Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Visions of the Internet in 2035

6. Altering “reality”

A considerable number of these experts focused their answers on the transformative potential of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). They say these digital enhancements or alternatives will have growing impact on everything online and in the physical world. This, they believe, is the real “metaverse” that indisputably lies ahead. They salute the possibilities inherent in the advancement of these assistive and immersive technologies, but also worry they can be abused – often in ways yet to be discovered. A number of respondents also predict that yet-to-be envisioned realms will arise.

Andrew Tutt, an expert in law expert and author of “An FDA for Algorithms,” predicted, “Digital spaces in the future will be so widely varied that there will not be any canonical digital space, just as there is no canonical physical space. A multitude of new digital spaces using augmented reality and virtual reality to create new ways for people to interact online in ways that feel more personal, intimate and like the physical world will likely arise. These spaces will provide opportunities to experience the world and society in new and exciting ways. One imagines, for example, that in the future, digital classrooms could involve students sitting at virtual desks with a virtual teacher giving a lesson at the front of the room.

“There will be future digital concerts with virtually limitless capacity that allow people to watch their favorite bands in venues. And through AR and VR, people will take future ‘trips’ to museums that can only be visited today by buying plane tickets to fly half a world away. Unlike the experiences of today, which are tightly constrained by limitations of physical distance and space, these offer an opportunity to create a more engaged and interactive civil, political and artistic discourse. People are no longer prevented from meaningfully taking advantage of opportunities for education, entertainment and civic and political discourse. These opportunities will not eliminate the problems that digital spaces today confront.

A fundamental reorientation around these new types of [digital] spaces … will be necessary, but the multiplication of opportunities to interact with friends, neighbors and strangers across the world may have the salutary effect of helping us to be better citizens of these digital spaces and thereby improve them without necessarily changing the fundamental technologies and structures on which they rely.

Andrew Tutt, an expert in law expert and author of “An FDA for Algorithms”

“A fundamental reorientation around these new types of spaces – one in which we impose shared values for these types of shared spaces – will be necessary, but the multiplication of opportunities to interact with friends, neighbors and strangers across the world may have the salutary effect of helping us to be better citizens of these digital spaces and thereby improve them without necessarily changing the fundamental technologies and structures on which they rely.”

Mark Lemley, professor of law and director of the Stanford University program in Law, Science and Technology, said, “We will live more of our lives in more – and more realistic – virtual spaces.”

Mark Deuze, professor of media studies at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, wrote, “The foundation of digital life in 2035 will be lived in a mixed or cross-reality in which the ‘real’ is intersected with and interdependent with multiple forms of augmented and virtual realities. This will make our experience of the world and ourselves in it much more malleable than it already is, with one significant difference: By that time, almost all users will have grown up with this experience of plasticity, and we will be much more likely to commit to making it work together.”

Shel Israel, author of seven books on disruptive technologies and communications strategist to tech CEOs, responded, “By 2035 AR and VR are likely to fit into fashionable headsets that look like everyday eyeglasses and will be the center of our digital lives. Nearly all digital activities will occur through them rather than desktop computers or mobile devices. We will use them for shopping and to virtually visit destinations before we book travel. They will scan our eyes for warnings of biologic anomalies and health concerns. We will see the news and attend classes and communicate through them. By 2045, these glasses will be contact lenses and by 2050, they will be nanotech implants. This will be mostly good, but there will be considerable problems and social issues caused by them. They will likely destroy our privacy, they will be vulnerable to hacking and, by then, they could possibly be used for mind control attempts.

“Positives for 2035:

  1. Medical technology will prolong and improve human life.
  2. Immersive technology will allow us to communicate with each other through holograms that we can touch and feel, beyond simple Zoom chatting or phoning.
  3. Most transportation will be emissions-free.
  4. Robots will do most of our unpleasant work, including the fighting of wars.
  5. Tech will improve the experience of learning.

“On the dark side of 2035:

  1. Personal privacy will be eradicated.
  2. The cost of cybercrime will be many times worse than it is today.
  3. Global warming will be worse.
  4. The computing experience will bombard us with an increasing barrage of unwanted messages.”

Jamais Cascio, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, shared this first-person 2035 scenario: “Today, I felt like a frog so I became one. Well, virtually, of course. I adjusted my presentation avatar (my ‘toon’) to give me recognizably ranidaean features. Anyone who saw me through mixed-reality lenses – that is, pretty much everybody at this point – would see this froggy version of me. I got a few laughs at the taqueria I went to for lunch. It felt good, man. My partner, conversely, had a meeting in which she had to deal with a major problem and (worse) she had to attend physically. To fit her mood, she pulled on the flaming ballgown I had purchased for her a few years ago. The designer went all-out for that one, adding in ray-tracing and color sampling to make sure the flames that composed the dress properly illuminated the world around her from both her point of view and the perspective of observers. She said that she felt as terrifying as she looked. When mixed reality glasses took off late in the 2020s, most pundits paid attention to the opportunity they would give people to remix and recreate the world around them. Would people block out things they didn’t want to see? Would they create imaginary environments and ignore the climate chaos around them? Turned out that what people really wanted to do was wear elaborate only-possible-in-the-virtual-world fashion. Think about it: what was the big draw for real money transactions in online games? Skins – that is, alternative looks for your characters. It’s not hard to see how that could translate into the non-game world. You want to be a frog? Here are five dozen different designs under Creative Commons and another several hundred for prices ranging from a dollar to a thousand dollars. You want to look serious and professional? This outfit includes a new virtual hairstyle, too. We sometimes get so busy trying to deal with the chaos of reality that we sometimes forget that the best way to handle chaos is to play.”

The founder and director of a digital consultancy predicted, “AR and VR technologies will do more to bring us together, teach us about distant places, cultures and experiences and help us become healthier through virtual diagnostics and digital wellness tools. I suppose what I’m really envisioning is a future where the entities that provide digital social services are reoriented to serve users rather than shareholders; a new class of not-for-profit digital utilities regulated by an international network of civic-minded experts. I would like to envision a digital future where we assemble around communities – geographical or interest-based – that provide real support and a plethora of viewpoints. This is really more of a return to the days before Facebook took over the social web and development from there.”

A leading professor of legal studies and business ethics responded, “The expectation that persistent metaverse experiences will be more widespread by 2035 isn’t a prediction, it is a certainty given current development and investment trends. I have wonderful experiences in the digital space of World of Warcraft, which started in 2004. With the huge investment in metaverse platforms, I expect that more people will have that kind of social experience, extending beyond it simply being used for gaming. But that doesn’t mean that digital life will be better or worse on average for 8 billion people in the world.”

A distinguished scientist and data management expert who works at Microsoft said, “In 2035 there will be more ‘face-to-face’ (‘virtual,’ but with a real feel) discussion in digital spaces that opens people’s minds to alternative viewpoints.”

Sam Punnett, retired owner of FAD Research, said, “A better world online would involve authenticated participants. It isn’t too far-fetched to imagine that 15 years from now we will have seen a broad adoption of VR interfaces with a combination of gesture and voice control. After many years of two-dimensional video representation and its interfaces, technology and bandwidth will advance to a point where the VR gesture/voice interface will represent ‘new and improved.’ Watch the gaming environments for more such advances in interface and interaction, as gaming most always leads invention and adoption.”

Seth Finkelstein, principal at Finkelstein Consulting and Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award winner, commented, “If virtual reality improves akin to the way that video conferencing has improved, VR gaming will be awesome. We have the ‘Star Trek’ communicator now (with mobile phones). If better sensing of body movement was combined with additional advances in head-mounted display and audio, we’d have something like a primitive ‘Star Trek’ holodeck.”

A professor of computer science and entrepreneur wrote a hopeful, homey vignette: “Wearing augmented-reality hardware, a child is learning by doing while moving – launching a rocket, planting a tree, solving an animal-enclosure puzzle in a virtual zoo. In the next room, a sitting parent is teaming with colleagues across the globe to design the next version of a flying car. Grandpa downstairs is baking cookies from the porch Adirondack chair by controlling – via a tablet and instrumented gloves – a couple of chef-robots in the kitchen. While Grandma, from an adjacent chair, is interacting with a granddaughter who lives across the country via virtual-reality goggles.”

Victor Dupuis, managing partner at the UFinancial Group, shared a shopping scenario, writing, “You are buying a new car. You browse cars by using a personal Zoom-type video tech, then switch into a VR mode to take a test drive. After testing several EV cars from different manufacturers, you simultaneously negotiate the best possible price from many of them. You settle on a choice, handle a much more briefly-structured financial transaction, your car is delivered to your front door by drone truck and your trade-in vehicle leaves in the same way.

“Between now and 2035, digital spaces will continue to improve the methods and efficiencies of how we transact life. Financial decision making, information interpretation, major personal and home purchases, all will be handled more efficiently, resulting in reduced unit costs for consumers and the need for companies to plan on higher sales volume to thrive. On the negative side, we are eroding relationally because of an increased dependence on digital space for building relationships and fostering long-term connections. This will continue to erode the relationship aspect of human nature, resulting in more divorces and fractured relationships, and fewer deep and abiding relationships among us.”

Advances in AI can be crucial to achieving human goals

Alexa Raad, chief purpose and policy officer at Human Security and host of the TechSequences podcast, said, “In 2035 AI will increase access to a basic level of medical diagnostic care, mental health counseling, training and education for the average user. Advances in augmented and virtual reality will make access to anything from entertainment to ‘hands-on’ medical training on innovative procedures possible without restrictions imposed by our physical environment (i.e., geography). Advances in the Internet of Things and robotics will enable the average user to control many aspects of their physical lives online by directing robots (routine living tasks like cleaning, shopping, cooking, etc.). Advances in biometrics will help us manage and secure our digital identities.”

A foresight strategist based in Washington, D.C., predicted, “Probably the most significant change in ‘digital life’ in the next 14 years will be the geometric expansion of the power and ubiquity of artificial intelligence. I consider it likely that bots (writ large) will be responsible for generating an increasing portion of our cultural and social information, from entertainment media to news media to autonomous agents that attend our medical and psychosocial needs. Obviously, a lot can go right or wrong in this scenario, and it’s incumbent upon those of us who work in and with digital tech to anticipate these challenges and to help center human dignity and agency as AI becomes more pervasive and powerful.”

Peter B. Reiner, professor and co-founder of the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia, proposed the creation of “Loyal AI,” writing, “As artificial intelligence comes to encroach upon more and more aspects of our lives, we need to ensure that our interests as humans are being well-served. The best way for this to happen would be the advent of ‘Loyal AI’ – artificially intelligent agents that put the interests of users first rather than those of the corporations that are developing the technology. This will require wholesale reinvention of the current rapacious business model of surveillance capitalism that pervades our digital lives, whether through innovation or government regulation or both. Such trustworthy AI might foster increased trust in institutions, paving the way for a society in which we can all flourish.”

Digital spaces will live in us. Direct connectivity with the digital world and thus with each other will drive us to new dimensions of discovery of ourselves, our species and life in general (thus not only digital life).

Paul Epping, chairman and co-founder of XponentialEQ

Paul Epping, chairman and co-founder of XponentialEQ, predicted, “The way we think and communicate will change. Politics, as we know it today, will disappear because we will all be hyperconnected in a hybrid fashion: physically and virtually. Governments and politics have, in essence, been all about control. That will be different. Things will most likely be ‘governed’ by AI. Therefore, our focus should be on developing ‘good’ AI. The way we solve things today will not be possible in that new society. It has been said that first we create technology and then technology creates us. At that point, tech will operate on a direct cognitive level. Radical ‘neuroconnectivity’ has exponentially more possibilities than we can imagine today; our old brains will not be able to solve new problems anymore. Technology will create the science that we need to evolve.

