This report covers results from the 14th “Future of the Internet” canvassing by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.
Participants were asked to respond to several questions about the tone and impact of the online environment and the trajectory of activities in the digital public sphere that have recently been raising deepening societal concerns. Invitations to participate were emailed to more than 10,000 experts and members of the interested public. They were invited to weigh in via a web-based instrument that was open to them from Feb. 11-March 21, 2022. Overall, 624 people responded to at least one question. Results reflect comments fielded from a nonscientific, nonrandom, opt-in sample and are not projectable to any population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample.
Respondent answers were solicited though the following prompts:
The evolution of the metaverse: This canvassing of experts is prompted by emerging debates over the evolution and impact of “the metaverse” by 2040. Broadly defined, the metaverse is the realm of computer-generated, networked extended-reality spaces (XR, which includes VR, AR and/or MR) in which interactions take place among humans and automated entities, some in gaming or fantasy worlds and some in “mirror worlds” that duplicate real-life environments. While extended-reality gaming and social spaces have been in existence for decades, early 2020s tech advances have pushed the development of the metaverse to the forefront, inspiring tens of billions of dollars in investments and prompting predictions that it is “the future of the internet” or “the next internet battleground.” The hope is that advanced, immersive, 3D, online worlds could benefit all aspects of society – education, healthcare, gaming and entertainment, the arts, social and civic life and other activities. Of course, as with all digital tech, there are concerns about the health, safety, security, privacy and economic implications of these new spaces. This is spurring new conversations about what the maturing of the metaverse will look like and what that means for society.
The question: Considering what you know about the metaverse, which statement comes closer to your view about its likely evolution by 2040?
– By 2040 the metaverse WILL be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.
– By 2040 the metaverse WILL NOT be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.
Results for this question regarding the current evolution of XR and the metaverse:
- 54% said by 2040 the metaverse WILL be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.
- 46% said by 2040 the metaverse WILL NOT be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.
The follow-up quantitative research questions were:
Please elaborate on your answer. Tell us how you imagine that this shift of many online activities into more-fully-immersive digital spaces and digital life is likely to take place. Regardless of how you see the timing of this, how might it change human society? What are the likely positives of this transition? What negatives may emerge? How might it change the daily lives of the connected? And how will this transition change the way we think about our world and ourselves? We are also interested in hearing your thoughts about the role blockchain and its applications might play in this evolution of online life by 2040.
The web-based instrument was first sent directly to an international set of experts (primarily U.S.-based) identified and accumulated by Pew Research Center and Elon University during previous studies, as well as those identified in a 2003 study of people who made predictions about the likely future of the internet between 1990 and 1995. Additional experts with proven interest in these particular topics were also added to the list. We invited professionals and policy people from government bodies and technology businesses, think tanks and interest networks (for instance, those that include professionals and academics in law, ethics, political science, economics, social and civic innovation, sociology, psychology, education, wellness and communications); globally located people working with communications technologies in government positions; technologists and innovators; top universities’ engineering/computer science, political science, sociology/anthropology and business/entrepreneurship faculty, graduate students and postgraduate researchers; plus some who are active in civil society organizations that focus on digital life and those affiliated with newly emerging nonprofits and other research units examining the impacts of digital life.
Among those invited to participate were researchers, developers and business leaders from leading global organizations, including Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon universities; leaders at many companies and organizations heavily invested in the future of XR and the metaverse (including but not limited to the following): All These Worlds, Amazon, Apple, Axie Infinity, Beamable, the Center for AI and Digital Policy, Constant Change Media Group, The Crucible, Customer Commons, the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, Decentraland, Educators in VR, Epic Games, Google, HTC, Infineon, Inrupt, Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia, Roblox, The Sandbox, Second Life, Sony, Unanimous AI, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Unity, Upland, the Virtual World Society, the XR Association and more; leaders active in the advancement of and innovation in global communications networks and technology policy, such as the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Society (ISOC) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Invitees were encouraged to share the survey link with others they believed would have an interest in participating, thus there may have been somewhat of a “snowball” effect as some invitees welcomed others to weigh in.
The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise. Some responses are lightly edited for style and readability.
A large number of the expert respondents elected to remain anonymous. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their internet expertise or background, and this was noted, when available, in this report.
In the demographics section of this canvassing, of the 272 respondents who answered the query about their region of the world 76% reported being located in North America and 24% said they are located in other parts of the world. Seventy-one percent of the 410 respondents who answered the question as to sexual identity said they identify as male, 26% identify as female and 3% identify themselves in some other way. Of the 408 respondents who indicated their “primary area of interest,” 35% identified themselves as professor/teacher; 15% as futurists or consultants; 13% as research scientists; 10% as technology developers or administrators; 6% as advocates or activist users; 6% as entrepreneurs or business leaders; 3% as pioneers or originators; and 10% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”
Following is a brief list noting a small selection of key respondents who took credit for their responses on at least one of the overall topics in this canvassing. Workplaces are included to show expertise; they reflect the respondents’ job titles and locations at the time of this canvassing.
