The following varied incisive and comprehensive responses represent some of the big ideas shared by a small selection of the hundreds of thought leaders who participated in this canvassing. There are two particularly extensive essays at the bottom of the chapter, one by Doc Searls about technology of the future he hopes will address some of the troublesome aspects of the current Web and one from Mei Lin Fung, chair of the People-Centered Internet, about the blended world of online and offline activities she calls the “fourth dimension.”
Here are the overview commentaries:
Megatrends will prompt people and organizations to transform into better versions of themselves
Jim Spohrer, board member of the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals and recently retired director of IBM Cognitive Open Tech, said, “Digital life by 2035 will be shaped by the megatrends of local, universal basic income; universal upskilling (lifelong learning); and personal, privacy-preserving digital workers (cognitive mediators). All responsible entities (people, businesses, universities, governments) will be working to transform themselves into better future versions of themselves. All responsible entities will create a series of digital twins of themselves that can interact with the digital twins of other entities. Two hundred years ago, most people lived on multigenerational family farms that were satellites situated around cities. Advances in automation (AI, robotics) as well as high-speed mobility will allow multigenerational family ‘digital farms’ that are satellites around cities (high-speed mobility hubs). The view of people in Rutger Bregman’s ‘Humankind: A Hopeful History’ and Robert Wright’s ‘Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny’ will be widespread. The emerging trans-discipline of service science will be better understood (though perhaps under a different name).”
Digital spaces will move inside us and physical spaces will include adjunct digital spaces
Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research, wrote, “The most noticeably different aspect of digital life for the average user in 2035 will be a more seamless integration of tools and so-called ‘reality.’ By importing the dynamics of simulation and virtual representation from the gaming world, we will swallow the internet. Digital spaces will move inside us. Whether augmented reality, virtual reality or a mirror world interaction, time and distance will effectively vanish. Here is where I am, where I can find you or any other – so there is only here. There is only now. The proscenium arch and backstage of ‘The Truman Show’ will have disappeared. What is now ‘stickiness’ – the design of a digital space to encourage more engagement – will become immersion.
“The outside of any digital space will be harder to fathom because physical spaces will include adjunct digital spaces (as every business and person has a URL now) and, just as people today pore over their phones and ignore cars, pedestrians and loved ones, by 2035, digital spaces will become so immersive we will have a problem, I predict a major problem, getting people to disengage with those digital spaces. We will all become video gamers, hooked on the mirror world of the world.
“While some will struggle with this overwhelming change, by 2035, the facility of use and integration of physical and digital realms will improve many experiences and transactions. For example, the automobile will become a significant digital space. As driverless cars become mobile digital spaces with end-to-end digital information streaming in and out of each car, our mobile digital experience will significantly lessen accidents and congestion, reducing the 38,000 deaths annually from traffic accidents.”
Problems and solutions will be spotted more quickly and a flowering of creative activity will occur
Miguel Moreno, director of the department of philosophy at the University of Grenada, predicted, “By 2035 we can expect these advances, among others:
- The consolidation of warning systems – open to citizen participation – that serve notice of crimes of various kinds, environmentally harmful activities and other potential harms to the general public in regard to health, transportation, commercial activity and so forth.
- Upgraded collaborative systems capable of providing rapid response in emergency situations, especially in areas vulnerable to natural disasters, extreme weather phenomena, etc.
- Better visibility for problems that are still underestimated will lead to corresponding actions such as the reduction of inequality and discrimination or unfair and arbitrary treatment by private or state actors.
- Better platforms for quality educational resources and open access, with or without support from public institutions.
- Better tools to facilitate inclusive access to people with different degrees and types of disabilities.
- Better options at the service of creativity and artistic expression in any modality.
- Specific services encouraging citizen participation that contribute to open-science models will more efficiently address problems that would otherwise require costly investments in what has been, to this point, ‘conventional’ research.
- Leisure and entertainment services will continue to be important, with quality content affordable for a large part of the population as high-bandwidth networks become more widespread and prices become cheaper.”
New behavioral norms and a new layer of professionals will help improve digital spaces
Zizi Papacharissi, professor of political science and professor and head of communication at the University of Illinois-Chicago, observed, “In most of the spaces we inhabit, humans have developed some form of curation. For example, a closed door may signify a preference for privacy; it may also signal a desire for security (and one of heightened security if the door is locked). Doors allow us to curate what enters our spaces and what remains out. Similarly, we humans have developed ways of chastising or punishing inappropriate behavior in commonly shared spaces.
“For example, if a person misbehaves in a bar, they are thrown out by a bouncer. We do not have a debate in this case about whether that person’s rights to free speech were violated, because they started yelling in a bar. We simply kick them out. As of yet, we have no such types of broadly adopted rules for what appropriate behavior is online and how to enforce those rules online. When we try to establish them, we spark all kinds of debates about free speech. Yet free speech is not the same as free reach.
