be built. And further, that the divide will grow. The gap between online and real-world workers will increase, so much so that it is unlikely to be bridgeable.”

John Laird, professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, said, “For some workers, the new normal will be more remote work, but for many, remote work will still be impossible. There will be a push for increased automation, so one result will be an acceleration (not sure how much) of replacing many jobs. There will be an addition of new jobs, but they will probably be jobs requiring higher education/skill levels, making upward mobility more difficult.”

For knowledge workers, going to the office will become a choice and improvements in virtual meeting technologies will continue and make remote working even more possible.

Kate Carruthers, chief data and insights officer at the University of New South Wales, Sydney

Kate Carruthers, chief data and insights officer at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, wrote, “Unless we can come up with new solutions like universal basic income, life for many people will be worse. Post-COVID economic recovery will be challenging and many jobs and businesses will disappear. In the U.S. there seems to be a real risk of unemployment, food shortages and civil disturbances into 2025. I expect to see a greater bifurcation of society – with those knowledge workers who remain employed consuming increasing amounts of digital services and online shopping – while those who are not part of the knowledge economy are increasingly gig workers in precarious employment. For knowledge workers, going to the office will become a choice and improvements in virtual meeting technologies will continue and make remote working even more possible. Privacy will increasingly be under threat unless specific jurisdictions regulate it. This includes facial recognition and other biometric data. Increasingly biometrics will become part of the authentication and access regime. Digital government services will continue to expand – except in the U.S., where they seem to lag.”

Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, based in the UK, predicted, “Jobs will take a while to recover. Industry will seek to cut costs through automation (not just robotics) and ignoring regulation as it gets rewritten (e.g., travel regulation may remove the hub-and-spoke system). … The reduction of people’s jobs to logistics and distribution without economic and well-being security is an alarming trend that could be further enabled with the direction of innovation.”

Michael Froomkin, professor of law at University of Miami Law School expert in legal and policy issues relating to new technologies, commented, “Robots will take over categories of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs. This will reduce the misery of doing those jobs but creates a risk of both short-run (skill mismatch) and long-run unemployment. AI and sensors will be used by governments for all sorts of repressive sorting. Tech companies will happily sell them the tools to do it.”

Melissa R. Michelson, a professor of political science at Menlo College, responded, “The new normal will mean more children will be attending school either online or in a hybrid format, which means more parents and other caregivers will have to devote their time to supervising those children. This will impact their ability to do their jobs, and especially will reduce the ability of women – who are most likely to bear the brunt of this effect – to work and succeed in their careers. The new normal will mean individuals who are able to work remotely, which is likely to include people at higher levels of the socioeconomic spectrum, will have more income and job security and less chance of getting infected; those who are ‘essential workers,’ including delivery people, grocery employees and also staff in health care situations such as dental hygienists and staff and front office workers, in addition to doctors and nurses, will be more likely to have their jobs impacted and to contract the virus. The bottom line is that people who have the ability to use technology to remotely do their jobs will have better outcomes; those who are on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’ and have less access to reliable Wi-Fi or have to share devices with household members will be more adversely affected. The gap in technology that separates people but was hidden because the gap is usually in their homes will become starker and more important.”

Alexandra Samuel, technology writer, researcher, speaker and regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review, said, “A worst-case scenario is that the shift to remote work turns into an engine of greater digital surveillance. Companies may trust senior managers to work from home, but too many organizations are responding to remote work by implementing various tools and mechanisms for ensuring workers are ‘really’ working – even if that just means scheduling back-to-back video meetings so that they know employees are occupied from 9 to 5. Such mechanisms are a self-defeating strategy (employees will be much more effective and productive if they’re trusted, empowered and encouraged to structure their days in a way that is personally sustainable), but they may nonetheless take hold. If so, this will not only degrade the quality of working life, it will also further inure people to the supposed inevitability of digital surveillance, thereby opening the door to the further invasion of privacy by both businesses and governments.”

Perry Hewitt, an executive with Ithaka, commented, “We will need both public policy and industry norms to prevent corporations from creating a virtual panopticon that prizes presence over performance. For blue-collar workers, policy protections are critical.”

Jon Stine, executive director of the Open Voice Network, wrote, “As is currently evident in K-12 education, the digitally centric life that has been accelerated by the pandemic (remote working-shopping-entertaining) will further deepen the economic and digital divide. The hourly-wage (often entry-level) jobs lost during the pandemic (retail, hospitality) will come back only partially, and slowly. In retail, the closure of stores and shopping centers will result in significant job loss; in hospitality and entertainment, some 75%-80% of the jobs will ultimately return, but only slowly.”

Tammy Katsabian, a labor and technology researcher doing postdoctoral work at Harvard Law School, said, “I’m afraid that technology will be used to increase surveillance both in the private life of a person as well as in her work life. More workers will be working from home (as part-time or full-time teleworkers) and will enjoy greater flexibility. Alongside that, however, they will also suffer from constant supervision by their employers. Employers will use AI to vet whether the worker is working in every concrete minute, the efficiency of the worker, etc. I’m also afraid that due to this international crisis that we are currently facing, the unemployed percentages will increase, mostly for unskilled workers. These workers cannot find any comfort in technology. They might have new positions that include constant work with a robot (such as in warehouses) – but the salary will be poor, they will not have any real connections with the other colleagues and the work will be boring and repetitive. This situation is not deterministic. It can be different, but if we want it to be different – we have to ‘reclaim’ technology and think about creative ways to use it to increase workers’ participation, voices and rights in the workplace context. We can use technology as an instrument to ensure greater participation of workers at the workplace. We can use it to conduct online ballots, for instance, on decisions that are related to the workers’ work-life and conditions. The legal system has to be an integral part of this process. Workers’ participation should be an essential part of any professional or economic decision that influences the workers (i.e., most of the ongoing decisions) by the law. To make this all processes more accessible and more productive, we need to use technology. I worry over the lack of social responsibility among tech developers. It seems as tech companies do not take into account the influence their product will have on human rights and workers’ rights.”

Doris Marie Provine, emeritus professor of justice and social inquiry at Arizona State University, responded, “I hate the thought of tech helping promote American workaholism at the top through 24-hour availability requirements and productivity measures, and at the same time leave much of the rest of the workforce without meaningful employment. I’d like to see tech embraced to eliminate truly awful jobs, like picking fruit in hot weather or searching for explosives in war zones. Achieving full employment will be a significant problem. Not everyone’s brain is wired for coding, and we have a lot of folks who don’t really appreciate education – adjusting realistically to human limitations in finding work, and making non-technological work rewarding and meaningful are challenges that we are not very well-prepared to meet. I worry that the American educational system and Americans are not well prepared for the resilience needed to ‘keep up’ with technological developments.”

Paul Epping, chairman and co-founder of XponentialEQ and keynote speaker on exponential change, predicted, “We will see a 20-hour (or less) workweek, leading to less income and more spare time that has to be organised. This may lead to further global instability and, because the mindset of the human nature is still backwards, this may lead to wars.”

The manager of a project focused on enhancing digital life said, “I expect a diversification of employment to remote modalities, as people will want to have a revenue stream that is less contingent on physical presence, which will lead to stratification, since not everyone will have time, education or bandwidth to develop alternate jobs. Being able to ‘go digital’ will be much more critical, and those whose jobs must be in-person will be far more vulnerable. … A growing role for bandwidth as a critical resource to participate in the global economy, but it still being unequally distributed, heightening general inequality. There will be an increasing concentration of both monopoly and monopsony power in the hands of only a few companies, combined with further weakening of organized labor, and the effective irrelevance of government and collective action with real-world effect, leaving functional decisions in the hands of a few large companies, which will nevertheless be operating at Dunbar-number human scales with respect to their decision making, meaning that the levers of power will be able to change the world, but in all-too-fallible hands. As E.O. Wilson has said, modern civilization and humanity are characterized by paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology. That anyone whose skills don’t transfer to digital/online will be systematically devalued or trapped at the lower end of the economic scale. Massage therapy or in-person athletic coaching or teaching, trash removal, construction, etc., don’t scale and can’t go online.”

Misinformation will be rampant

Many of these experts have worried in recent years about the impact of misinformation on people’s trust and their confidence in democratic institutions. In this canvassing, their concerns take a dark turn. The pessimists now argue that digital propaganda is unstoppable. They worry about its ongoing impact as the rapidly expanding weaponization of cloud-based technologies divides the public, deteriorates social cohesion and threatens rational deliberation and evidence-based policymaking.

When people say defeatist statements like ‘you just can’t tell anymore,’ they are really saying they are exhausted by having to cut through the noise. But I only see it getting noisier.

Bernie Hogan, senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute

Bernie Hogan, senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, said, “Digital and computational propaganda is likely to continue to be an issue as long as profit-making enterprises are in charge of mediating our relationships to each other. Using the lowest-cost solution to receiving information is like trying to stay informed using only free newspapers from a city street corner – saturated with ads and cynical and sensationalist. Governments around the world are cracking down on arms-length national broadcasters like BBC and PBS while at the same time enabling corporate media. When people say defeatist statements like ‘you just can’t tell anymore,’ they are really saying they are exhausted by having to cut through the noise. But I only see it getting noisier.”

Thus, the new normal will encompass refereeing a facts-scrum: truth, lies, distortions, assertions, contradictory information, datasets, data streams from emerging technologies, analysesall vying for our embrace and attention. This will foster a new media literacy, including a ‘truth valuation’ set of protocols, which will serve as a reality foundation and foster resiliency to organized disinformation.

Barry Chudakov, founder and principal of Sertain Research

Barry Chudakov, founder and principal of Sertain Research, commented, “Inflating our identity through the trick mirror of social media will further distort presentation of self in everyday life, as verification of selfhood, information integrity, and fact accuracy become issues of paramount importance. We will find ways to verify our identities and seek to avoid those who are not who they say they are; we will struggle with factfulness, the antidote to global ignorance. With problems waxing even more complex, and invasive technologies such as facial recognition or predictive policing advancing to esoteric levels, we will be forced to address pressing issues using verifiable facts – otherwise democratic institutions will not survive. Thus, the new normal will encompass refereeing a facts-scrum: truth, lies, distortions, assertions, contradictory information, datasets, data streams from emerging technologies, analysesall vying for our embrace and attention. This will foster a new media literacy, including a ‘truth valuation’ set of protocols, which will serve as a reality foundation and foster resiliency to organized disinformation. This ‘truth valuation’ is necessary because we are moving from the real world to the meta summation of the real worlda mirror worldbrought to us virtually on screens where distortions and untruths can easily slip past our five senses, which we no longer use solely as world navigation tools.”

John Harlow, smart cities research specialist at the Engagement Lab @ Emerson College, wrote, “The role of technology in undermining democracy is my largest worry. As long as we are creating radicalization and conspiracy bubbles at scale, social media companies will remain massive threats to the stability of societies. Who mediates this? Who decides which technologies the public is offered? Who decides what tech companies affect which individuals’ lives? Governments make many of these decisions, and from the Chinese Communist Party to ICE under Trump to [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte’s recent anti-terrorism law, the world seems to be steadily slipping from the remains of Reagan-Thatcherism into a more authoritarian era, empowered by technology-based government tracking of ever more individual activity.”

Alex Halavais, associate professor of critical data studies, Arizona State University, commented, “The question of misinformation has been central to the ability to battle the pandemic and it is likely responsible for the deaths of many Americans. I think this is the most concerning technological question of the decade: What are the systems that can help us to better assure that misinformation is abated and credible information is more widely spread? Relatedly, platform owners have entered into a new era in which they are being held accountable for allowing misinformation to propagate on their platforms. This remains an unsettled issue, but between now and 2025 there will be significant regulatory changes that may address these issues – but given the complexities involved, this is likely to be a fraught and contentious set of issues.”

Marcel Fafchamps, professor of economics and senior fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, wrote, “My main concern is the rise of the bots and their use for social control. When people get segmented into small disparate communities – i.e., virtual villages that, with work-from-home, will turn into actual residential villages – it will be easier to control them, e.g., by pitting communities/identities against each other. And we have seen how easy it is to manipulate opinion and behaviors online. … News has to be curated, whistleblowing has to be mediated, we need a strong media now more than ever – not a never-ending rumor mill. I am sure cavemen already had rumor mills. We deserve better, especially when rumors can spread across 8 billion people in a few hours.”

Peter Levine, professor of citizenship and public affairs at Tufts University, said, “I hope we might see a social media platform grow to global scale with a business model that allows it to avoid the deep flaws of the current platforms. And I worry that deepfakes may make truth almost impossible to ascertain. Democracies have vulnerabilities that may be increasingly attractive to their enemies, both internal and external. Authoritarian states can monitor citizens (and overseas populations) more effectively with tools like facial recognition. We could see the first real cyberwar, with severe physical consequences.”

danah boyd, founder and president of Data & Society Research Institute and Microsoft principal researcher, commented, “Because of COVID, people are paying a lot more attention to how data can be twisted for political purposes. I am hopeful that this will result in strengthening of data infrastructure. … People are getting serious about placing political pressure on tech companies to not amplify hate, racism and harassment. We’re not even close to a good solution here, but I’m hopeful that we might see some serious regulatory interventions in the coming years.”

Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member and former chief technology officer for the Federal Communications Commission, said, “I worry that if the U.S. and other countries succumb to right-wing populism and become illiberal democracies they will find social media platforms helpful to stoke resentments and retain power. Perhaps at least some of the technology companies may enter an implicit bargain where they design their platforms to support the government in exchange for avoiding antitrust and other regulations or being exposed to unfavorable tax treatment.”

Valerie Bock, lead at VCB Consulting and former lead at Q2 Learning, wrote, “Bad actors seeking to sow division have weaponized the attention economy. Social media platforms have been slow to understand and grapple with their complicity in this process. I find that my attempts to add information to conversations in which underinformed people are sharing confirmation-bias-confirming untrue ‘evidence’ is exhausting and a strain on my relationships with these folks. I despair that there is not a social consensus around where truth might reliably be found, and that purveyors of palatable untruth appear to be winning over my neighbors to the point where pointers I might make as evidence for my views are dismissed as ‘mainstream media’ as if that is synonymous with ‘elitist publications not in touch with the common man.’ It is not helping my cause that reporting in mainstream sources these days frequently features word choices which display a point of view. True objectivism never was possible, but it feels sometimes as if too many have just given up on attempting to present multiple angles on the events of the day.”

Aaron Chia Yuan Hung, assistant professor of educational technology at Adelphi University, said, “People are thinking more about the ways that social media are being used as tools for propaganda and misinformation. Some companies have taken steps in mitigating that. This may not be enough, but it’s a step in the right direction. Facebook is increasingly the outlier here in what they are doing, and I hope they will make meaningful changes to address concerns about it being used as a platform for misinformation and data mining of user information. Technology can also be leveraged to do better, more unbiased and quicker fact-checking. This can be made more effective if media literacy and media education becomes an integral part of every school. … Social media can be such a powerful tool for good, but it also tends to create echo chambers that increasingly divide people into more polar extremes. Conversing with people who are in a different part of social media can feel like talking to someone on a different planet. Technology makes it too easy for people to talk over each other, or not talk to each other at all. My general feeling is that, although there are parts of society (of any country) that are deeply polarized and likely never to meet in the middle, there are a lot more people who are in the middle and either are not sure where they stand or have misconceptions that they collected over the years but could be changed if they are able to properly engage with meaningful dialogue. On social media, it’s too easy to drown someone out with responses and hashtags that make it hard to follow conversations, let alone engage in them. This is not purely a technology problem – this is an argumentation problem. We need to debate each other better.”

Ian Peter, a pioneering internet rights activist, wrote, “I think 2025 is too early for the necessary changes to be put in place by governments to address COVID-19. I suspect first reactions will be attempts to return to ‘business as usual’ – and these will not work. It is only after these attempted actions fail that better measures will be put in place. I am optimistic for a better world by 2035, but I think 2025 is too early for a recovery given the likely responses of world leaders. I worry, for example, about the difficulties companies have dealing with false information, and that some responses may lead to censorship and tech companies’ ungoverned actions to determine which information we see or don’t see. The free flow of information has never been more under threat but doing nothing about false information is not an option. This is a difficult problem requiring new levels of cooperation between stakeholders.”

A professor of cognitive science and artificial intelligence based in New Zealand said, “My hope is that we make many changes. The main change is greater governmental and societal oversight of the big tech companies. These companies are hugely influential in determining how information flows within society, and I believe many of the trends towards authoritarianism and nationalism that we see in world politics are due to the new dynamics of information in society. These flows need to be better studied and understood, and the big companies are not good at participating in the necessary studies; they have a conflict of interest. When we have understood better how information flows within social networks and other internet networks, the big companies need to devote more resources to regulating these flows. They are already imposing censorship through recommender engines – but the current censorship is guided mainly by profit or public relations motives, rather than the social good. Democratic governments need to guide the way censorship happens, just as they impose broadcasting standards and regulations.”