Charles Anaman, founder of waaliwireless.co, based in Ghana; Avi Bar-Zeev, XR pioneer who has developed the tech at Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google and more; Rod Beckstrom, author, entrepreneur and former CEO of ICANN and director at the U.S. National Cybersecurity Center; Matthew Belge, president and principal UX designer at Vision & Logic; danah boyd, founder of the Data & Society Research Institute and principal researcher at Microsoft; Stowe Boyd, managing director and founder of Work Futures; Tim Bray, founder and principal at Textuality Services (previously at Amazon); Daniel D. Bryant, Wales-based VR educator, co-founder of Educators in VR; Eric Burger, recently worked in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and as the chief technology officer at the FCC, now on the computer science faculty at Georgetown University; Nigel M. Cameron, president emeritus of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies; Jamais Cascio, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future; Daniel Castro, vice president and director of the Center for Data Innovation at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Cathy Cavanaugh, chief technology officer at the University of Florida Lastinger Center for Learning; Vinton G. Cerf, vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google; Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research; Aymar Jean Christian, associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University and adviser to the Center for Critical Race Digital Studies; David Clark, Internet Hall of Fame member and senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and former special assistant in the Obama White House; Amali De Silva-Mitchell, founder/coordinator of the IGF Dynamic Coalition on Data-Driven Health Technologies; Cory Doctorow, activist journalist and author of “How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism”; Stephen Downes, expert with the Digital Technologies Research Centre of the National Research Council of Canada; Ayden Férdeline, public-interest technologist based in Berlin, Germany; Seth Finkelstein, principal at Finkelstein Consulting and Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award winner; Michael M.J. Fischer, professor of anthropology and science and technology studies at MIT; Mary Anne Franks, president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative; Batya Friedman, professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Washington; Mei Lin Fung, chair of People-Centered Internet; Oscar Gandy, scholar emeritus of the political economy of information at the University of Pennsylvania; Steve Hanna, a distinguished engineer at Infineon Technologies expert on Internet of Things security; Katie Harbath, public policy director at Facebook from 2011-2021, now founder and CEO of Anchor Change and director of Tech and Democracy for the International Republican Institute; Akah Harvey, director of engineering at Seven GPS, Cameroon; John C. Havens, executive director of the Institute of IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems; Peter H. Hellmonds, founder/owner of Arete Publica; James Hochschwender, futures strategist with Expansion Consulting; Terri Horton, work futurist at FuturePath; Alexander B. Howard, director of the Digital Democracy Project; James Hughes, bioethicist, sociologist and executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies; Christian Huitema, 40-year veteran of the software and internet industries and former director of the Internet Architecture Board; Elizabeth Hyman, CEO for the XR Association; Alan S. Inouye, director of the Office for Information Technology Policy at the American Library Association; Mark Jamison, an American Enterprise Institute scholar who previously served as manager of regulatory policy at Sprint; Frank Kaufmann, president of the Twelve Gates Foundation; Jim Kennedy, senior vice president for strategy at The Associated Press; Michael Kleeman, senior fellow at the University of California, San Diego; Andrew Koch, chief executive officer at the Gardner Institute; Jonathan Kolber, author of “A Celebration Society; Chris Labash, associate professor of communication and innovation at Carnegie Mellon University; Laurence Lannom, vice president at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI); Sam Lehman-Wilzig, professor of communication at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and author of “Virtuality and Humanity”; Mike Liebhold, distinguished fellow, retired, at The Institute for the Future;Leah Lievrouw, professor of information studies at UCLA; Sonia Livingstone, OBE, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics and special adviser to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Communications; Dirk Lueth, co-founder and CEO of Upland; Winston Ma, managing partner at CloudTree Ventures; Keram Malicki-Sanchez, founding president of the Constant Change Media Group; Robert M. Mason, professor emeritus at the University of Washington; Giacomo Mazzone, global project director for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; Sean McGregor, technical lead for the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE and machine learning architect at Syntiant; Sean Mead, strategic lead at Ansuz Strategy; Riel Miller, head of foresight at UNESCO; Mario Morino, co-founder at Venture Philanthropy Partners; Jacquelyn Ford Morie, VR pioneer and chief scientist at All These Worlds; Andrew Nachison, founder of WeMedia; Bitange Ndemo, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi Business School; Gina Neff, professor and director of the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at the University of Cambridge; Davi Ottenheimer, vice president for trust and digital ethics at Inrupt; David Porush, writer and longtime professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Jon Radoff, author of the Building the Metaverse blog and CEO of Beamable; Albert “Skip” Rizzo, director of Medical Virtual Reality at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies; Howard