“Over the years, human society has developed nudges that invite us to behave in safe, socially conscious ways. There are a number of things that we do not do because we want to, we do them because we have to. For example, we do not cross the street any time we want to; we cross when we are able to do it safely. We do not board a train any time we want, but when it is our turn. I envision online spaces that are designed with nudges to encourage democratic behaviors in the future. I also envision that the people who enter these spaces will have been better socialized (by peers, parents and educators) on how to behave there – in the same way we have been socialized to behave appropriately in other public spaces that include museums, airports, parks.
“And, most important, I envision a whole new class of professionals to help people develop this layer of social behavior – information curators, democracy conduits, literacy advisors and similar others – who will make good money (salaries comparable to those of designers and coders) to help curate, to advise and to help humans come to use these technologies in positive ways.”
The next frontier is designing digital spaces for safety and serendipity and taking those spaces out of the hands of corporations and governments
Lucy Bernholz, director of Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab, urged, “Designing digital spaces for safety and serendipity is a next step. Enabling people to go in, out and between such spaces as they choose is critical. And allowing groups of people to control information they generate about them is also important. Digital spaces need to become tools of the people, not of corporations and governments. They need to be fragmented, pluralistic, multitudinous and interconnected at the will of people, not by profit-driven lock-in. There should be no single, nor even a few, dominant digital systems or companies. People should be able to plug in and plug out. … Turning our physical spaces – from private homes to public parks to government buildings to wide-open spaces – into ‘screen-like’ sensing is exactly the wrong way to go. We need, instead, to remember and maintain the best of our physical spaces online – our parks, libraries, sidewalks, stoops, benches, busses, trains and town squares – and bring that multiplicity of choice and its privacy within crowds, and safe serendipity into digital spaces.”
Look for the creation of internet communities that become training grounds for participation in democracy
Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Initiative on Digital Public Infrastructure at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said, “I prefer to imagine a 2035 in which internet communities strengthen our civic and democratic muscles. Imagine a world in which most people are members of dozens of different online communities. Some are broad in membership and purpose, while others are narrowly focused and support small groups of users. These smaller groups, in particular, demand that their participants be involved in governing these spaces, acting as moderators and the authors of the community guidelines. The larger networks use representative systems to nominate interested users to task forces that write and rewrite guidelines, and participants take shifts as moderators, using mechanisms similar to jury service. Through the rise of these community governance mechanisms, social networks not only become less toxic but become a training ground for full participation in a democracy, with citizens sharpening their interpersonal and democratic skills in the online space and applying those lessons to ‘real-world’ governance.”
Hope that biometric profiling will be outlawed and true contextual advertising will arise
Joseph Turow, professor of media systems and industries at the University of Pennsylvania, explained, “Recently, an interest in biometric voice profiling has been on the rise, as marketers (drawing on scientific work) believe the sound and syntax of someone’s voice can yield information about the person’s emotions, sentiments, height, weight, gender, race, age, diseases – even when they are on birth control pills. I hope by 2035, a new and improved digital realm will outlaw the use of biometric profiling in marketing and it will deeply limit the use of tracking data to differentiate among individuals. It will make it difficult for native ad creators and influencers to ply their trades without explicit and highly visible notices that they represent paid opportunities. The best kind of paid internet messaging in 2035 would be a sophisticated version of contextual advertising. That would involve using machine learning and deep neural network programs to examine what a person is reading, hearing or viewing on a site or app, and then to serve an ad for a product or service that seems to complement, supplement, or in some other way relate to the person’s interests based on that content. The data about the person’s activity would not be stored, nor would any other tracking record be created. Marketers may well conduct research to infer how particular forms of content resonate with particular types of products and services. But there would be no opportunities for prejudicial discrimination based on the scoring of a person’s history or background.”
It will be much harder to get away with harmful things
Vinton G. Cerf, vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google and Internet Hall of Fame member, predicted that by 2035, “Straight extrapolation leads to better and higher-speed access to the Internet on a ubiquitous basis thanks in part to low-Earth-orbit networks and expansion of fiber and radio access methods. We will have figured out how to deliver education online in K-12 and post-secondary education. People will learn while they work and not only in a burst at the beginnings of their longer lives.
“Massive amounts of data will be available to inform policy decisions, and powerful processing tools will help to analyze it and provide useful guidance. We will have finally solved the problems of maintaining common health care records so as to improve diagnosis and track treatment. Provenance and supply chain tracking will be standard practice. Preservation of digital content for centuries will be a solved problem. People will still do harmful things, but it will be much harder to get away with it.”