A telecommunications and internet industry economist, architect and consultant with over 25 years of experience now working as a researcher at one of the world’s foremost technological universities responded, “We will see a step increase in cybersecurity threats – the expansion in attack surfaces because more folks are online is a sufficient reason for that – and the concurrent increase in risks to personal liberty of a surveillance society. We need to be clear on what we want in our society, but stopping it is unlikely to be feasible in my view. I think more people will have more complicated relationships and understanding of digital technologies.

“Our dependency and social fluency with using it will be greatly advanced (e.g., everyone now knows how to use Facebook and Zoom), but folks will not wholly appreciate the new technologies and will not like the threats to privacy and cybersecurity and the political disruption of phenomena like ‘fake news,’ which are greatly and inexorably amplified by the dark side of social media. In giving voice to all and in enabling the viral spread of that voice, the internet and digital technologies have overridden more normal social and economic defense mechanisms against the destructive power of fear and hatemongering speech – it is too attractive as a consumption good for people to simply turn away and too powerful as a mode of expression to expect the perpetrators to simply disappear.

“Unfortunately, there are no silver-bullet solutions. Also, as a complementary effect, the boost to digitalization will accelerate other trends (although the adverse macroeconomic effects provide an offsetting dampening effect) such as the trend towards adoption of AI and other automation technologies that will involve a lot of capital substituting for labor, so a lot of disruption in employment markets that will not be limited to low-skilled workers. Lots of other white-collar trades will be ripe for offshoring and automation, like lots of legal work.

“In the short-medium term, I expect this to have significant disruptive effects requiring workers across the economy to retrain and be more flexible and adaptive. The overhang of COVID-19-related debt, grotesquely amplified by bad fiscal policies since 2016, will make it difficult to raise the funds for subsidy programs to aging populations, and the pension-fund risk is significant and could herald a global economic crisis that might make 2008 look like child’s play. … The world is a more complex place and this requires more multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural engagement to address challenges; putting those together is hard. Digital technology is essential to support the multistakeholder types of governance solutions we need, but it is also very effective in implementing authoritarian solutions and in mobilizing ignorance and mob rule. It will be a battle to see whether our better halves can succeed.”

Elections will be psychologically rigged with online gerrymandering, as echo chambers continue to evolve, shepherded by biased algorithms and AI.

Leiska Evanson, futurist and consultant

Leiska Evanson, futurist and consultant, wrote, “Elections will be psychologically rigged with online gerrymandering, as echo chambers continue to evolve, shepherded by biased algorithms and AI. What is commonly referred to as AI is not AI, it is machine learning that eats data and spits out patterns – not all of which are useful. Tech companies will use the noise to sell themselves and bury the signals for profit.”

Chris Arkenberg, research manager at Deloitte’s Center for Technology, Media and Telecommunications, said, “The linkage between consumer data and online advertising is becoming a pernicious system of programmable influence. Capture human behavior, model populations, personas and individuals, then target them with messages that can tip their behaviors towards a desired outcome: Buy my product, vote for my politician, hate my enemy. Like all technologies, there has been a savvy class of actors that figured this stuff out way before the masses. Hence, 2016, Facebook, YouTube, Russia, etc.”

Daniel Pimienta, internet pioneer and founder and president of the Network and Development Foundation (FUNREDES), based in the Dominican Republic, commented, “The COVID-19 pandemic context has shown an aggravation of a worrying phenomenon that has been maturing for several years: the transfer into the non-virtual world of bad behaviors occurring online, especially in social networks (disinformation, hate and racist discourse). With the scientific sphere now impacted, hopefully a threshold has been reached and some positive reactions will emerge, for instance the reinforcing of existing laws towards criminal behaviors online. This will not prevent an extension of an already huge divide in the world between rather educated people with a capacity to evaluate information and not fall victim to fake news and people who have lesser information literacy. In a context in which more political leaders are targeting the second group, information literacy has become a paramount education priority. This has even reached emergency status today – perhaps even nearing the same level as global warming.”

Jeanne Dietsch, New Hampshire senator and former CEO of MobileRobots Inc., said, “What concerns me most is technology’s ability to enable people to magnify ignorance and misinformation.”

Marita Prandoni, writer, editor and research associate with the Shape of History group, observed, “First of all, there was nothing normal about the state of the environmental or societal conditions before the arrival of COVID-19. Humans have altered the climate and since the Industrial Revolution we have been stressing our host Planet Earth through overpopulation, over-extraction of resources, declining levels of education and behaving as though we were above rather than of nature. Digital technologies have been a double-edged sword. … I hope hate speech is abolished from digital platforms and that there will be overwhelming support for flagging and shaming disinformation. Making people outliers when they try to deceive users or incite hate is the most effective way to dissuade such behavior. I also hope innovators can find more benign ways to build and distribute digital technologies – less harmful to both people and planet.”

Ian O’Byrne, assistant professor of education at the College of Charleston, responded, “As COVID-19 forces societies into their homes and social distancing moves most interactions to digital spaces, the ‘new normal’ will require strong connections to the internet and stronger digital literacies. Sadly, these are two areas that many communities have not strengthened over the last decade or two. Digital literacy practices necessary for the safe use of the internet in individuals’ personal and professional lives is severely lacking in most contexts. I hope that education focused on identity, data privacy, security and open source uses of technology will receive more focus in our schools and create a more informed citizenry. Also, the internet is already uninterpretable for most of the populace. Algorithms created by corporations obfuscate the data collection and purpose of these platforms and tools. Internet access globally is also insufficient for most; many rural locations do not have the connectivity necessary to survive, let alone succeed in a global marketplace. This is exacerbated by net neutrality rules that seek to eliminate protections and competition in options. As these two components intersect, the situation will get worse as disaster capitalists are already looking for opportunities to gain a foothold in the post-COVID economy.”

Fabrice Popineau, an expert on AI, computer intelligence and knowledge engineering based in France, commented, “Civilization cannot undergo development without some stability, and social networks are shaking stability; without speaking, people are subverting those systems to harm democracies. I am concerned about the role of social networks in political activism. Social justice warriors and ‘cancel culture’ are dangerous. Social networks are a new media, in the same way as printed books were a new media at the end of the Middle Ages. Social networks are revolutionizing the way people communicate. It will take time for people to learn to control the kind of monstrosity that these networks can give birth to.”

Glynn Rogers, retired, previously senior principal engineer and a founding member at the CSIRO Centre for Complex Systems Science, said global environmental issues overshadow everything, writing, “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. 1) Evolution of new forms of online social and professional interaction enabled by a ubiquitous high-speed internet based on software-defined networking technology. 2) 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. 3) 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.”

Art Brodsky, communications consultant and former vice president of communications for Public Knowledge, observed, “Social media companies and accompanying tech are dominating public discourse through their actions and – importantly – their inaction. They cannot be allowed to create an ecosystem and then disavow any knowledge of what they have done.”

J. Francisco Álvarez, professor philosophy of science at UNED, the National University of Distance Education in Spain, said, “I hope that the necessary state intervention is aimed, at least in part, at facilitating functional digital literacy that helps all citizens to join in techno-social transformation. It is essential that the public administration be concerned with generalizing digital training for full access to digital services. Governments have not been concerned enough with quality digital education, public library services and open access to knowledge. The focus should not be merely upon regulation of companies, but on offering public services and taking advantage of the possibilities of technology to improve the lives of citizens.”

Barbara Simons, board chair at Verified Voting and former technology leader at IBM Research, responded, “So much damage is being done by the pandemic, both health-wise and economic, that it will take a long time to recover. Our elections are incredibly vulnerable to attack, especially by enemy nation-states. Even so, there are people who foolishly believe that internet voting is a good thing. Of course, it is actually the most vulnerable kind of voting available for government elections.”

Today’s technology companies do not have to prove their products meet any level of success. … They should have to meet minimum acceptable standards for data handling, privacy and safety which can be compared across all vendors with similar products.

A researcher and professor of cybersecurity engineering

A researcher and professor of cybersecurity engineering observed, “Today’s technology companies do not have to prove their products meet any level of success. Automobiles have to pass crash tests, and results are compared across various models; safety features are mandated. Software vendors require agreements that remove any level of confirmation and redress for the user. They should have to meet minimum acceptable standards for data handling, privacy and safety which can be compared across all vendors with similar products.”

People’s mental health will be challenged

A number of the respondents to this canvassing focused on the mental and emotional challenges that large numbers of people will face in the coming years. They argued that digital life was already high-stress for many prior to the required social isolation brought on by the pandemic. They believe the ever-deepening shift to tele-everything will diminish in-person contact and further constrict tech users’ real-world support systems and their social connections.

Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher with the Natural Interaction Group at Microsoft Research, observed, “Human beings for millions of years lived in groups, interacting in person with people they knew well. Our need for that is most evident in children, reflected in the huge pressure to get kids back in school part or all of the time. Adults may adapt to living in a room from which they work and order food and other goods to be left outside, but there could be delayed costs in anxiety, depression and reduced empathy for other people.”

Chris Savage, an expert in legal and regulatory issues based in Washington, D.C., wrote, “With less ‘organic,’ work-based, person-to-person interaction, people will become more isolated, with negative mental and emotional health effects. Interacting with others is a benefit of working in an office or other group-working environment that people will lose with an increase in remote work.”

Ian Higgs, a technologist based in Europe, noted, “The pandemic has forced many people to isolate themselves from others. This has reduced social interactions and increased stress for many. It has also been a source of social division as those who do not accept that there is a real risk brand those who are isolating as ‘scared’ and even ‘cowardly.’ Many, of course, do not have the resources or space to isolate themselves, and this has added another layer of division. The pandemic may ease, but the virus will be with us for many years yet. I fear that the above issues will remain and perhaps become entrenched in an increasingly divided society. These are not issues that can really be addressed by technology, indeed, a lack of access to technology is one of the issues that currently divide us and will continue to.”

It has come with lessons learned about what losing oneself in media can produce … amplifying feelings associated with anxiety, loneliness and fear as much as experiences related to joy, a new sense of community and social support.

Mark Deuze, professor of media studies at the University of Amsterdam

Mark Deuze, professor of media studies at the University of Amsterdam, observed, “What life under pandemic conditions has forcefully shown us is how much media are part and parcel of our everyday lives. It has been a crash course in digital literacy and accelerating trends well underway before the virus hit. On the one hand, it integrated the use of video calling, social gaming and online watch parties faster into our daily lives than we could have predicted. On the other hand, it has come with lessons learned about what losing oneself in media can produce (amplifying feelings associated with anxiety, loneliness and fear as much as experiences related to joy, a new sense of community and social support). As technology and life fuse beyond meaningful separation (or contradiction), we may be increasingly less likely and capable of effectively critiquing the role media and information technologies play in society.”

The head of research at a major U.S. wireless communications trade association predicted, “Greater economic and social anxiety will drive down birthrates and promote more instability and lower household and family foundations, while increasing tribalism and its political exploitation create a vicious cycle of ultra-nationalism and hopeless rebellion. Individuals will manifest higher rates of anxiety, depression and despair. Increasingly, economic and social elites will be entirely out of touch with the growing numbers of economically distressed people, who will form a growing share of the total population.”

Michael Muller, a researcher for a top global technology company focused on human aspects of data science and ethics and values in applications of artificial intelligence, wrote, “Unless there is an effective vaccine, I anticipate a permanent reduction in face-to-face social contact. This is likely to result in more ‘social bubbles’ that are analogous to ‘new bubbles’ that we have discussed in prior years – that is, people may be more likely to associate homophilously, with reduced ability for social interactions with people unlike ourselves. I hope I’m wrong, because we would experience reduced sense of community and we would stop learning from each other and from each other’s experiences. We might also form even more extreme political differences, polarized along contrasts of identity such as race and class. None of this would be good for democracy, or for sociality or for individual and/or collective human growth.”

Holmes Wilson, co-director of Fight for the Future, said, “I worry that smartphones give kids just too much of the wrong kind of digital experiences and that this will get worse. I worry that the unsympathetic, always-handy punching bag that Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook presents will lead to a dramatic reduction of freedom of expression by well-meaning activists to new lows that America has never seen, and that this will reduce the power of internet-driven social movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and #DefundThePolice. I worry that more people are becoming addicted to modern, always-available, always-amazing television and that David Foster Wallace’s vision of the teleputer and life-destroying entertainment will keep becoming more true. I believe that Netflix is the most harmful technology company by far right now, in terms of depression fed and life hours destroyed in passive thoughtlessness. COVID-19 will make this a lot worse. It’s going to be a rough winter for binge watchers (and I can’t believe we think it’s okay to use a word from alcoholism to positively describe television!).”

A professor of economics who is expert in employment, productivity and economic security observed, “Most importantly, the tech that creates physical, political and emotional distance between people is really worrying.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “People will not know how to function in large groups face to face anymore. Emotional intelligence will spike downwards as people can’t connect or read each other through online meetings. People will learn to hide their true emotions and needs from their friends, family and co-workers on the other side of the camera.”

Christine Ogan, emeritus professor of journalism, informatics and computing at Indiana University, responded, “As people do more online work and have fewer interactions face to face, it will create and exacerbate the social divisions in our society. And the conspiracy theories we already see will be more of a factor in that division. If we don’t interact as much socially, we will not be able to work through our problems as a country.”

Eric Knorr, pioneering technology journalist and editor in chief of IDG, wrote, “Reducing face-to-face contact has a distinct psychological downside – isolation breeds depression and can reinforce belief systems that can flourish only if left unchallenged.”

Stephan Adelson of Adelson Consulting predicted, “The virus will be part of our lives (to various degrees) for quite a while to come (at least another six months, potentially longer based on postrenal for a vaccine). Habits are formed relatively quickly. Masks, hand sanitizer and constant concern for cleanliness are becoming habitual. These habits to protect our health have and will have an increasing impact on our emotional health. The constant effort for ‘self-protection’ creates underlying feelings of vulnerability that have no resolution, as our vulnerability is a fact that until now has not been so apparent. Living in a world of increased fear (even if it is slight) will impact society in negative ways. Additionally, with everyone wearing masks, social interactions and emotional discernment that depend on visual clues (such as a smile) are limited. This lack of ‘smiles’ reduces the happier emotions when coming into contact with strangers in public places.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has also been an increase in obviously judgmental attitudes, as some who wear masks confront those who don’t and vice versa. Assumptions regarding someone’s political stance also seem to play a role in social interactions. The financial impact of the pandemic will continue to separate those who have from those who have not, increasing a growing emotional class war. These factors, along with others, are contributing to a reduction in positive social interactions and adding additional gaps between strangers while increasing ‘fears’ related to strangers and creating a new normal that is less friendly and more alienating. I believe that this trend of separation will continue and grow over time, increasing mental health illness across all sectors, increasing the burden of social programs. I worry that technology will increase separation and unhealthy behaviors.”

A telecommunications law professional wrote, “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think that this pandemic will have both medium- and long-term disruptive effects on society. On the downside, the pandemic is both highlighting and exacerbating the difference between those who live on the edge of poverty and those who do not. It is also ripping a huge hole through the budgets of state and local governments which will harm public education, public arts projects and public infrastructure projects for a long time. Lots of companies will go out of business, and it is impossible to know what our retail landscape will look like in 2025, which has an impact for our community planning and for employment. It is also upending education in ways that I cannot even imagine – and causing huge emotional stress for parents of young children, particularly moms, that we are not handling as a society. The stress it is causing to our health care systems and health care providers is also so substantial and widespread that we will live with its aftershocks for a long time. More hospitals will close in rural and even less rural America.

Susan Price, user experience pioneer and strategist and founder of Firecat Studio, worriedly said, “Lots of people are hurting. Increased domestic violence, increased use of opioids and other drugs, increased mental illness related to the stresses of uncertainty and reduced mobility, options. Rapid change brings stress, which disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable.”

Ravi Parikh, a senior technical staff member at a global software company, predicted, “Employees will fear layoffs and try to enhance their value by performing more and staying active on company networks more. Personal lives could suffer, and depression cases may rise.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Increased reliance on the internet for basic services (groceries, medicine, retail) and work will increase social isolation. In turn, this will decrease emotional well-being and pro-social behavior. I think that the way employers view employment options will change the most, and there will also be a decrease in privacy due to employers forcing themselves into employees’ private homes.”

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