This report covers results from the 15th “Future of the Internet” canvassing by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.
Advances in the internet and online applications have allowed humans to vastly expand their capabilities, increased their capacity to tackle complex problems, allowed them to share and access knowledge nearly instantly, helped them become more efficient and amplified their personal and collective power to understand and shape their surroundings. Smart machines, bots and systems powered mostly by autonomous and artificial intelligence (AI) will continue those advances. In order for them to do so, there are trade-offs. Some worry that there has been and will continue to be a damaging loss of individual’s “agency,” their right and/or ability to exercise decision-making in their best interests, make choices that fall outside parameters established by corporate or government concerns, to respond to the widest range of choices, and so on.
Participants were asked to respond to several questions about the likely future of human agency. 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 between June 29 and Aug. 8, 2022. In all, 540 technology innovators and developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists responded in some way to at least one question asked in the canvassing. 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:
Digital tools and human agency: Advances in the internet and online applications have allowed humans to vastly expand their capabilities, increased their capacity to tackle complex problems, allowed them to share and access knowledge nearly instantly, helped them become more efficient and amplified their personal and collective power to understand and shape their surroundings. Smart machines, bots and systems powered mostly by autonomous and artificial intelligence (AI), will continue those advances.
As people more deeply embrace these technologies to augment, improve and streamline their lives, they are outsourcing some decision-making and autonomy to digital tools. That’s the issue we explore in this survey.
Some worry that humans are going to turn the keys to nearly everything – including life-and-death decisions – over to technology. Some argue these systems will be designed in ways to better-include human input on decisions, assuring that people remain in charge of the most relevant parts of their own lives and their own choices.
Our question: By 2035, will smart machines, bots and systems powered by artificial intelligence be designed to allow humans to easily be in control of most tech-aided decision-making that is relevant to their lives? (Choose one option.)
- Yes, by 2035 smart machines, bots and systems powered by artificial intelligence WILL be designed to allow humans to easily be in control of most tech-aided decision-making relevant to their lives.
- No, by 2035 smart machines, bots and systems powered by artificial intelligence WILL NOT be designed to allow humans to easily be in control over most tech-aided decision-making relevant to their lives.
Results for this question regarding the evolution of human-machine design in regard to human agency by 2035:
- 56% of these experts selected that by 2035 smart machines, bots and systems will not be designed to allow humans to easily be in control of most tech-aided decision-making.
- 44% said they hope or expect that by 2035 smart machines, bots and systems will be designed to allow humans to easily be in control of most tech-aided decision-making.
The follow-up qualititative research questions were:
Please explain why you gave this answer. Why do you think humans will or will not be in control of important decision-making in the year 2035? We invite you to consider addressing one or more of these related questions in your reply:
- When it comes to decision-making and human agency, what will the relationship look like between humans and machines, bots and systems powered mostly by autonomous and artificial intelligence?
- What key decisions will be mostly automated?
- What key decisions should require direct human input?
- How might the broadening and accelerating rollout of tech-abetted, often autonomous decision-making change human society?
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. 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, philosophy, political science, economics, social and civic innovation, sociology, psychology, education 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, technology companies and research labs, leaders active in the advancement of and innovation in global communications networks and technology policy, such as IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, the 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). A more complete list of many representative organizations and workplaces is included below. 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, 342 of the 540 respondents to the yes-no initial question provided a written elaboration about their response. Of the experts who chose to answer one or more demographic questions: 73% reported being located in North America and 27% said they are located in other parts of the world; 75% of the 321 respondents who responded to the question as to sexual identity said they identify as male, 24% identify as female and 0.6% identify themselves in some other way. Of the 342 respondents who indicated their “primary area of interest,” 37% identify themselves as professors/teachers; 15% as futurists or consultants; 15% as research scientists; 7% as technology developers or administrators; 9% as advocates or activist users; 5% as entrepreneurs or business leaders; 4% as pioneers or originators of the internet or online tools; and 8% 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.