Rheingold, pioneering sociologist and author of “The Virtual Community”; Louis Rosenberg, technologist, inventor, entrepreneur and CEO of Unanimous AI; Marc Rotenberg, founder and president of the Center for AI and Digital Policy; Douglas Rushkoff, digital theorist and host of the NPR One podcast “Team Human”; Melissa Sassi, Global Head of IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator; Doc Searls, internet pioneer and co-founder and board member at Customer Commons; Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member and co-chair of the Internet Technical Committee of the IEEE; Toby Shulruff, senior technology safety specialist at the National Network to End Domestic Violence; Marta Szekeres, a complex systems researcher based in Hungary; Brad Templeton, internet pioneer, futurist and activist, chair emeritus of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Maja Vujovic, director of Compass Communications; Wendell Wallach, senior fellow with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs; R “Ray” Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research; Amy Sample Ward, CEO of the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network; David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society; Brooke Foucault Welles, associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University; Kevin Werbach, professor of legal studies and business ethics at the University of Pennsylvania; Steve Wilson, VP and principal analyst at Constellation Research; and Ethan Zuckerman, director, Initiative on Digital Public Infrastructure at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
A selection of institutions at which some of the respondents work or have affiliations:
AAI Foresight; Access Now; Akamai Technologies; Altimeter Group; Amazon; American Enterprise Institute; American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology; American Library Association; Arete Publica; Arizona State University; The Associated Press; Australian National University; Bar-Ilan University, Israel; Benton Institute; Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; BigML; Brookings Institution; CANN Media Group; Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Carnegie Mellon University; Center for Data Innovation; Center for Global Enterprise; Center for a New American Security; Center for Strategic and International Studies; Centre for International Governance Innovation; Cisco Systems; City University of New York; CloudTree Ventures; Columbia University; Constellation Research; Convocation Design + Research; Core Technology Consulting; Cornell University; Council of Europe; Cyber Civil Rights Initiative; Data & Society Research Institute; Dell EMC; Digital Trade and Data Governance Hub; DotConnectAfrica; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Emerson College; European Broadcasting Union; Foresight Alliance; Fudan University, China; FuturePath; Gardner Institute; Georgia Institute of Technology; Global Guerillas Report; Global Internet Policy Digital Watch; Google; Harvard University; Hochschule Fresenius University of Applied Sciences; Hokkaido University; IBM; Infineon Technologies; Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); IDG; Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics; Institute for the Future; International Telecommunication Union; Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF); Internet Society; Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE); Interpersonal Intelligence Advisory; IO Foundation; Journal of Evolution and Technology; Juniper Networks; Liquid Intelligent Technologies; London School of Economics and Political Science; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Menlo College; Meta; Metacognitive Technology; Michigan State University; Microsoft Research; Millennium Project; Mozilla; Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; New York University; Namibia University of Science and Technology; National Network to End Domestic Violence; National Research Council of Canada; Nigerian Communications Commission; Nonprofit Technology Network; Northeastern University; OECD; Olin College of Engineering; PeakActivity; The People-Centered Internet; Plugged Research; Ranking Digital Rights; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Rice University; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; San Jose State University; Singularity University; Singapore Management University; Smart Cities Council; Södertörn University, Sweden; Social Science Research Council; Sorbonne University; South China University of Technology; Stanford University; Stevens Institute of Technology; Syracuse University; Take This; Tallinn University of Technology; Team Human; Telecommunities Canada; Textuality; Thrivacy; Tufts University; The Representation Project; Twelve Gates Foundation; Twitter; Unanimous AI; United Nations; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, San Diego; University College London; University of Hawaii, Manoa; University of Texas, Austin; the Universities of Alabama, Arizona, Dallas, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rochester, San Francisco and Southern California; the Universities of Amsterdam, British Columbia, Cambridge, Cyprus, Edinburgh, Groningen, Liverpool, Naples, Oslo, Otago, Queensland, Toronto, West Indies; UNESCO; Upland; U.S. Army; U.S. Geological Survey; U.S. National Science Foundation; Venture Philanthropy Partners; Verizon; Virginia Tech; Vision2Lead; Vision & Logic; Waaliwireless.co; Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan; Wellville; Wikimedia Foundation; Work Futures; World Economic Forum; World Wide Web Foundation; World Wide Web Consortium.
Complete sets of credited and anonymous responses can be found here:
https://www.elon.edu/u/imagining/surveys/xiv-2022/future-of-metaverse-web3-2040/ – home page
https://www.elon.edu/u/imagining/surveys/xiv-2022/future-of-metaverse-web3-2040/credit – credited remarks
https://www.elon.edu/u/imagining/surveys/xiv-2022/future-of-metaverse-web3-2040/anon/ – anonymous remarks