The natural monopolies of current social media platforms are broken
Brad Templeton, internet pioneer, futurist and activist, and former president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote this 2035 scenario: “People are asked to make one-time choices about what policies they want to govern their social feeds. People are more willing to make reflective choices when divorced from actual content, while they react emotionally when presented with incendiary content. People are encouraged to socially network with others of a diverse set of creeds, and steps are taken to make it less likely people would ‘unfollow’ such people by defusing confrontation.
“Social networks in 2035 allow some interconnection, so that you can have a ‘home’ on one network and interact with those whose ‘home’ is on another. This breaks the natural monopoly of current social networks, where the only useful one for you is the one your friends consider ‘home’; breaking that monopoly allows more competition, meaning more innovation and better approaches, and the networks that make people feel more satisfied at the end of the day win the business of more people.
“In addition, new approaches that attract people quickly get taken up by other networks as well. By 2035, entrepreneurs will compete to produce the most useful ‘feed’ of the activities and posts of contacts, making good use of people’s time while also eliminating ‘FOMO’ [fear of missing out] efficiently and encouraging connections with those who matter, as well as interesting new people. In 2035, though this is very difficult, the networks will work together to fight off attacks from outsiders, particularly AI-driven, weaponized propaganda; it is a harder problem to fix than spam.”
A happier world of lowered ambitions and less technology use lies ahead
Douglas Rushkoff, digital theorist and host of the NPR-One podcast “Team Human,” said, “Let’s imagine a world where people have somehow extricated themselves from central banking. We live in a world where we don’t have to expand the economy every year just to keep wealthy people from having to work. We are allowed to stay as we are, or do less! We decide it’s actually enough to keep everyone clothed, fed, educated and happy.
“We lower our ambitions so that just being fed and happy is all we need. So, most people end up living in communities where there is much less need for their businesses and activities to ‘scale.’ A kid might be happy engaging with 10 great friends where they live, rather than appealing to thousands of people on a social network. In such a world, digital technology will be used a lot less. More as a way to access the collective memory, to share research and to administrate more global affairs. Maybe to play games with people far away.”
People will live in spaces where we can see how we are all connected and how our lives are dependent on those around us
danah boyd, founder and president of the Data & Society Research Institute and principal researcher at Microsoft, commented, “Imagine a world where we can ‘see’ how we’re all connected, how our lives are dependent on all of those around us. Imagine a system where we can identify vulnerabilities in our social fabric and work collectively to repair them. Where we can ‘see’ people who aren’t like us and appreciate how we are like one another. Where we can build tools to empower the collective to solve social problems. Where those in pain can get help. Where we can leverage the tools that connect us to understand and appreciate those connections.”
A Human API allows people to reimagine their relationships with each other and organizations
Susan Price, human-centered design innovator at Firecat Studio, responded, “I’ve long had a vision for a Human API – an application programming interface that would serve as a filter layer between each individual human and any systems delivering content or services to us, or carrying/sharing information about us – such as our location, actions, decisions, identifiers, history and so forth – our data. I want a Human API that stores and enforces the rules I set about what is allowed to come into my awareness, what takes up my time and what information is shared about my activities. For example, the Human API would store all the ‘I Agree’ contractual agreements I’ve made with various companies and services. It would store all the subscriptions and payment commitments I’ve executed and provide a single dashboard to examine, analyze and manage them. Rather than my preferences, settings, records and agreements being stored in dozens or hundreds of vendor databases, the data would be stored under MY control. When I make a transaction, the Human API keeps a trustworthy record of it and vendors can rely on the fact that this was me transacting. The Human API would store my human connections and their contact information along with my preferences for whose call, text or email can be allowed to interrupt my concentration (during hours I set), whose SOS 911 contacts should be immediately put through to friends or colleagues near me (my husband’s caregiver, a babysitter, a school official). Access to such a system would be of great interest to governments and corporations; therefore, neither should control the Human API. It must be an open-source collective project, with participation and support from corporations, enterprises and government. Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid web browser project is one such effort; it won’t be the last attempt to solve this puzzle.”
New kinds of programs could be built to serve those who are struggling
Esther Dyson, internet pioneer, journalist, entrepreneur and executive founder of Wellville.net, said, “Problems online are due not to the tech but to the people using the tech. In a world where it seems half the population is underserved and damaged in some way by the age of 15, it would be so much easier to do visibly better for those people. The positive effects of this will only increase over time, after 2035. Thus the single biggest thing we could do right now is to dramatically scale/expand programs similar to Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), a nonprofit initiative that pairs pregnant women with nurses who continue to coach them for the first couple of years of their babies’ lives. NFP has lots of rigidities and exclusions (including the requirement that the coaches be certified nurses), but it’s a great model that needs to be improved and extended. Ideally, add in universal free child care. And to make that happen, invest all of the infrastructure funding necessary to train a new generation of doulas, maternal coaches, child care providers. And then give them respect and salaries that reflect the value they provide to society. This shock to the system would be positive and large, not especially digital-centric but it will affect a large enough proportion of the population to make a difference to society overall and therefore to what happens online. Those affected include the workers who get trained and learn people skills, gain a sense of agency and get paid enough to live healthy lives of dignity; the mothers, who will also learn people skills and gain a sense of agency (amazing, huh!); and their children, who will grow up with healthier habits and a sense of security based on good parenting. When they go online, they will be curious and respect others – well, maybe not always, but enough to make a difference! We need to train children even more than we need to train AIs. Obviously, this is no easy task. It cannot be rote or rigid; care and coaching need to be delivered with love and wisdom.”
Hyperlocal sovereignty takes hold after representative democracy fails
Tony Smith, a Melbourne-based researcher of complex systems who has written and presented extensively on ICT trends and policy, shared this 2035 scenario, “With it being generally accepted that representative democracy failed to scale, effective priority dispute resolution will be dealt with locally and transparently, with aggregation only as far as needed for operational viability. Education will be a multiway whole-of-life engagement, open to all at every level, with irrevocable freedom of assembly in the digital realm. Accuracy in labelling will be the new first commandment. Out of near-universal admiration for Greta Thunberg’s role in getting and keeping young people engaged through a crucial juncture, all mechanisms promoting childhood ignorance will be abandoned with consequences as overwhelmingly positive as they have been anywhere similar liberations have been tried. Potential parents will be particularly helped by the disappearance of social pressure to produce another generation, let alone to constrain their progeny’s interests. Diversity will be celebrated in all areas, as will clinically-accurate information about the state of the world with aggressive elimination of anthropocentric biases. One of the few restrictions will be a still-liberal but sufficiently deterrent cap on selfies. With the collapse of the punitive industries and the termination of ‘commercial in confidence,’ there will be no secrets and no need for secrets. …
“My hope is that in 2035, digital spaces serve as a fleet of lifeboats for those trying to navigate the terminal collapse of final-stage capitalism and nation-states and their enforcement operations, reestablishing Indigenous and hyperlocal sovereignty transparently to provide confidence that others’ localities are not preparing hostile actions, for an understanding of ‘local’ as much or more concerned with other commonalities than with physical location and thus placing individuals concurrently in several and, as likely as not, some individuals in most intersections. The biggest impacts will come from the natural realm. With the ecological and climate crises delivering evermore-rapid shocks, it will be a time in which the abandonment of monetary accumulation, of land ownership, of intellectual property regimes and of adversarial systems will be readily accepted, with holdouts disconnected. Generalisation of open-source principles into coordination centre stage should keep enough digital infrastructure operational that few questions will be asked. Engagement with the interested public will be the primary design filter.
“Some of the now temporarily rich or supposedly powerful will enjoy release from the demands such roles had placed on them and recover their creative abilities. Others will struggle with disconnection, not always quietly. The pressure to appear to be doing something will have largely disappeared as slowing down proves to be nowhere near as catastrophic as the evermore-frequent challenges of keeping Life viable. Spambots and their human imitators will have largely disappeared through a combination of reward failure and aggressive purging tools. Barriers to entry will have long fallen. Archival and editing tools will be accepted as a way of making knowledge more widely available, with less need for explicit cross-posting. People will continue to inject irrelevancies and/or be misunderstood.”
A sharing economy arises to challenge the economy based on owning property
Giacomo Mazzone, secretary general of the Eurovisioni think tank, commented, “By 2035, the use of data in a collaborative and safe way could create the conditions for a new economy based on sharing and not on accumulation. In that setting:
- Why I would need my own car, if I know that I can arrange for rented access anytime to common vehicles or take advantage of cleaner and more efficient public transportation at a price that is less than what it costs me today to have my own transportation tool?
- Why would I need to have my own individual connectivity if I could access guaranteed bandwidth everywhere for a reasonable sum, if it is structured as it is today for public lights in the streets?
- Why would I need to accumulate money if my basic needs (health, quality education, etc.) are satisfied and guaranteed by the community?
- Why would I not devote part of my time when I am young and healthy to the community in exchange for what the community will provide me anytime?
- Why would I need to live in megalopolis, where getting to work or going out to shop takes me many hours, when I can fruitfully work from a home in a small, quiet location and spend those hours as an active, contributing member of a real community?
“In this realistic 2035 scenario, the concepts of work, remuneration and the relationships between citizens and their communities could change dramatically.”
The younger generation’s organizing power – think K-pop armies – arise to bring change
Jay Owens, a research and innovation consultant with New River Insight, shared this scenario: “It’s 2035, and the K-pop fan armies turn their prodigious social media organising capabilities toward local democracy. Livestreamers broadcast every council meeting, offering acerbic commentary and contextualisation – no decision goes unscrutinised. Fan squads use a ‘cell’ structure to mobilise their neighbors on messenger apps; each young person is responsible for getting the news out to their apartment block or street and collecting messages, signatures, videos and demands to feed to elected representatives. Influencers stand for election and win – reducing the average age in council chambers around the country by half. For the first time, young people gain a sense that politics is not irrelevant and remote but something they can play, hack and win – like a computer game, but in real life. Various fan armies compete to pass more radical laws – petrol cars are banned; a wealth tax is introduced; further education is made free and second homes are appropriated for the public good. Retirees – so long the decisive constituency in politics – struggle to keep up with the younger generation’s formidable organising powers and see their hegemony slip rapidly away.”
Digital patrons will arise alongside influencers, underwriting digital creators
Yvette Wohn, associate professor and director of the Social Interaction Lab at New Jersey Institute of Technology, said, “In 2035, the current internet will be centered around the attention economy, but we will start to see small but significant shifts, such as the rise of digital patronage. Digital patronage will be an important aspect of digital life because it will allow content creators to monetize their work, even with a small number of followers, whereas the current ‘influencer’ model is based on the number of followers, views, etc. Content monetization from a platform perspective will become more widespread, since until now platforms took content for granted and even claim to own creative works posted by users.
“Copyright laws and methods of tracking digital artifacts across platforms will have to evolve – this will not be solved by 2035, but at least there will be higher demand and effort to do so. In 2035 we will start seeing more users be willing to pay for quality content, which means that a more viable news industry will reemerge and we will see more self-employed content creators. Of course, this will also come with negative consequences, as cults or extremists will also have more opportunity to build and monetize a following.
“Misinformation, online harassment, etc., will not go away, but more efforts will be made toward building resilience and inquisitive questioning of information. Resilience is best learned as a child, and this educational burden falls on parents. The government should be investing in resources to help with this education. Companies, pressured by public outcry, will be developing more features that incorporate reflective design. They will realize that deep learning still is not able to ‘fix’ the problem of disinformation and harassment.”
Digital technology will have disappeared in the era of ubiquitous computing; it will be powerful and unseen
Paul Saffo, a leading Silicon Valley-based forecaster exploring long-term technology trends and their impact on society, predicted, “The biggest change is that we won’t be talking about digital technology at all because it will have disappeared. Specifically, it will have disappeared so completely into our lives and surrounding environment that we will barely notice it. Or, rather, we will only notice it when it fails. This will be an instantiation of what the late Mark Weiser described as ubiquitous computing back in 1988.
“We are busy weaving a vast digital tapestry through civilization, a tapestry that we will become so dependent upon that our future selves in 2035 will laugh at the thought that digital technology seemed ubiquitous and essential in 2021. What we will see are the myriad consequences of digital ubiquity: new revolutions made possible by computation, communications and sensors. Just as today we chatter endlessly about digital technology without a thought to the electrical system that powers it, in 2035 we will marvel at breathtaking innovations in the life sciences and the even newer sciences of the small without a thought to the fact that digital technology provided the tools to build those revolutions.
“Unfortunately, we will also face an ever-growing myriad of challenges spun off of our relentless digital innovation. If there is one lesson 2035 can take from 2021, it will be to learn to detect and address those new challenges earlier than we have managed over the last 20 years. And hopefully the citizens of 2035 will not be so preoccupied with fixing the neglected challenges they will inherit from us that they also do not pay sufficient attention to what is lurking over their horizon.”
The distinction between online and offline will vanish
Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and former special assistant in the Obama White House for science, technology and innovation policy, said, “Someday we’ll cease to differentiate between on- and offline, just as we have stopped talking about ‘electrified’ life. Much that we now treasure will disappear. But the human spirit is creative and playful – we’ll be up to new augmented shenanigans that we cannot now imagine.”
Schools, families and every social institution must act
Alejandro Pisanty, Internet Hall of Fame member and professor of internet and information society at UNAM, National Autonomous University of Mexico, said, “By 2035 it is likely that there will be ‘positive’ digital spaces. In them, ideally, there will be enough trust in general to allow significant political discussion, diffusion of trustworthy news and vital information (such as health-related) in which digital citizenship can be exerted and enrich society. It is so necessary that societies will build this at whatever cost. However, this does not mean that ALL digital spaces will be healthy, nor that the healthy ones will be the ones we have today. There will continue to be veritable cesspools of lies, disinformation, discrimination and outright crime. The healthy spaces will probably have a cost and be disjointed from these others. There will be plenty of ‘negative’ spaces as well; human drivers for cheating, harassment, disconnection from the truth, ignorance, bad faith and crime don’t seem to be on the wane and they won’t be gone in 15 years.
“The hope we can have is that enough people and organizations (including for-profit) will push the common good so that the ‘positive’ spaces can still be useful. They may become gated, to everyone’s loss. Education and political pressure on platforms will be key for the possible improvements. A strong focus on scientifically sound health-related information will be needed to remove the harmful lies and disinformation, which is also caused at present by the relentless sale of pseudo-therapies, supplements that circumvent pharmaceutical regulation and pseudo- and bad science. Most major concerns stem from deeply rooted human conduct, be it individual, corporate, criminal or governmental.
“By 2035 we must already have begun to tackle the negatives arising out of the core of human conduct as it operates online and off. This requires us to address mass scaling (including network effects); identity management; cross-jurisdictional, barrier-lowering friction reduction; and memory/forgetting – applying structured efforts for both the offline part of a conduct (such as the motivation for sharing or the motivation for fraud) and its online presentation (for example, crowdsourcing or phishing).
“Some remedies for the online space seem out of whack – they just don’t scale or are unable to respond to factors such as the cross-border models of crime. Purely governmental or intergovernmental/multilateral solutions won’t work either. Multistakeholderism can make a difference. In this model, people discuss opportunities and challenges in multistakeholder spaces – all-inclusive gatherings that bring together representatives from the various sectors of tech/science, civil society, industry/business and government – to help point the way to better collaborative solutions. I am also particularly concerned about the growing influence of the public’s lack of understanding of science and its influence on all fields of life at a time in which science and technology have become so important that they are, in fact, a key determinant of well-being.
“Schools, families and every social institution must act on all this.”
Better technology than the Web will become the standard, allowing individuals to set their own rules of engagement with digital life
Doc Searls, internet pioneer, co-author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” and “The Intention Economy” and co-founder and board member at Customer Commons, shared a detailed vision based on work in progress designed to improve the internet, including details about Self-Sovereign Identity, Emancipay, the Intention Byway, persistent compute objects (or picos), “palgorithms” and “intentrons.” He explained:
“The new and improved digital realm of 2035 is one in which the Web still works but has been sidelined, because there are better models on the Internet for people and organizations to get along, and better technologies than can be imagined inside the client-server model of browser-website interactions. Those better technologies and models are ones the Internet supports, and has all along, but they have been hard to imagine and develop in the world of the Web, a world built by the giants that ruled our lives in the first few decades of the digital world.
“To see what is likely by 2035, imagine having your own personal privacy policies and terms and conditions for engagement, rather than always agreeing to those of others. The Internet supports that. The Web does not. On the Web, only sites and services can have privacy policies, or proffer terms and conditions. You are never the first party, but only the second – and a highly subordinate one as well.
“This is not the Web’s fault, however. Standard-form ‘agreements’ (such as the ‘consent’ gauntlets that became ubiquitous on the Web after Europe’s GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] became enforceable in 2018) are called ‘contracts of adhesion.’ They were given that name in a landmark paper by Columbia law professor Friedrich Kessler and published in 1943. In that paper, Kessler lamented how freedom of contract between customers and companies had become impossible by then, at the height of the industrial age. But the Internet wasn’t around in 1943. It is now, and it is possible to imagine, develop and enforce personalized privacy policies and personalized privacy terms and conditions. We have one of those already with Customer Commons’ #NoStalking term. We also have it with the IEEE’s P7012 group, working on machine-readable personal privacy terms, and with the whole field of online dispute resolution (ODR).
“Now imagine having complete control over how you identify yourself in the networked world, using your own system for telling others no more than they need to know about you – whether you’re over 18, have a ticket to a show, are a member of a club, hold a valid passport, or are the same person picking up a coffee as the one who ordered it – and to do all of this using a choice of your legal name, a pseudonym, or no name at all because none is needed. This system is already thought out and coming into use with working code in agreed-upon governance frameworks. The system is called SSI, for Self-Sovereign Identity. None of this is imaginable in a world only of Web sites and services, all of which need to provide their own means for controlling how you are identified, and for what, on the old industrial model. But it is happening on the Internet.
“Now imagine also being able to change your last name, your address, or your credit card number for all the services you deal with, in one move. That too is possible with SSI.
“For demand and supply to be truly balanced, and for customers to operate at full agency in an open marketplace (which the Internet was designed to be), customers should have their own ways to signal how much they are willing to pay for goods and services, plus their own methods for making those payments, on their own terms as well. There is already a design for that, called Emancipay. It was outlined by ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center in the first decade of the 2000s. There are countless other possible approaches, including crypto-based fintech. None of those can be imagined, much less allowed, in the frameworks of the Web and the platform giants of our current time – including those running mobile device and app technologies and marketplaces. But those will not continue to dominate the world, because they can’t. The Internet beneath them is too broad and supportive of an infinite variety of new alternatives.
“Now imagine being able, as a customer, to tell a whole market what you want to buy or hire, and do that outside the walled gardens of Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace. And to do it safely and securely, with minimal disclosure of personal information until it is required. This is called intentcasting. Its first open and standards-based messaging model is called the Intention Byway – or Byway for short – because it routes around the commercial highways modeled on the Web and prior industrial norms, and that are embodied in the apps and platforms owned and controlled by Apple, Google, Amazon and other giants of the Internet’s first industrial epoch. Working with the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University, Customer Commons will soon be conducting trials of the Byway in Bloomington, Indiana.
“Imagine having your own shopping cart – one you can take from store to store on the Internet. This was imagined by Joyce Searls in 1995, but never happened on the Web, or even in the retail ecosystem that preceded it. (Think about it: Nearly every shopping cart you push around a store is owned and branded by that store.) But it can be done on the Internet, and will, inevitably.
“Imagine having a dashboard or a cockpit for your life in the digital world: one with all your health, financial and property data, plus your calendar, lists of contacts, receipts and other records of interactions – all personal data – in one place, with your own way to make good decisions based on them. Now imagine running your own algorithms on that data – call them ‘palgorithms’ – using your own AI and ML, rather than those hosted by giants and meant first to serve their purposes rather than yours. All of that is possible using apps that run on intentrons, which are compute nodes individuals own and operate from behind their own firewall.
“Intentrons and apps that run on them – ones not controlled by the likes of Apple and Google – can be made by anybody, will run on Linux or any other open operating system, and communicate with each other on the Byway. And these too will be on the table for the trials and research in Bloomington during the current academic year.
“And how about a true Internet of Things, rather than an Apple of things, an Amazon of things, a Google of things, a Samsung of things. We should be able to own, control, operate and keep track of those things, as independent human beings in the digital world. Code for this already exists, with what are called ‘picos,’ or persistent compute objects, developed in and around Brigham Young University, where PicoLabs.org is based. There is also work proving picos’ worth in the world.
“So much more can be imagined and developed when we exit the Web and the shadows of giants’ silos:
- We can have loyalty programs based on actual loyalty felt by customers and expressed in standardized and noncoercive ways.
- We can have customer service that starts with normalized ways customers can call for and get support.
- We can have apps running on intentrons and communicating with companies on the Byway, just providing helpful feedback to companies willing to listen and improve how they work. (Picos can be involved in that too.)
- We can have political systems that work outward from citizen participation rather than starting with politicians working for wealthy influences or with algorithmically-amplified tendencies by citizens to vilify, complain and advance in partisan herds.
“Of course this is all stuff I’ve been thinking about and working toward for decades, in some cases with dozens or hundreds of others. The difference as I write this today – in August 2021 – is that I am on site in Bloomington, Indiana, working on developing the Byway and doing research around it. Whether or not that work succeeds, I do have faith that the Internet will support the kinds of developments outlined above, and not just the platform-dominated ecosystem that has dominated our thinking and policymaking in the first several decades of digital life.”
‘Home on the cloud’ and living in the fourth dimension
Mei Lin Fung, chair of People-Centered Internet, predicted, “By 2035 instead of the ‘home on the range’ most people will be at ‘home on the cloud,’ able to stay surrounded by family and friends while finding and taking on income-earning, business opportunities anywhere in the world. I share the following excerpts from a chapter I am writing with Leng Lim for an upcoming book:
“For many, the past year has merged people’s real, physical, geographically located home for work and family life with digital spaces due to a COVID-19-forced cohabitation that might last longer than we imagined. In our real, physical home, work and family life have in the last year or so been radically merging. This COVID-19-forced cohabitation might last longer than we imagined. The more-digital lives many of us now lead have come sooner than we expected. The consequences are many. Not only has remote work reduced the need for office space, but it has also brought down barriers to migrating for work. We can live by the beach in Bali and work each day with colleagues in Brussels or Brazil or Baltimore, even as we socialize at night or on weekends in Bangkok, Barcelona or Bogota.
“Digital humanism driven by love of people and planet is urgently needed as a counterweight to what will otherwise be an inevitable digital colonization driven by profit. Surely, we all want to prioritize collective flourishing over the fury that will result if the world’s future is defined by conflicts between digital masters and the digitally unempowered. But too many feel helpless, blame others and find comfort in complaining. It’s past time for such inaction. It’s time to get going – with eyes wide open, not denying that the shift toward a more humane and sustainable society, however inevitable and badly needed, will be painful and fitful.
“We are connected now. The human factor in social, economic and relationship ecosystems can no longer be ignored. We can see, measure and model these interactions. We have an incredible opportunity to share and learn so we can find ways to flourish together on our planet home: what that visionary Marshall McLuhan called ‘Spaceship Earth.’
“The Global South has come to visit in the living rooms of the Global North, and it’s looking rather permanent. The Global North has put a device into the back pockets of many people in the Global South, and it’s becoming ubiquitous, the mobile phone in every aspect of life around the planet. Those connections are generating collisions which were avoided when distance separated ideas. Western science and economics are meeting Eastern body-mind-spirit and yet all is not one. As the pendulum swings from the dominance of Western science and economics to the embrace of holistic well-being and oneness with the planet, we find ourselves in the cloud together, yes, but the usual buffers for human relations of understanding and empathy are not just worn thin, they are worn down by growing waves of cultural and religious misunderstanding.
“Yet as digital taketh away, it also gives: Humans have used measurement as a tool to increase understanding – measuring distances in the sky using telescopes gave us the science of astronomy. Timing a ball rolling down a slope gave us physics. Weighing ingredients before mixing them together gave us chemistry. Measurement is entering a golden age with the Internet of Things. Sensors can provide precise nanosecond tracking of movements, temperature, humidity, food security and agriculture, mobility and transportation, well-being and housing, climate and environmental sensing. This has potential for reducing waste and costs, increasing quality of life and making for more sustainable life on Earth.
“Of course, today, digital accounting and tracking can – with its current emphasis only on profitable private enterprise – make a few people rich and unrestricted and keep many people tightly controlled and constrained in opportunities. When only money is counted, only money counts.
“The politics of the Left and Right is an archaic notion now that we are in an era when the problem of both production and distribution can be solved in an infinite number of ways, with the precise possibility of dialing the lever left or right, not at the national level, but at the local subnational and even neighborhood level. Mayors matter more than presidents in the distribution of resources and wealth in a world where there is enough food, water, electricity and shelter for everyone. Yet political divisions tear the human fabric, tilting the winnings to the tribe that knows how best to leverage digital technology to win the power game.
“We have a new fourth dimension, and that is Digital. At any instant we can engage with the visual playing out of scenarios, digital narratives sped up or slowed down, entire lives depicted, courses of action storyboarded, the impact of public health interventions on population health shown in Monte-Carlo simulations, modeling using data from sensors far away to precisely time when to water the crops.
“This is a huge new frontier that we can’t understand until our intuition begins to develop and that takes time, just as it takes time to learn to read and write until we can do it unconsciously. Humility and a sense of inquiry is the only protection we have in exploring life enhanced, enriched and endangered by the vastly and rapidly expanding digital dimension.
“Digital Humanism driven by love of people and planet is urgently needed as a counterweight to what will otherwise be an inevitable Digital Colonization driven by profit. Surely, you say, we all want to prioritize Flourishing over the Fury that will result in the subsequent conflicts between the Digital Masters and the Digital Slaves?
“But lacking understanding that this is what we are heading toward, millions already watch in horror as dystopian nightmares of Poverty, Pandemic, Prejudice encroach. Feeling helpless, blaming others, justifying inaction, finding comfort in complaining as an alternative to acting, the silent majority is like a frog where the water is so gradually heating up that the frog does not try to jump out.
“The environmental factors so long ignored for being too complex to consider in Western science and economics, are now being considered in digital accounting beginning with climate accounting. The human factors, so long ignored because of being too complicated to do laboratory experiments with, are now being considered in digital humanism, digital health and in the building of resilient communities. Stewardship to assure a sustainable planet, sustainable food, water, shelter, flourishing ecosystems are being raised as counter-objectives to the one-dimensional financial factor.
“We are connected now, and the human factor in the social, economic and relationship ecosystems can no longer be ignored – we can see it, we can measure it, we must model it and we must share and learn the new knowledge to find ways we can learn to flourish together on a planet that stays livable.”
How this report is organized
The sections that follow in this report organize scores of additional expert predictions under headings that reflect the themes listed in the tables at the beginning of this report: building better spaces; constructing effective communities; empowering individuals; changing economic life and work; altering “reality”; and tackling wicked problems.
A final section covers some of the more sweeping predictions and wishes of some of the key respondents to this canvassing.
For more details regarding how this canvassing was conducted, including full question wording, see the section “About this canvassing” at the end of this report.