“Digital spaces will live in us. Direct connectivity with the digital world and thus with each other will drive us to new dimensions of discovery of ourselves, our species and life in general (thus not only digital life). And it will be needed to survive as a species. Since I think that the technologies being used for that purpose are cheaper, faster, smaller and safer, everyone can benefit from it. A lot of the problems along the way will be solved and will have been solved, although new unknowns will brace us for unexpected challenges. E.g.: how will we filter information and what defines the ownership of data/information in that new digital space? Such things must be solved with the future capabilities of thinking in the framework of that time; we can’t solve them with our current way of thinking.”

Heather D. Benoit, a senior managing director of strategic foresight, wrote, “I imagine a world in which information is more useful, more accessible and more relevant. By 2035, AIs should be able to vet information against other sources to verify its accuracy. They should also be able to provide this information to consumers at the times that make the most sense based on time of day, activity and location. Furthermore, some information would be restricted and presented to each individual based on their preferences and communication style. I imagine we’ll all have our own personal AIs that carry out these functions for us, that we trust and that we consider companions of a sort.”

Sam Lehman-Wilzig, professor and former chair of communications at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, said, “I envision greater use of artificial intelligence by social media in ‘censoring’ out particularly egregious speech. Another possibility: Social media that divides itself into ‘modules’ in which some disallow patently political speech or other types of subject matter, i.e., social media modules that are subject-specific.”

An expert on the future of software engineering presented the following scenario: “A political operative writes a misleading story and attempts to circulate it via social media. By means of a carefully engineered network topology, it reaches trusted community members representing diverse views, and – with the assistance of sophisticated AI that helps to find and evaluate the provenance of the story and related information – the network determines that the story is likely a fabrication and damps its tendency to spread. The process and technology are very reliable and trusted across the political spectrum.”

Jerome Glenn, co-founder and CEO of The Millennium Project, predicted, “Personal AI/avatars will search the internet while we are asleep and later wake us up in the morning with all kinds of interesting things to do. They will have filtered out information pollution, distilling just the best for our own unique self-actualization by using blockchain and smart contracts.”

Dweep Chand Singh, professor and director/head of clinical psychology at Aibhas Amity University in India, said, “Communication via digital mode is here to stay, with an eventual addition of brain-to-brain transmission and exchange of information. Biological chips will be prepared and inserted in brains of human beings to facilitate communication without external devices. In addition, artificial neurotransmitters will be developed in neuroscience labs for an alternative mode of brain-to-brain communication.”

An ICANN and IEEE leader based in India proposed a potential future in which everything is connected to everything, writing, “Our lives, the lives of other humans linked to us and the lives of non-human entities (pets, garden plants, homes, devices and household appliances) will all be connected in ways that enhance the sharing of information in order for people to have more meaningful lives. We will be able to upload our thoughts directly to the internet and others will be able to download and experience them. The ‘thoughts’ (experiences, sensory information, states of mind) of other non-human entities will also be uploaded. Among these online thought-objects, there will also be ‘bots’ (AI thought entities), and the internet will become a bus for thoughts and awareness. This will lead to stunning emergent properties that could transform the human experience.”

A futures strategist and consultant warned, “Within the next 15 years, the AI singularity could happen. Humanity can only hope that the optimistic beliefs of Isaac Asimov will hold true. Even in the present day, some AI platforms that were developed in research settings have evolved into somewhat psychopathic personalities, for lack of a better description. We might, in the future, see AI forecasting events based on accumulated information and making decisions that could limit humanity in some facets of life. Many more jobs than present will be run and controlled by this AI, and major companies will literally jump at the nearly free workforce that AI will provide, but at what cost for humanity? We can only hope as we wait and see how this technology will play out. AI lacks the human element that makes us who we are: the ability to dream, to be illogical, to make decisions based on a ‘gut feeling.’ Society could become logic-based, as this is the perception that AI will base its decisions on. Humanity could lose its ability for compassion and, with that, for understanding.”

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