Avi Bar-Zeev, an AR, VR and MR pioneer who has developed the tech at Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google and more; danah boyd, founder of the Data & Society Research Institute and principal researcher at Microsoft; 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; Vint Cerf, vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google; Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research; Jim Dator, well-known futurist and author of the fall 2022 book “Beyond Identities: Human Becomings in Weirding Worlds”; Moira de Roche, chair of the International Federation for Information Processing; Michael G. Dyer, professor emeritus of computer science, UCLA; Amali De Silva-Mitchell, founder/coordinator of the IGF Dynamic Coalition on Data-Driven Health Technologies; 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; Laura Forlano, director of the Critical Futures Lab, Illinois Institute of Technology; Marcus Foth, professor of informatics, Queensland University of Technology, Australia; Emmanuel R. Goffi, co-founder and co-director of the Global AI Ethics Institute; Gary Grossman, senior vice president and global lead of the Edelman AI Center for Excellence; Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International; Alan S. Inouye, director of the Office for Information Technology Policy at the American Library Association; Maggie Jackson, award-winning journalist, social critic and author; 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 (previously with Boston Consulting and Sprint); Chris Labash, associate professor of communication and innovation at Carnegie Mellon University; Sam Lehman-Wilzig, professor of communication at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and author of “Virtuality and Humanity”; John Laudun, professor of social information systems at the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center; Luis Germán Rodríguez Leal, teacher and researcher at the Universidad Central de Venezuela; Mike Liebhold, distinguished fellow, retired, at The Institute for the Future; Leah Lievrouw, professor of information studies at UCLA; Greg Lindsay, non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Strategy Initiative; Kurt Erik Lindqvist, CEO and executive director, London Internet Exchange; Geoff Livingston, vice president, Evalueserve; J. Nathan Matias, leader of the Citizens and Technology Lab at Cornell University; 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; Melissa R. Michelson, dean of arts and sciences and professor of political science at Menlo College; James H. Morris, professor emeritus at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University; Monique Jeanne Morrow, senior distinguished architect for emerging technologies at Syniverse; Mike Nelson, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s technology and international affairs program; Ojelanki Ngwenyama professor of global management and director of the Institute for Innovation and Technology Management at Toronto Metropolitan University; Marydee Ojala, editor-in-chief of Online Searcher, Information Today; Kunle Olorundare, Vice President, Internet Society, Nigeria Chapter; Raymond Perrault, a distinguished computer scientist at SRI International and director of the AI Center there from 1988-2017; Andre Popov, principal software engineer at Microsoft; Marc Rotenberg, founder and president of the Center for AI and Digital Policy; Douglas Rushkoff, digital theorist and host of NPR’s “Team Human”; Paul Saffo,well-known Silicon Valley-based futurist; Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member and co-chair of the Internet Technical Committee of the IEEE; Doc Searls, internet pioneer and co-founder and board member at Customer Commons; Ben Shneiderman, widely respected human-computer interaction pioneer and author of “Human-Centered AI”; Marija Slavkovik, professor of information science and AI, University of Bergen, Norway; Nrupesh Soni, founder and owner of Facilit8, a digital agency located in Namibia; Jonathan Taplin, author of, “Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy”; Brad Templeton, internet pioneer, futurist and activist, chair emeritus of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Karl M. van Meter, author of “Computational Social Science in the Era of Big Data” and leader with the Association Internationale de Méthodologie Sociologique; 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; 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; Michael Wollowski, professor of computer science, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and associate editor of AI Magazine; Daniel Wyschogrod, senior scientist at BBN Technologies; 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:
Access Now; Akamai Technologies; Amazon; American Enterprise Institute; American Library Association; Arizona State University; Association Internationale de Méthodologie Sociologique; Atlantic Council Strategy Initiative; Australian National University; Bar-Ilan University, Israel; BBN Technologies; Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Brookings Institution; Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs; Carnegie Mellon University; Center for AI and Digital Policy; Center for Data Innovation; Centre for interdisciplinary research; CloudTree Ventures; CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research, France); Co Serve Consulting; Columbia University; Compass Communications; Constellation Research; Core Technology Consulting; Cornell University; Council of Europe; Critical Futures Lab; Cyber Civil Rights Initiative; Data & Society Research Institute; Dell EMC; Digital Raign; DotConnectAfrica; Edelman IA Center for Excellence; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Emerson College; Facilit8; Global AI Ethics Institute; Google; Harvard University; Hochschule Fresenius University of Applied Sciences; Hokkaido University; IBM; Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); IDG; Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Information Today; Institute for the Future; Interlisp.org; International Telecommunication Union; Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF); Internet Society; Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE); Juniper Networks; LearnLaunch; London Internet Exchange; Markkula Center for Applied Ethics; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Menlo College; Meta; Microsoft Research; Millennium Project; Mozilla; Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; New York University; Namibia University of Science and Technology; National Research Council of Canada; Nigerian Communications Commission; Nonprofit Technology Network; Northeastern University; OECD; Olin College of Engineering; Predictable Network Solutions; Privacy International; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Rice University; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; Singularity University; Singapore Management University; South China University of Technology; Stanford University; Syniverse; Syracuse University; Tallinn University of Technology; Team Human (U.S. National Public Radio); Tufts University; The Representation Project; Twelve Gates Foundation; Twitter; United Nations; Tow-Knight Center for Journalism; United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; 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, Amsterdam, Arizona, Bergen, Dallas, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rochester, San Francisco and Southern California; the Universities of Amsterdam, British Columbia, Cambridge, Cyprus, Edinburgh, Groningen, Liverpool, Naples, Notre Dame, Oslo, Otago, Queensland, Toronto, Waterloo, West Indies; UNESCO; U.S. Army Combined Arms Center; U.S. Department of Energy and Environment; U.S. National Science Foundation; Virginia Tech; Vision2Lead; Vision & Logic; Wikimedia Foundation; World Economic Forum; World Wide Web Foundation; World Wide Web Consortium.
Complete sets of credited and anonymous responses can be found here: