This chapter covers the themes that emerged among respondents’ answers to the question, “As you look ahead to the year 2035, what are the best and most beneficial changes in digital life that are likely to occur in digital technology and humans’ use of digital systems?” The remarks echo the major themes found in the content in earlier pages of this report.
Only 18% of the experts who participated in this canvassing said they are more excited than concerned about what today’s trends say about where humanity is headed over the next 12 years. Some 42% said they are equally excited and concerned. The experts quoted in this section shared their hopes for the future in the same five prompted categories that were covered when we sought their worries:
- Human-centered development of digital tools and systems: The experts who cited tech hopes covered a wide range of likely digital enhancements in medicine, health, fitness and nutrition; access to information and expert recommendations; education in both formal and informal settings; entertainment; transportation and energy; and other spaces. They believe that digital and physical systems will continue to integrate, bringing “smartness” to all manner of objects and organizations, and expect that individuals will have personal digital assistants that ease their daily lives.
- Human rights: These experts believe digital tools can be shaped in ways that allow people to freely speak up for their rights and join others to mobilize for the change they seek. They hope ongoing advances in digital tools and systems will improve people’s access to resources, help them communicate and learn more effectively, and give them access to data in ways that will help them live better, safer lives. They urged that human rights must be supported and upheld as the internet spreads to the farthest corners of the world.
- Human knowledge: These respondents hope to see innovations in business models; in local, national and global standards and regulation; and in societal norms and digital literacy that will lead to the revival of and elevation of trusted news and information sources in ways that attract attention and gain the public’s interest. Their hope is that new digital tools and human and technological systems will be designed to assure that factual information will be appropriately verified, highly findable and well-updated and archived.
- Human health and well-being: These experts expect that the many positives of digital evolution will bring a health care revolution that enhances every aspect of human health and well-being. They emphasize that full health equality in the future should direct equal attention to the needs of all people while also prioritizing their individual agency, safety, mental health and privacy and data rights.
- Human connections, governance and institutions: Hopeful experts said society is capable of adopting new digital standards and regulations that will promote pro-social digital activities and minimize antisocial activities. They predict that people will develop new norms for digital life and foresee them becoming more digitally literate in social and political interactions. They said in the best-case scenario these changes could influence digital life toward promoting human agency, security, privacy and data protection.
Many of the comments cited in earlier pages of this report reflect the ideas shared in these themes. What follows is a selection of wide-ranging hopeful comments from the experts on their expectations for overall beneficial digital change by 2035.
Daniel S. Schiff, assistant professor and co-director of the Governance and Responsible AI Lab at Purdue University, wrote, “Some of the most beneficial changes in digital technology and human use of digital systems may surface through impacts on health and well-being, education and the knowledge economy, and consumer technology and recreation. I anticipate more moderate positive impacts in areas like energy and environment, transportation, manufacturing and finance, and I have only modest optimism around areas like democratic governance, human rights and social and political cohesion.
“In the next decade, the prospects for advancing human well-being, inclusive of physical health, mental health and other associated aspects of life satisfaction and flourishing seems substantial. The potential of techniques like deep learning to predict the structure of proteins, identify candidates for vaccine development and diagnose diseases based on imaging data has already been demonstrated. The upsides for humans of maturing these processes and enacting them robustly in our health infrastructure is profound. Even the use of virtual agents or chatbots to expand access to medical, pharmaceutical and mental health advice (carefully designed and controlled) could be deeply beneficial, especially for those who have historically lacked access. These and other tools in digital health such as new medical devices, wearable technologies for health monitoring, and yet-undiscovered innovations focused on digital well-being could represent some of the most important impacts from digital technologies in the near future.
“We might also anticipate meaningful advances in our educational ecosystem and broader knowledge economy that owe thanks to digital technology. While the uptake of tools like intelligent tutoring systems (AI in education) has been modest so far in the 21st century, in the next decade, primary, secondary and postsecondary educational institutions may have the time to explore and realize some of the most promising innovations. Tools like MOOCs [massive open online courses] that suffered a reputational setback in part because of the associated hype cycle will have had ample time to mature along with the growing array of online/digital-first graduate programs, and we should also see success for emerging pedagogical tools like AR- or VR-based platforms that deliver novel learning experiences. Teachers, ed-tech companies, policymakers and researchers may find that the 2030s provide the time for robust experimentation, testing and ‘survival of the fittest’ for digital innovations that can benefit students of all ages.
“Yet some of the greatest benefits may come outside of the formal educational ecosystem. It has become clear that tools like large language models are likely to substantially reform how individuals search for, access, synthesize and even produce information. Thanks to improved user interfaces and user-centered design along with AI, increased computing power, and increased internet access, we may see widespread benefits in terms of convenience, time saved and the informal spread of useful practices. A more convenient and accessible knowledge ecosystem powered by virtual assistants, large language models and mobile technology could, for example, lead to easy spreading of best practices in agriculture, personal finance, cooking, interpersonal relationships and countless other areas.
“Further, consumer technologies focused on entertainment and recreation seem likely to impact human life positively in the 2030s. We might expect to see continued proliferation of short- and long-form video content on existing and yet-unnamed platforms, heightened capabilities to produce high-quality television and movies, advanced graphics in individual and social video games, and VR and AR experiences ranging from music to travel to shopping. Moreover, this content is likely to increase in quantity, quality and diversity, reaching individuals of different ages, backgrounds and regions, especially if the costs of production are decreased (for example, by generative AI techniques) and access expanded by advanced internet and networking technologies. The prospects for individuals to produce, share and consume all manner of content for entertainment and other forms of enrichment seems likely to have a major impact on the daily experiences of humans.
“There are too many other areas where we should expect positive benefits from digital technology to list here, many in the form of basic and applied computational advances leading to commercialized and sector-specific tools. Some of the most promising include advances in transportation infrastructure, autonomous vehicles, battery technology, energy distribution, clean energy, sustainable and efficient materials, better financial and health care recommendations and so on. All of these could have tangible positive impacts on human life and would owe much (but certainly not all) of this to digital technology.
“Perhaps on a more cautionary note, I find it less likely that these advances will be driven through changes in human behavior, institutional practices and other norms per se. For example, the use of digital tools to enhance democratic governance is exciting and certain countries are leading here, but these practices require under-resourced and brittle human institutions to enact, as well as the broader public (not always digitally literate) to adapt. Thus, I find it unlikely we will have an international ‘renaissance’ in digital citizen participation, socioeconomic equity or human rights resulting from digital advances, though new capabilities for citizen service request fulfillment, voting access or government transparency would all be welcome. For similar reasons, while some of the largest companies have already made great progress in reshaping human experience via thoughtful human-centered design practices, with meaningful impact given their scale, spreading this across other companies and regions would seem to require significant human expertise, resources and changes in education and norms. Reaching a new paradigm of human culture, so to speak, may take more than a decade or two. Even so, relatively modest improvements driven by humans in data and privacy culture, social media hygiene and management of misinformation and toxic content can go a long way.
“Instead then, I feel that many of these positive benefits will arrive due to ‘the technologies themselves’ (crassly speaking, since the process of innovation is deeply socio-technical) rather than because of human-first changes in how we approach digital life. For example, I feel that many of the total benefits of advances in digital life will result from the ‘mere’ scaling of access to digital tools, through cheaper energy, increased Internet access, cheaper computers and phones, and so on. Bringing hundreds of millions or billions of people into deeper engagement with the plethora of digital tools may be the single most important change in digital life in the next decades.”
R Ray Wang, founder and principal at Constellation Research, predicted, “We will see a massive shift in how systems are designed from persuasive technologies (the ones that entrapped us into becoming the product), to consensual technologies (the ones that seek our permission), to mindful technologies (which work toward the individual’s benefit, not the network nor the system). In our digital life, we will see some big technology trends, among them will be: 1) autonomous enterprise – the move to wholescale automation of our most mundane tasks to allow us to free up time to focus on areas we choose; 2) machine scale versus human scale – we have to make a conscious decision to build things for human scale yet operate at machine scale; 3) the right to be disconnected – (without being seen as a terrorist) this notion of privacy will lead to a movement to ensure we can operate without being connected and retain our anonymity; 4) genome editing – digital meets physical as we find ways to augment our genome; and 5) cybernetic implants – expect more human APIs connected to implants, bioengineering and augmentation.”
Rance Cleaveland, professor of computer science at the University of Maryland-College Park and former director of the Computing and Communication Foundations division of the National Science Foundation, said, “The primary benefits will derive from the ongoing integration of digital and physical systems (so-called cyber-physical systems).
“There will be a revolution in health care, with digital technology enabling continuous yet privacy-respecting individual health monitoring, personalized immunotherapies for cancer treatment, full digitization of patient health records and radically streamlined administration of health care processes. The health care industry is loaded with low-hanging fruit. I still cannot believe, in this day and age, that I have to carry a plastic card around with me to even obtain care!
“There will be full self-driving vehicle support on at least some highways, with attendant improvements in safety, congestion and driver experience. The trick to realizing this involves the transition from legacy vehicles to new self-driving technology. I expect this to happen piecemeal, with certain roads designated as ‘self-driving only.’
“There will be much better telepresence technology to support hybrid in-person and virtual collaboration among teams. We have seen significant improvements in virtual meeting technology (Zoom, etc.), but having hybrid collaborative work is still terribly disappointing. This could improve markedly with better augmented-reality technology.”
Jim Kennedy, senior vice president for strategy at The Associated Press, predicted, “The most significant advances in technology will be in search, the mobile experience, social networking, content creation and software development. These – among so many other components of digital life – will be rapidly advanced through artificial intelligence. Generative text and imagery are just the early manifestations of an AI-assisted world that should spark a massive new wave of creativity along with major productivity boosts. To get the most out of this rapid revolution, the humans in the loop will have to sharpen their focus on targets where we can realize the biggest gains and move quickly from experimentation to implementation. Another big sleeper is the electrification of motor vehicles, which will finally break open the next big venue for the mobile experience beyond the phone. AI, of course, will be central to that development as well. At the root of it all will be real personalization, which has been the holy grail since the beginning of digitalization.”
Jeff Johnson, principal consultant at UI Wizards, Inc., former chair of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, predicted, “Cars, trucks and busses will be improved in several ways. They will have more and better safety features, such as collision-avoidance and accident-triggered safety cocoons. They will be mostly powered by electric motors, have longer ranges than today’s electric cars, benefit from improved recharging infrastructure. In addition:
- “A significant proportion of AI applications will be designed in a human-centered way, improving human control and understanding.
- “Digital technology will improve humankind’s ability to understand, sequence and edit genetic material, fostering advances in medicine, including faster creation of more effective vaccines.
- “Direct brain-computer interfaces and digital body implants will, by 2035, begin to be beneficial and commercially viable.
- “Auto-completion in typing will be smarter, avoiding the sorts of annoying errors common with auto-complete today. Voice control and biometric control, now emerging, may replace keyboards, pointers and touch screens.
- “Government oversight and regulation of digital technology will be more current and more accepted.
- “Mobile digital devices will consume less power and will have longer-lasting batteries.
- “Robots – humanoid and non-humanoid, cuddly and utilitarian – will be more common, and they will communicate with people more naturally.
“Machine learning will continue to be used naively, however, and people will continue to rely on it, causing many poor decisions. Cryptocurrency will wax and wane, but will continue to waste significant power, productivity and human mental and emotional energy. Bad actors will develop autonomous weaponry. It will be distributed worldwide by rogue nations and arms dealers, contributing to a rise in terrorism and wars and in the destruction caused by them.”
A well-known professor of computational linguistics based at a major U.S. university wrote, “There are many opportunities for conventional digital technologies to make vast improvements in human life and society. Advances in computing alongside advances in the biosciences and health sciences are promising. A better understanding of the human mind is likely to arise over the next 15 years, and this could have major positive impacts, especially as it relates to problems of the mind such as addiction (to drugs, gambling, etc.) as well as depression and other disorders. Changes in social and political forces have given hope to combating issues surrounding climate change, clean energy, disappearing life and reduction of toxins in the environment. Solutions will be found to make cutting-edge machine learning computation less expensive in terms of processors and the energy to drive them. The rapid advances in machine learning and robotics will continue, and they will be used both for social good and ill. The good includes better methods of combating disease and climate, and robots that can do more tasks that people don’t want to or that are unsafe. Food production should also be more efficient via a combination of algorithms and robotics. 3D printing is still just getting started; by 2035 it will be much more widely used in a much wider range of applications. There will be a better understanding of how to integrate 3D printing with conventional building construction. Tools to aid human creativity will continue to advance apace; how people create content is going to radically change, and in fact that process has already begun. We’ll see more technology implanted into humans that aid them in various ways, led by research in human-brain interfaces. By 2035 there is a chance that many changes will have been wrought by quantum computing. … If progress is made there, it could perhaps lead to better modeling of real-world systems like weather and climate change, and perhaps applications in physics.”
Zizi Papacharissi, professor and head of the communication department and professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago, responded, “I see technologies improving communication among friends, family and colleagues. Personally mediated communication will be supported by technology that is more custom-made, easier to use, conversational agent-supported and social-robot enabled. I see technology advancing in making communication more immediate, more warm, more direct, more nuanced, more clear and more high fidelity. I see us moving away from social media platforms, due to growing cynicism about how they are managed, and this is a good thing. The tools we use will be more precise, glossy and crash-proof – but they will not bring about social justice, heightened connection or healthier relationships. Just because you get a better stove, does not mean you become a better cook. Getting a better car does not immediately make you a better driver. The lead motivating factor in technology design is profit. Unless the mentality of innovation is radically reconfigured so as to consider innovative something that promotes social justice and not something that makes things happen at a faster pace (and thus is better for profit goals), tech will not do much for social justice. We will be making better cars, but those cars will not have features that motivate us to become more responsible drivers; they will not be accessible in meaningful ways; they will not be friendly to the environment; they will not improve our lives in ways that push us forward (instead of giving us different ways to do what we have already been able to do in the past).”
Frank Bajak, cybersecurity investigations chief at The Associated Press, wrote, “Many technologies have the potential to bring people and cultures together as never before and bridge understanding and cultural and historic knowledge. Speech- and image-recognition are tops among them. Labor-saving devices including AI and robotics have tremendous potential for creating more leisure time and greater dedication to the satisfactions of the physical world. Technologies developed for countering climate change are likely to have multiple unanticipated benefits. Advancements in medicine benefiting from our improved understanding of genetics – such as targeted gene therapies – will improve human longevity. The potential for technology to make the world safer and more harmonious is great. But this will depend on how humans wield it and whether we can make wealth distribution more equitable and wars less common and damaging. Every technology can be leveraged for good or ill.”
A computer and data scientist at a major U.S. university whose work focus involves artificial neural networks predicted, “I expect the following beneficial outcomes by 2035:
- “Progress in robot control makes it possible to automate a large share of dangerous and unpleasant manual work.
- “Epistemic technologies make it possible to more quickly and easily pinpoint the sources of disagreements in electronic communication, with downstream improvements in the quality of media coverage and policymaking on difficult and emotionally charged topics.
- “Continued economic growth from technology leads to broadly shared prosperity and makes it much more politically tractable to mitigate poverty worldwide.
- “Advanced partially learned models of biology make personalized medicine possible, leading to significant improvements to lifespan and healthspan, and opening up new opportunities to use biology for good.
- “AI-driven improvements in areas like tokamak control enable significant progress in clean energy, making it possible to manage the human impacts of climate change without major sacrifices.”
Gary Grossman, senior vice president and global lead of the AI Center of Excellence at Edelman, observed, “There are a great number of potential benefits, ranging from improved access to education, better medical diagnosis and treatments, to breaking down language barriers for enhanced global communications. However, there are technical, social and governmental barriers to these and others so the path forward will at times be messy.”
Aaron Chia–Yuan Hung, associate professor of educational technology at Adelphi University, said, “AI, rightfully gets a lot of bad raps these days, but it is often used for good, especially in terms of helping us see how we can overcome complex problems, especially wicked problems such as climate change. For individuals, it can be difficult to see their carbon footprint and the influence on the environment of their choices. AI can help unpack those decisions and make them easier to understand. In the future, AI will work for you to condense information in large documents that most people don’t bother reading (like Terms of Service) into a simpler document and flag potentially problematic clauses an individual would want to pay close attention to.
“You will also be able to enter your diet and the medications you take into an app and have AI keep you aware of potential side effects and continuously update that information based on the latest scientific knowledge, sending you notifications about what things to add, reduce or subtract. This ease of access to complex analysis could really benefit human health if properly implemented, with proper respect for privacy. Like AI, robots often conjure up dystopian nightmares of rogue machines causing havoc, but robots are being designed for home use and will soon be implemented in that setting to do many helpful things. More people will own more-useful robots.”
Czesław Mesjasz, an associate professor at Cracow University of Economics, Kraków, Poland, responded, “Among the advances I see coming:
- “Improving human knowledge about social life and nature should enhance capabilities to influence them positively.
- “Improving the quality of medical services will lead to better outcomes – especially diagnoses and treatment.
- “Helping people from various cultures understand one another could lead to a more peaceful world.
- “Increasing standards of living thanks to a higher productivity will bring many more people above the poverty line.”
James S.O’Rourke IV, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame and author of 23 books on communication, predicted, “The best of what technology will have to offer will be in medicine, space flight, planetary defense against asteroids and space debris, interpersonal communication, data creation and storage and the mining of enormous data sets. Only the imagination will limit people’s use of such inventions.”
The longtime director of research for a global futures project predicted, “In the future, people who are unhappy with their physical reality will find the right balance in virtual reality. There will be virtual places that promote social equity, places dedicated to treat depression, to care for the lonely elderly and for the disabled (physical or mental, etc.).”
Robert Bell, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, commented, “AI will be the technology with the greatest impact as it works its way into countless existing applications and spawns completely new ones. A lesser-known advance will be in the digitization of our knowledge of Earth. The new fleets of Earth-observation satellites in space are not fundamentally about producing the pictures we see in the news. They are about producing near-real-time data with incredible precision and detail about the changing environment, the impact of public-sector and private-sector actions and the resources available to us. Most importantly, the industry is collaborating to create a standards-based ecosystem in the cloud that makes this data broadly available and that enables non-data scientists to put it to work.”
Following are separate themed sections delving further into many of the points mentioned above.
Benefits related to the future of human-centered development of digital tools and systems
The experts who foresee change for the better in technical systems take hope that tech builders and users have learned in recent years about how these systems can hurt people when they are structured badly and are organized around harmful incentives. Their hopes rest on several changes they see underway now, including more global conversations about how to keep humans in the loop of decision-making about technology; more emphasis on human-centered systems that focus on personal dignity and agency; and some new benefits that will come as digital tools help make people more productive and fulfilled.
On the technical-corporate side, they see diverse, decentralized systems arising and challenging behemoth platforms. On the government side, they also express confidence that government rules and regulations will be devised to address some of the obvious social and emotional wounds that technology can create. On the human side, they expect that greater connectivity and access to more data will breed greater collaboration among people to solve collective problems. Moreover, they place some stock in people’s ability to grow and adapt. Greater public familiarity with technology and more tech fluency will bring their own benefits.
Gary Marchionini, dean at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science, predicted, “I see strong trends toward more human-centered technical thinking and practice. The ‘go fast and break things’ mentality will be tempered by a marketplace that must pay for, or at least make transparent, how user data and activity is leveraged and valued. People will become more aware of the value their usage brings to digital technologies. Companies will not be able to easily ignore human dignity or ecological impact. Innovative and creative people will gravitate to careers of meaning (e.g., ecological balance, social justice, well-being). Tech workers will become more attentive to and engaged with knowledge and meaning as data hype attenuates. Human dignity will become as valued as stock options and big salaries. Some of these changes will be driven by government regulation, some will be due to the growing awareness and thoughtful conversations about socially-grounded IT, and some will be due to new tools and techniques, such as artificiality detectors and digital prophylactics.”
Jim Spohrer, board member of the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals, previously a longtime IBM leader, wrote, “There will be a shift from ‘human-centered design’ to ‘humanity-centered design’ in order to build a safer and better world. This is an increasingly necessary perspective shift as people born of the physical realm push deeper into the digital realm guided in part by ideas and ideals from the mathematical/philosophical/spiritual realms. Note that the shift from ‘human-centered’ to ‘humanity-centered’ is an important shift that is required per Don Norman’s new 2023 book ‘Design for a Better World: Meaningful, Sustainable, Humanity-Centered.’ Safely advancing technologies increasingly requires a transdisciplinary systems perspective as well as awareness of overall harms, not just the benefits that some stakeholders might enjoy at the expense of harms to underserved populations. The service research community, which studies interaction and change processes, has been emphasizing benefits of digital tools (especially value co-creation). It is now increasingly aware of harms to underserved populations (value co-destruction), so there’s hope for a broadening of the discussion to focus on harms and benefits as well as underserved and well-served populations of stakeholders. The work of Ray Fisk and the ServCollab team are also relevant regarding this change to service system design, engineering, management and governance.”
Simeon Yates, research lead for the UK government’s Digital Culture team, shared three of the most commonly mentioned positive changes expected by 2035, writing, “If digital tools can help with the climate crisis this could be their greatest beneficial impact. Separate from that, I think that there are two critical areas that digital systems and media could have a beneficial impact: 1) health and well-being – across everything from big data and genomics to everyday health apps digital systems and media could have considerable benefits, BUT only if well managed and regulated. 2) Knowledge production – this is obviously part of point one above. Digital systems provide unique opportunities to further human knowledge and understanding, but only if the current somewhat naive empiricism of ‘AI’ (= bad stats models) is replaced with far more thoughtful approaches. That means taking the computer scientists out of the driving seat and putting the topic specialists in charge again.
“I worry that tech may facilitate some quite draconian and unpleasant societal changes driven by corporate or political desire (or inaction) – such as limiting rights and freedoms, damaging civic institutions etc. – while at the same time helping some live longer, more comfortable lives. The question should be: What societal changes do we need to make to ensure we maximise the benefits and limit the harms of digital systems and media?”
Lawrence Lannom, vice president at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, wrote, “The first and, from my perspective, the most obvious benefit of improved digital technology to the world of 2035 will be the improvements in both theoretical and applied science and engineering. We have gone from rewiring patch panels in the 1940s, to writing assembly language, to higher-level languages, to low code and no code, and now on to generative AI writing code to improve itself. It has been 80 years since the arrival of the first real software, and the pace is accelerating. The changes are not just about increased computing power and ease of programming, but equally or even more importantly, networking capability. We routinely use networked capabilities in all aspects of digital technology, such that we can now regard the network as a single computational resource. Combine compute and network improvements with that of storage capacity and, to a first level of approximation, we can expect that by 2035 all data will be available and actionable with no limits on computing power. A great many challenges remain, mostly in the areas of technical and semantic interoperability, but these problems are being addressed.
“The result of all of this new ability to collect and correlate vast amounts of data, run large simulations, and in general provide exponentially more powerful digital tools to scientists and engineers will result in step changes in many areas, including materials science, biology, drug development, climatology and, in general, our basic understanding of how the world works and how we can approach problems that currently appear insoluble. Collaboration will continue to improve as virtual meetings move from the flat screen to a believable sense of being around the same table in the same room using the same white board. AI assistants will be able to tap the collective resources of humankind to help guide discussion and research. The potential for improvements in the human condition are almost unimaginable, even at the distance of 10 to 12 years. The harder question is whether we are capable of applying new capabilities for our collective betterment.”
Naveen Rao, a health care entrepreneur and founder and managing partner at Patchwise Labs, said, “Among the beneficial changes I see are:
- “More human-centered tech/digital development – reduction (but not elimination) of some systemic disparities in access to web/digital tools via better rural broadband availability, more intentional product design and tech/data policy at the organization/institutional level
- “Smoother government operations in areas of taxes, DMV, voting, civic/citizen engagement (e.g., census, public services)
- “Health – better (but not universal) access to care through widespread availability of ‘a single digital front door’ experiences with numerous self-serve options (check-ins, appointment scheduling, RX refills, virtual visits, payment, etc.)
- “Knowledge and education – shift to primary digital textbooks in high schools and colleges, which removes the cost burden on students and enables real-time curriculum updates; shift toward more group education
- “The ‘experience’ of digital engagement will evolve for the better, with more integrated digital tools that don’t require eyes to be glued to a screen (voice, AR/XR, IoT).”
Jonathan Kolber, author of “A Celebration Society,” said, “I believe that we will see multiple significant and positive developments in the digital realm by 2035. These include:
- “Widespread availability of immersive VR (sight, sound, touch, and even limited smell and taste) at a low cost. Just as cellphones with high-resolution screens are now serving most people on Earth, basic (sight and sound) VR devices should be similarly available for, at minimum, sight and sound. Further, I expect a FULLY-immersive, Dreamscape-type theater experience of it to be widely available, with thousands of available channels for experiences of wonder, learning and play in 10-minute increments in many cities worldwide.
- “Wireless transmission of data will be fast enough and reliable enough that, in most cases, there will be the subjective experience of zero latency.
- “Courses will be taught this way. Families will commune at a distance. It will offer a new kind of spiritual/religious experience as well.
- “By 2035, I expect the prohibition on entheogens to have largely lifted and special kinds of therapy to be available in most countries using psilocybin, psychedelic cannabis, and (in select cases, per Dutch research) MDMA and LSD. PTSD will be routinely cured in one or two immersive VR experiences using these medicines under therapeutic guidance.”
Bart Knijnenburg, associate professor and researcher on privacy decision-making and recommender systems at Clemson University, predicted, “I am hoping that the gap between AI’s appearance and capabilities will shrink, thereby improving the usability of our interactions with AI systems and making our interactions with complex digital systems more intuitive. In our current interaction with AI systems there is a mismatch between the appearance of the systems (very humanlike) and their capabilities (still lacking far behind real humans). People tend to use the human-likeness of these systems as a shortcut to infer their capabilities, which leads to usability issues. I am hoping that advanced AI systems will provide a more powerful and efficient interface to knowledge. While we currently think of generative AI (e.g., GPT4) as the key to the future, I would like to see a shift toward a more explicit goal of summarizing and integrating existing sources of human knowledge as a means to more robustly answer complex user queries.”
Edson Prestes, professor of informatics at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, responded, “I believe digital technologies and their use will help us to understand ourselves and what kind of world we want to live in. This awareness is essential for creating a better and fairer world. All problems created by digital technologies come from a lack of self-, community- and planet-awareness. The sooner we understand this point, the faster we will understand that we live in an interconnected world and, consequently, the faster we will act correctly. Thus, I tend to be optimistic that we will live in a better society in 2035 than we do today. The poor and vulnerable will have the opportunity to have a good quality of life and standard of living on a healthy planet, where those with differences and a diversity of opinions, religions, identities will coexist peacefully.”
Jeffrey D. Ullman, professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University, commented, “Scams of all sorts appear on the Internet and elsewhere, and they are becoming more sophisticated. I hope that by 2035, we will have the technology in place to help vulnerable people avoid the traps. I envision a guide that looks over your shoulder – at your financial dealings, your online behavior and such, and warns you if you are about to make a mistake (e.g., sending your life savings to someone claiming to be the IRS, or downloading ransomware). I believe that our current approach to privacy is wrong. I hope that by 2035, we will have adjusted to the new reality. The Internet has turned us into a global village, and just as villagers of 200 years ago knew everything about one another, we need to accept that our lives are open, not secret, as they were for most of human history. For example, many people look with horror at the idea that companies gather information about them and use that information to pitch ads. These same people are happy to get all sorts of free service, but very unhappy that they are sent ads that have a higher-than-random chance of being for something they might actually be interested in.”
Ayden Férdeline, Landecker Democracy Fellow at Humanity in Action, commented, “By 2035, control over the Internet’s core infrastructure will have become less concentrated. The Internet today is largely centralized, with a few companies having a stranglehold over the control and distribution of information. As a result, data is vulnerable to single points of failure and important records are susceptible to censorship, Internet shutdowns and link rot. Decentralized technologies will have become more prevalent by 2035, making the Internet more durable and better equipped to preserve information that requires long-term storage and accessibility. It won’t just be that we can reliably retrieve data like historical records – we will be able to verify their origins and that they have not been manipulated with over time. Initiatives like the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity are developing the mechanisms for verifying digital media that will become increasingly important in legal proceedings and journalism.”
Marvin Borisch, chief technology officer at Red Eagle Digital based in Berlin, wrote, “Since the invention of the ARPANET and the Internet, decentralization has been the thriving factor of our modern digital life and communication in the background. The navigation and use of decentralized structures, on the other hand, has not been easy, but over the last decades the emerging field of user experience has evolved interfaces and made digital products easier to use. After an episode of centralized services, the rise of distributed-ledger technology in the modern form of blockchains and decentralized, federated protocols such as ActivityPub make me believe that by 2035, more decentralized services and other digital goods will enhance our lives for the better, giving back ownership of data to the end-user rather than data-silos and service providers. If our species strives for a stellar future rather than a mono-planetary one, decentralized services with local and federated states along with handshake-synchronization would create a great basis for futuristic communication, software updates and more.”
The co-founder of an online nonprofit news organization said, “More digital platforms will be user-owned-and-controlled cooperatives. These platforms will become something like 10% to 12% of the global digital GDP. In other words, the co-op share of digital GDP will more closely mirror the bricks-and-mortar world’s share. Increasingly, people and organizations will create private social networks and avoid public ones. The private ones will be designed to benefit and safeguard people much more than public ones. This is already happening but will become much more routine as tools to build such networks will become cheaper and easier to use.”
Satish Babu, a pioneering internet activist based in India and longtime participant in ICANN and IEEE activities, predicted, “The outstanding gains will be made in: 1) digital communications, in mobile devices such as battery capacity, direct satellite connectivity and more; 2) health and well-being, in sensors and measurements, health data privacy, diagnosis and precision medicine; 3) rights, governance and democracy, via direct democracy, tracking of rights and the right to Information; and 4) recreation, through improvements in simulated reality, virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality.”
Akah Harvey, director of engineering at Seven GPS, Cameroon, said, “Humans are always on the quest to reduce human labor and improve quality of life as much as they possibly can. With the advancement in the fields of artificial intelligence and renewable energy, we are getting closer and closer to achieving those goals. My biggest hope is that practical applications of conversational AIs like ChatGPT will eliminate monotonous discussions across several industry domains, from banking and finance to building and architecture, health and education. We can finally employ such artificial agents to speed up policy designs that give us significant insight on how we can better allocate resources in different departments for better productivity. Fairness and equity in a given community can be more achievable if we could test our policies more rapidly and efficiently across a wider target population. We could gain several hundred years of research and development from the application of such AIs. New drug synthesis could be developed in less than one-tenth of the time it would conventionally take. This creates a safe way of anticipating future health or economic disasters by preparing responses well ahead, or just preventing it all together. There’s really only a limit as to what domain of human endeavor we allow autonomous agents to be applied to. The opportunities for a better life regardless of where we are on Earth are boundless.”
Jeremy Foote, a computational social scientist at Purdue University studying cooperation and collaboration in online communities, said, “There are a number of trends in our digital life that are promising. One is the potential for AI as an engine for creativity. While GPT and other LLMs have been met with open-mouthed awe from some and derision from others, I think that it’s likely that AI tools like ChatGPT become important tools for both 1) empowering creativity through novel ways of thinking, and 2) improving productivity in knowledge work through making some tedious aspects easier, such as reading and summarizing large amounts of text. By 2035 we will likely know the limits of these tools (which are likely many) but we will also have identified many more of their uses.”
Stephan G. Humer, sociologist and computer scientist at Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, responded, “The most harmful changes will appear if governments, digital companies and other institutions will not focus on the empowered citizen. The human being will be much more at the center of digital action than now. It’s not only about usability, interface design or intuitive usage of smartphones; it’s about real human empowerment, improvement and strength. Digitization has left the phase where technology is at the center of all things happening, and we will now move more and more to a real human-centered design of digital tools and services. Three main aspects will be visible: better knowledge management, better global communication and better societal improvements. Ultimately, we will have the most sovereign individuals of all time.”
Andrew Czernek, former vice president of technology at a major technology company, predicted, “Computing will be ubiquitous, digital devices designed to meet human needs will proliferate. Everything from electrical outlets to aircraft will have useful, new and innovative functions. The spread of 5G networks and movement toward 6G will help accelerate this trend. In professional and personal settings, we’ll see more-intelligent software. It will be able to do simulations and use database information to improve its utility. Virtual reality is already becoming popular in gaming applications and its extension to education applications offers incredible utility. No longer will we have to rely on wooden models for astronomy or biology teaching but visualization of planets or molecules through software. Digital technology is at the beginning of revolutionizing gene editing and its uses in disease control. New techniques will allow better gene modeling and editing, and this will accelerate in the next decade.”
Alan Inouye, director of the office for information technology policy at the American Library Association, said, “I am optimistic that the U.S. will achieve nearly ubiquitous access to advanced technology by 2035. Already, we have seen the rapid diffusion of such technology in the United States and worldwide. I was recently in Laos, and it struck me how many people had portable phones, such as folks running food stands on the side of the road and tuk-tuk drivers. Accelerating diffusion is the amplified awareness coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the multiple federal funding programs for broadband and digital inclusion. I see this momentum carrying through for years to come by governments at all levels, corporations and the nonprofit sector. That said, it is always the case that there is differential access to advanced technology by the population. The well-to-do and those-in-the-know will have access to more-advanced technology than less-privileged members of society, whether we’re talking about typewriters or the latest smartphone. However, the difference by 2035 is that the level of technology capability will be so high that even those with only access to basic technology will still have a great deal of computing and communications power at their fingertips.”
Jeremy Pesner, senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, predicted, “In 2035, there will be more and better ways to organize and understand the vast amount of digital information we consume every day. It will be easier to export data in machine-readable formats, and there will be more programs to ingest those formats and display high-level details about them. Because AI will be so prevalent in synthesizing information, it will be much easier to execute a first and second pass at researching a topic, although humans will still have to double-check the results and make their own additions. The falling costs of technology will mean that most people are on fairly even footing with one another, computationally speaking, and are therefore able to play immersive games and create high-quality digital art. Digital inequalities will also be lessened, as high-speed broadband will be available nearly everywhere, and just about everyone will know at least the basics of computing. Many will also know the basics of coding, even if they are not programmers, and will be able to execute basic scripts to organize their personal machines and even interface with service APIs.”
Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member, Columbia University professor of computer science and co-chair of the Internet Technical Committee of the IEEE, predicted, “Amplified by machine learning and APIs, low-code and no-code systems will make it easier for small businesses and governments to develop user-facing systems to increase productivity and ease the transition to e-government. Government programs and consumer demand will make high-speed (100 Mb/s and higher) home access, mostly fiber, near-universal in the United States and large parts of Europe, including rural areas, supplemented by low-Earth orbiting satellites for covering the most remote areas. And we will finally move beyond passwords as the most common means of consumer authentication, making systems easier to use and eliminating many security vulnerabilities that endanger systems today.”
Adam Nagy, a senior research coordinator at The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, said, “As indicated by recent legislation in the European Union, there will be a global expansion of obligations imposed on firms that control or process data and more robust penalties and enforcement for rule-breaking. Hopefully, improved regulations foster more responsible corporate behavior (or at least clamp down on the worst excesses of the digital economy). Cooperative ownership structures of digital products and services are only just beginning to take off. The availability of alternatives to traditional corporate governance will provide consumers with more choices and control over how their data is used. Lastly, by 2025 decentralized identity systems will be much further along in their development and adoption. While far from foolproof, these systems will improve user privacy and security and also make signing up for new products and services more accessible.”
Sam S. Adams, artificial general intelligence researcher at Metacognitive Technology, previously a distinguished engineer with IBM, commented, “In regard to human-centered development, the trend will continue of increasingly sophisticated tool functionality with increasingly accessible and simplified interfaces, allowing a much larger number of humans to develop digital assets (software, content, etc.) without requiring a year of specialized training and experience. There will be more on-demand crowdsourcing; the recent example of OSINT [open-source intelligence] in the Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrates how large groups of volunteers can create valuable analysis from open-source information. This trend will continue with large-scale crowdsourcing activities spontaneously emerging around topics of broad interest and concern.”
Mojirayo Ogunlana, principal partner at M.O.N. Legal in Abuja, Nigeria, and founder of the Advocates for the Promotion of Digital Rights and Civic Interactions Initiative, wrote, “Human-centered development of digital tools and systems will take place – safely advancing most human progress in these systems. There will be an increase in technological advancement, including a phenomenal rise in encryption and in technologies that would evade governments’ intrusion and detection.”
Christopher Richter, a retired professor of communications from Hollins University, wrote, “More tech industry leaders could develop social consciences and work toward the greater good in terms of both tech development goals and revenue distribution. More people generally will develop informed, critical perspectives on digital/social media content and emotionally manipulative media processes. Of course, the opposite could happen: To the detriment of humanity and life on Earth generally, more tech industry leaders will come to believe that what is good for their company’s bottom line is good for society.”
John Lazzaro, retired professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote, “By 2035, wireless barcode technology (RAIN RFID) will replace the printed barcodes that are ubiquitous on packaged goods. Fixed infrastructure will simultaneously scan hundreds of items per second, from tens of meters away, without direct line of sight. This sounds like a mundane upgrade. But it will facilitate an awareness of where every ‘thing’ is, from the moment its manufacturing begins to its recycling at end of life. This sort of change in underlying infrastructure enables changes throughout society, just as container shipping infrastructure unleashed dozens of major changes in the second half of the 20th century. The logistics giant UPS has stated its intention to put RFID on every package. Health care systems are preparing implementations as well; among its uses: counterfeit drugs will be easy to detect and expired drugs can be identified. Adoption by grocery stores will probably happen last, but when it does, manually scanning items at the self-checkout stand will be replaced by wheeling a shopping cart past a radio gateway that scans all items in parallel, without taking them out of the cart. The collective weight of dozens of use cases elevates incremental changes into a step-function change.”
Jon Stine, executive director of the Open Voice Network, wrote, “Three advances that we will welcome in 2035:
- “A narrowing of the digital and linguistic divide through the ubiquity of natural language understanding and translation. We’ll be able to understand each other, if we choose to listen.
- “The rapid advances in health care early diagnosis, achieved through the use of biomarker data and the application of artificial intelligence.
- “Ambient, ubiquitous conversational AI. We’ll live in a world of billions of AIs, and every AI will be conversational. Welcome to the post-QWERTY world.
“However, the same digital advantages create this 2035 scenario:
- “The hyper-personalized attention economy has continued to accelerate – to the financial benefit of major technology platforms – and the belief/economic/trust canyons of 2023 are now unbridgeable chasms. Concepts of truth and fact are deemed irrelevant; the tribes of the Earth exist within their own perceptual spheres.
- “The technology innovation ecosystem – research academics, VCs and startups, dominant firms – has fully embraced software libertarianism, and no longer concerns itself with ethical or societal considerations. If they can build it, they will (see above).
- “The digital divide has hardened, and divided into three groups: the digerati, who create and deliver it, and out of self-interest; the consumptives, into whose maw is fed ever-more-trite and behavior-shaping messaging and entertainment; and the ignored – old, impoverished, are off the grid.”
Tim Bray, a technology leader who has worked for Amazon, Google and Sun Microsystems, wrote, “The change that is dominating my attention is the rise of the ‘Fediverse,’ including technologies such as Mastodon, GoToSocial, Pleroma and so on. It seems unqualifiedly better for conversations on the Internet to be hosted by a network of federated providers than to be ‘owned’ by any of the Big Techs. The Fediverse experience, in my personal opinion, is more engaging and welcoming than that provided by Twitter or Reddit or their peers. Elon Musk’s shenanigans are generating a wave of new voices giving the Fedisphere a try and (as far as I can tell) liking it. I’m also encouraged as a consequence of having constructed a financial model for a group of friends who want to build a sustainable self-funding Mastodon instance based on membership fees. My analysis shows that the cost of providing this service is absurdly low, somewhere in the range of $1 per user per month at scale. This offers the hope for a social media experience that is funded by extremely low monthly subscription or perhaps even voluntary contributions. It hardly needs saying that the impact on the digital advertising ecosystem could be devastating.”
Sarita Schoenebeck, associate professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan and director of the Living Online Lab, said, “I’m hopeful that there will be better integration between the digital technologies we use and our physical environments. It is awkward and even disruptive to use mobile phones in our everyday lives, whether at work, at home, walking on the street or at the gym. Our digital experiences tend to compete with our physical environments rather than working in concert with them. I’m hopeful devices will get better at fitting our body sizes, physical abilities and social environments. This will require advances in voice-based and gesture-based digital technologies. This is important for accessibility and for creating social experiences that blend physical and digital experiences.”
Philippa Smith, communications and digital media expert, research consultant and commentator, said, “The best and most beneficial changes will result from advances in our decision-making abilities. Drawing on our past experience and realisations about what has worked and what has not in our digital lives will enable a better mindset by 2035 to think more critically and deeply about where we want to be in the future. Designers, investors and stakeholders will be more cognizant of the need to think about social responsibility, the ways that technology can be more inclusive when it comes to the chasm of digital divides, and how potential pitfalls might be averted – especially when it comes to AI, cybersafety, cybersecurity, negative online behaviours, etc. Researchers will continue to work across disciplines to delve deep in applying theory and practice in their investigations and pursuit of new methods – questioning and probing and gaining new knowledge to guide us along the yellow brick road toward a better digital life. Ideally, governments, tech companies and civil society will work collaboratively in designing the best possible digital life – but this will require honesty, transparency and compassion. Hopefully that is not too much to ask.”
Alexander Halavais, associate professor of social data science at Arizona State University, rounded up many ideas shared by a majority of respondents to this survey. He wrote, “We are likely to see better monitoring of the use of resources: chiefly energy and water, but also minerals and materials. Whether the environmental costs will be priced into the economy remains to be seen, but we will have far better tools to determine which products and practices make the most efficient use of resources. In addition:
- “Individualized medicine will mean better health outcomes for those with access to advanced health care. This does not mean ‘an end to death’ but it does mean dramatically healthier older people and longer fruitful lifespans.
- “Access to a core education will continue to become more universally available. While there will remain significant boundaries to gaining access to these, they will continue to be eroded, as geographically based schools and universities give way to more broadly accessible (and affordable) sources of learning.
- “An outgrowth of distrust of platform capitalism will see a resurgence in networked and federated sociality – again, for some. This will carve into advertising revenues for the largest platforms, and there may be a combination of subscription and cooperative systems on a smaller scale for those who are interested.
- “We will increasingly see conversations among AI agents for arranging our schedules, travel, etc., and those working in these services will find themselves interacting with non-human agents more often.
- “Across a number of professional careers, the ability to team with groups of mixed human and non-human actors will become a core skill.
“For some, the new tools will inspire new ways of creating, and a new and different kind of arts and crafts movement will emerge. We already have seen the corner of this: from Etsy to YouTube. But there will be a democratization of powerful software and hardware for creating, and at least some of the overhead in terms of specialized training will be handled by the systems themselves.”
Benefits related to the future of human rights
One of the hopeful notes sounded by these experts is their expectation that digital technology will spread much further in the global population, bringing more access to information, greater communication and connection, and more data-driven insights that can help people live better, safer lives. As always, these experts caution that many will be subject to digital authoritarianism and limitations on their freedom. These experts argue that hundreds of millions of people will have the ability to use relatively affordable mobile devices and tap into a much more far-reaching internet thanks to enhanced satellite coverage. They say AI tools and improved capacities for virtual gatherings, virtual health and virtual education will make brighter futures possible for billions.
Barry K. Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research, commented, “The most beneficial change that is likely to occur by 2035 is the continuing global distribution of handheld digital devices. Ubiquitous handheld devices not only are news weathervanes, scanning the news and political environment for updates on information relevant to individuals and groups. For the first time in human history, they also give each person a voice, albeit a small one, and these devices enable crowdsourcing and virtual crowd-gathering, which can compel interest and consensus. This ability is fundamental to fighting for and garnering more equitable human rights, thereby abetting good outcomes for citizens. Further, these devices are highly visual: They show fashion and possessions, cosmetic procedures and dwellings, cars and bling.
“For the unfortunates of the world, these images are more than incentives; they surface an unspoken goal, an unuttered desire to do better, have more, become successful – and to have a say in that success as the people seen on Instagram and TikTok. What starts as digital envy will evolve to a demand for rights and a greater participation in governance. In this measure the most beneficial changes that are likely to occur by 2035 in regard to digital technologyand humans’ use of digital systems are an ongoing leavening of human potential and rights. Human rights evolved from the rule of kings and queens to the rule and participation of common man and woman. Throughout that evolution, narrative fallacies regarding classes and races of certain humans sprang up, many of which are still with us and need to be uprooted like a noxious weed in a garden: – narrative fallacies such as those which underpin racism, sexism, antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiments, etc. Democracies have often touted one (wo)man, one vote; with the rise of digital technologies, we now have one device, one vote. Effectively this empowers each individual, regardless of class or status, with some kind of agency. This is revolutionary, although few intended it to be so.
“Ostensibly these devices have tactical, practical uses: determining a stock price, getting the weather, making a call, or sending and receiving a text. But the far greater value of humans having multiple devices is the potential for us to express ourselves in enlightened and uplifting ways. (On average, U.S. households now have a total of 22 connected devices. The number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices worldwide is forecast to almost triple from 9.7 billion in 2020 to more than 29 billion IoT devices in 2030).
“Finally, among the best and most beneficial changes that are likely to occur by 2030 in regard to digital technology and humans’ use of digital systems is the capture of human behavior by devices that contradict and prove not a self-serving narrative but enhance justice itself. When, for example, multiple cameras capture a police beating in Memphis or any other city, unless there is tampering with the digital record, this new evidence provides compelling testimony of how things went down. Time will be necessary for legacy systems to lose their sway over human behavior and public opinion. Further, we will need to oversee and create protocols for the use of devices where human behavior is involved. But make no mistake, our devices now monitor and record our behaviors in ways never before possible. This impartial assessment of what happens is a new and enlightening development, if humans can get out of their own way and create equitable use and expectations for the monitoring and recording.”
Lee Warren McKnight, professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, wrote, “Human well-being and sustainable development is likely to be greatly improved by 2035. This will be supported by shared cognitive computing software and services at the edge, or perhaps by a digital twin of each village, and it will be operating to custom, decentralized design parameters decided by each community. The effects will significantly raise the incomes of rural residents worldwide. It will not eliminate the digital divide, but it will transform it. Digital tools and systems will be nearly universally available. The grassroots can be digitalized, empowering the 37% of the world who are still largely off the grid in 2023. With ‘worst-case-scenario survival-as-a-service’ widely available, human safety will progress. This will be partially accomplished by low-Earth-orbit (LEO) microsatellite systems. Right now, infrastructureless wireless or cyber-physical infrastructure can span any distance. But that is just a piece of a wider shared cognitive cyber-physical (IoT) technology, energy, connectivity, security, privacy, ethics, rights, governance and trust virtual services bundle. Decentralized communities will be adapting these digital, partially tokenized assets to their own needs and in working toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals through to 2035.”
Jim Spohrer, board member of the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals, previously a longtime IBM leader, wrote, “Responsible actors in business, tech and politics can work to invest more systematically and wisely in protecting human rights and enforcing human responsibilities. One way is via digital twins technologies that allow prediction of harms and benefits for underserved and well-served populations. Service providers will not be replaced by AI, but service providers who do not use AI (and have a digital twin of themselves) will be replaced by those who do use AI. Human rights and responsibilities, harms and benefits are responsible actors (e.g., people, businesses, universities, cities, nations, etc.) that give and get service (aka service system entities). The world simulator will include digital twins of all responsible actors, allowing better use of complexity economics in understanding interaction and change processes better. Note that large companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are building digital twins of their users/customers to better predict behavior patterns and create offers of mutual value/interest. Responsible actors will build and use AI digital twins of themselves increasingly.
“There will be an increased emphasis on the democratization of open, replicable science – including the ability to rapidly rebuild knowledge from scratch and allow the masses to understand and replicate important experiments. The future of expertise depends on people’s ability to rebuild knowledge from scratch. The world needs better AI models. To get the benefits of service in the AI era, responsible actors need to invest in better models of the world (science), better models in people’s heads guiding interactions (logics), better models of organizations guiding change (architecture), and better models of technological capabilities and limitations shaping intelligence augmentation (IA).”
Jeffrey D. Ullman, professor emeritus of computer science, Stanford University, commented, “Today, governments such as China’s are able to control what most of their citizens see on the Internet. Yes, technically adept people can get around the censorship, but I assume random citizens do not have the ability to use VPNs and such. By 2035, it should be possible to make simple workarounds that nontechnical people can access. Especially when dictators are threatened, the first thing they do is cut off the Internet so the people cannot organize. By 2035, it should be possible for anyone to access the Internet without possibility of restriction. I note, for example, how satellite-based Internet was made available to the protesters in Iran, but Elon Musk then demanded payment for the service. I would envision, rather, a distributed system, uncontrolled from any one point (like cryptocurrency) as a means of access to the Internet, at least in times of crisis.”
Carol Chetkovich, professor emeritus of public policy at Mills College, said, “Technology can contribute to all aspects of human experience through increased speed, data storage capacity, reach and processing sophistication. For example, with respect to human rights, technology can increase connectivity among citizens (and across societies) that enables them to learn about their rights and to organize to advocate more effectively.”
Bart Knijnenburg, associate professor and researcher on privacy decision-making and recommender systems at Clemson University, said, “I hope AI systems can increasingly free human workers from menial (mental) tasks. Ideally, teaming with AI systems would make human work more interesting, rather than simply more demanding.”
June P. Parris, a member of the Internet Society chapter in Barbados and former member of the UN Internet Governance Forum’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group, wrote, “Every government should work to follow commonly accepted standards, policies and protocols that are generally followed by every government, every country and all citizens. Governments should abide by policies, guidelines and protocols religiously, not choosing to do it in some cases and not in others; they should be accountable. The poor deserve the same opportunities as the rich.
“Most governments have introduced online platforms in order to make things easier for citizens, however, especially in the developing world, the platforms are often not easy to negotiate and seem not to be maintained efficiently, frustrating the public they are supposed to serve. In many instances websites are unavailable or down, the Wi-Fi is not working properly or it is too expensive.
“In some places in the world, technocrats are arrogant, and they misunderstand what is needed to encourage public participation and give them real access to knowledge. Sometimes the people just have to give up. Many people seem resistant to technology. Some are lazy or their use of technology is quite poor because they are not getting any digital literacy education in their region’s schools.”
Christopher Wilkinson, a retired European Union official, board member for EURid.eu, and Internet Society leader said, “Human rights are an absolute. Those who are least likely to have access to and use of digital technologies are those who are also most likely to suffer from limitations to, or abuse of, their human rights. During the next decade, a large part of the 8 billion world population will still not have access to and command of digital technologies. The hope is that corrective controls and actions are initiated to at least come incremental improvements, including management of interactions in languages, democratic governance and commerce, all of which require extensive research, education and investment to achieve in regions where connectivity is still a luxury. Among the many concerns tied to human rights between now and 2035 are the continued exclusion of minorities in digital opportunity and the problems that would be raised by the disappearance of the right to payment with cash in light of the massive recent move to digital-only transactions.”
Benefits related to the future of human knowledge
The experts in this canvassing who see progress here sketch out scenarios where more is better. In their telling, more connectivity leads to more data and information sharing, more collective awareness and intelligence, and a greater capacity to see, analyze and solve problems. They also believe that process will lead to greater chances to propagate and learn about best practices. Some of the most optimistic cite digitally enabled developments in modeling, testing and experimentation as key parts of the knowledge-creation process. They make the case that this will bring benefits in solving complex global problems like climate change, inequality and war. They also have hope that more knowledge will mitigate some of the major problems of modern living such as bullying, hate speech and even tedium.
Barry K. Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research, observed, “Humans are undergoing an onslaught of factfulness. Human knowledge – and verifying, updating, safely archiving and elevating that knowledge – is predicated on knowing what is true and actual, which may be evolving or could even change drastically based on new evidence. What is clear is that the volume of data generated by human knowledge is increasing:
‘The total amount of data created, captured, copied, and consumed globally is forecast to increase rapidly …. Over the next … years up to 2025, global data creation is projected to grow to more than 180 zettabytes.’ –Statista
“One significant mechanism of all this factfulness accrues to our advancing technologies of monitoring and measuring. Knowledge finds a highly beneficial ally in these emerging technologies. We now monitor global financial markets, traffic intersections, commercial and non-commercial flights, hospital operations, military maneuvers, and a host of other real-time assessments in ways that were unthinkable a century ago, and impossible two generations ago. This verification process which allows real-time updating, is an often-overlooked boon to human knowledge. Effectively, we are creating data mirrors of reality; we know what is going on in real time; we don’t have to wait for a storm to hit or a plane to land to make an assessment of a situation. We can go to Mars or go ten thousand feet below the surface of the ocean to quantify and improve our understanding of an ecosystem or a distant planet. Digitization has made this possible. Rendering our world in ones and zeros (quantum computing will likely upgrade this) has given human knowledge a boost unlike anything that came before it.
‘The volume of data/information created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide increased from 41 zettabytes in 2019 to 59 zettabytes in 2020. This figure is expected to rise to 74 zettabytes in 2021, 94 zettabytes in 2022, 118 zettabytes in 2023, and 149 zettabytes in 2024. Such knowledge explosion has never occurred until now in the history of human civilization.
This exponential trend will continue, which means an ever-increasing pace of knowledge explosion, technological acceleration, and breakthrough innovation. In short, we are currently experiencing one of the biggest revolutions humanity has ever seen: It is a knowledge tsunami.’ –Fahri Karakas
“The effect of monitoring human knowledge – verifying, updating, safely archiving and elevating the best of it – will be that by 2035, we will have made a dent in what I would call the tsunami retreat. That is, when there is a seemingly endless amount of information available, humans may retreat into ignorance, or make up facts (disinformation) either from sheer frustration or from a Machiavellian desire to manipulate reality to personal whim. (When there is a limited amount of information, a loud voice regarding that information may prevail; when there is an unlimited amount of information, numerous loud voices can proclaim almost anything and their commentary gets lost in the noise.) By 2035 we will begin to make inroads into the ways and practices of misinformation and disinformation. Deepfakes and the manipulation of recorded reality will become a hotbed issue.
“In the next decade we will make progress on the process of factualization, i.e., how to approach the world factually, rather than via mysticism, hearsay, or former edict. From a wisdom perspective, our wars and inability to marshal resources against climate change reveal that humans are still in the Dark Ages, even though our data is increasing at dizzying rates. We’re not sure what to do with it all; we have little in place to cope with this exponential acceleration. So, no doubt, there is considerable work to do to make factualization potential a living reality. Yet by 2035, we will have seen enough of disinformation to know how it works, how it warps and distorts reality, and why this is not useful or good for humanity. At the same time, we will be able to fake reality – for good and for ill – and what is ‘real’ will be an issue that plagues humanity. While we will have developed disinformation protocols – and we will know what to do with lies rather than cluck our tongues and shake our heads – we will also be baffled by knowing the real from the unreal, the actual from the fake.”
Marc Rotenberg, founder and president of the Center for AI and Digital Policy, said, “Innovative developments in the energy sector, coupled with the use of digital techniques, will counter the growing impact of climate change as data models will provide political leaders and the public with a greater awareness of the risks of climate catastrophe. Improved modeling will also help assess the effectiveness of policy responses. AI models will spur new forms of energy reduction and energy efficiency.”
Beatriz Botero Arcila, assistant professor of law in the digital economy at Sciences Po Law School in France and head of research at Edgelands Institute, said, “Institutions will get better at data analytics and data-driven decision-making. This is happening in the private sector already, and in some parts of government, but will also continue to expand to civil society. This will be a function both of expertise, cheapening of various tools, but also people getting used to and expecting data-backed interventions. To survive the information explosion, it is also likely we will have developed mechanisms to verify information, hopefully curbing some of our cacophonous information environment.”
Josh Calder, partner and founder at The Foresight Alliance, wrote, “Proliferating devices and expanding bandwidth will provide an ever-growing majority of humanity access to immense information resources. This trend’s reach will be expanded by rapid improvements in translation beyond the largest languages. Artificial intelligence will enable startling new discoveries and solutions in many fields, from science to management, as patterns invisible to humans are uncovered.”
Kyle Rose, principal architect at Akamai Technologies, said, “The biggest positive change will be to relieve tedium: AI with access to the internet’s knowledge base will allow machines to do 75% or more of the work required in creative endeavors, freeing humans to focus on the tasks that require actual intelligence and creativity.”
Artur Serra, deputy director of the i2cat Foundation and research director of Citilab in Catalonia, Spain, said, “In 2035 there is the possibility of designing and building the first universal innovation ecosystem based on Internet and digital technologies. As universal access to the Internet is progressing, by 2035 the majority of the African continent will be already online. Then the big question will be, ‘now what?’ What will be the purpose of having all of humankind connected the network? We will understand that the Internet is more than an information and communication network. It is a research and innovation network that can allow for the first time building such universal innovation ecosystems in each country and globally – empowering everyone to innovate. However, in 2035 that same great opportunity created in the design and building of universal innovation ecosystems can paradoxically be the most menacing threat to humanity. Transforming our countries into real labs can become the most harmful change in society. It can end in the appropriation of the innovation capabilities of billions of people by a small group of corporations or public bureaucracies, resulting in a real dark era for the whole of humanity.”
Kat Schrier, associate professor and founding director of the Games & Emerging Media program at Marist College, wrote, “I believe one of the best benefits of future technology is that it will reveal more of the messiness of humanity. We can’t solve a problem unless we can identify it and name it as such. Through the advent of digital technologies, we have started to acknowledge issues with everything from harassment and hate to governance and privacy. These are issues that have always been there, but are highlighted through connections in gaming, social media and other virtual spaces. My great hope is that digital technology will help to solve complex human and social problems like climate change, racial inequities and war. We are already starting to see humans working alongside computers to solve scientific problems in games like Foldit or EteRNA. Complex, wicked problems are so challenging to solve. Could we share perspectives, interpret data and play with each other in ways that help illuminate and apply solutions to wicked problems?”
Jeffrey D. Ullman, professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University, commented, “Today we are in the Wild West in how we deal with behavior on the Internet. There are currently some fairly accurate systems for detecting social media postings that are inappropriate or dangerous in some way (e.g., hate speech, fear speech, bullying, threats). They need to get better, and there needs to be some regulation regarding what is inappropriate under what circumstances. I hope and expect that by 2035 there will be established a reasonable standard for behavior on the Internet much as there is for behavior on the street. I also believe that enforcement of such a standard will be possible using software, rather than human intervention, in 99.9% of the instances.”
Leiska Evanson, a Caribbean-based futurist and consultant, commented, “The most beneficial change that digital technology is likely to manifest before 2035 is the same as offered earlier by the radio and the television – increased learning opportunities to people, including and especially for those in more remote locations. In the past decade alone, we have implemented stronger satellite and wireless/mobile Internet, distributed renewable energy connections and microgrids, as well as robust cloud offerings that can bolster flagging, inexpensive equipment (e.g., old laptops and cheaper Chromebooks). With this, wonderful websites such as YouTube, edX, Coursera, uDemy and MIT Opencourseware have allowed even more people to have access to quality learning opportunities once they can connect to the Internet. With this, persons who, for various reasons, may be bound to their locations can continue to expand their mind beyond physical and monetary limitations. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the Internet is vital as a repository and enabler of knowledge acquisition. With more credential bodies embracing various methods to ensure quality of education (anti-cheat technologies and temporary remote surveillance), people everywhere will be able to gain globally recognised education from secondary and tertiary institutions.”
Robert M. Mason, a University of Washington professor emeritus expert in the impact of social media on knowledge work, wrote, “I expect expanded accessibility to a wider range of digital technologies and applications through the use of natural language interfaces and greater use of improved graphics. This will be enabled by:
- “The ‘democratization’ of access to digital processes and services, including online information and online knowledge bases – digitization of knowledge
- “Expanded scope of online knowledge
- “Higher-resolution graphics that enable realistic representations of images and presentation of complex data relationships and analytic findings such as statistical relationships
- “Improved functionality and expanded use of natural language interfaces with digital knowledge bases and applications.
“I expect greater integration of functional applications. This will stimulate innovation and the creation of new services for transportation and logistics. Past examples of such include the combination of GPS, large-scale integration, image processing, the World Wide Web and Wi-Fi into a mobile phone, and further system integration to enable ride-sharing services and delivery services.”
David Bernstein, a retired market research and new product development professional, said, “Access to more advanced learning for adults who are not located near traditional education centers will become easier. The rapid changes in what is required to be a productive workforce member will likely necessitate more regular periods of needing to upgrade skills. Society cannot afford to sideline large groups of workers because their skills are not the latest and greatest.”
Kelly Bates, president of the Interaction Institute for Social Change, observed, “We can transform human safety by using technology to survive pandemics, disease, climate shifts and terrorism through real-time communication, emergency response plans and resource sharing through apps and portals.”
David J. Krieger, director of the Institute for Communication and Leadership, Switzerland, commented, “In regard to human connections, governance and institutions, in a best-case scenario, the widespread adaptation of AI will encourage the development of effective fact-checking for digital tools and establish standards of truth-telling and evidence in decision-making that will influence all aspects of society and human relations. Many plus-side options may emerge from that. The development of personalized products and services will tend to eliminate spam and with it the economy of attention. In its place will appear an economy of participation. The disappearance of the economy of attention will disrupt the media system. Mass media will be integrated into decentralized and participatory information services.”
Pete Cranston, a pro bono UK knowledge consultant and former co-director of Euforic Services Ltd., said, “I expect an enhanced state of ubiquity of these technologies, enabling all global populations to participate equally in their own languages and without needing to learn any other input mechanism than speaking and output other than visual or auditory. Convergence of tech means this is likely to be through handheld mobile devices that will be as cheap as pens since there will be so many manufacturers. As we deal with the climate crisis, there will be real-time information through the above ubiquitous, convergent tech on how each individual is impacting the planet through their activities, including purchasing.”
Kenneth A. Grady, futurist and consultant on law and technology and editor of The Algorithmic Society newsletter, predicted, “The best and most beneficial changes reside at the operational level. We will learn to do more things more efficiently and, most likely more effectively through digital technology, than we can do through analog technology or current digital technology. Our current and near-term future digital tools perform well if asked to answer simple questions, such as ‘what is the pattern?’ or ‘what changed?’ Tasks such as developing drugs; comparing images from various modalities; analyzing large, complex databases (weather information) leverage the current and past focus of digital tool research. The potential move to quantum computing will expand our capabilities in these and similar areas.”
An executive at one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies predicted, “Best and most beneficial will be access to information and public resources expanding through mobile technology. Persons who can’t afford PCs and/or don’t have broadband connections will nonetheless continue to be more able to engage in public life, obtain grants or benefits, engage in commerce, manage their lives and perform more sophisticated tasks using affordable mobile tools.”
Benefits related to the future of human health and well-being
It is clear that these experts – no matter whether they are fundamentally optimistic or pessimistic – expect significant changes for the better when it comes to health applications of AI and other digital systems in the coming years. They cite the likelihood of across-the-board improvements including patient diagnoses and monitoring, disease treatments, drug breakthroughs, and public-health progress tied to better disease forecasting and sickness-mitigation measures. They foresee a time in the future when people more vigilantly keep track of their wellness and their vital signs and a future where they will be more actively in charge of their own wellness needs. Indeed, the prospects for personalized medicine, including personalized drugs crafted after DNA sequencing of patients, rank high for these experts. At the same time, they see developments at scale, through the creation of an “immune system for the planet” built around sensors and detection systems that identify pathogens that health authorities can address before mass outbreaks occur.
Barry K. Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research, commented, “Digital technology and humans’ use of digital systems will continue the progress of the quantified self and amplify it. New monitoring digital technologies, available to individuals as well as hospitals and medical institutions, will be responsible for revolutionizing the way we engage with health care. Self-diagnosis and AI-assisted diagnosis will change human health and well-being. Responsibility for our health is moving into our own hands – literally. From monitoring the steps we take each day, to checking heart rate, blood pressure or glucose monitoring, to virtual doctor visits that alleviate the hassle of getting to a doctor’s office – the progress of digital technologies will continue to advance in 2035. Aside from moving monitoring devices from the doctor’s office to individuals and into the hands of patients, what is most significant about this is that humans are learning to think in terms of quantities and probabilities versus commandments and injunctions. Digital technologies enable a more fact-based assessment of reality.
“This is a huge step forward for humanity which, prior to the digital age, was used to narratives – albeit some full of wisdom – that were ossified and then taken as indisputable gospel. With the rise of digital computing, ‘what is’ becomes mutable and malleable, not fixed. Uncertainty becomes a new wisdom as humans focus on what is provable and evidentiary, versus what is told through assertion and pronouncements. Some examples from Bertalan Meskó, The Medical Futurist:
- “Withings just launched a miniaturized device called U-Scan, that sits within a toilet bowl and can analyze urine at home. More than 3,000 metabolic biomarkers can be assessed via urine, which makes it one of the gold standards of health assessment. Analyzing these can help diagnose and monitor certain diseases like diabetes, chronic kidney disease, kidney stones and urinary tract infections.
- “MIT researchers have developed an AI model that can detect future lung cancer risk: Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans are currently the most common way for finding lung cancers in earliest stages. A new deep-learning model – Sybil – takes a personalized approach to assess each patient’s risk based on CT scans. Sybil analyzes the LDCT image data without the assistance of a radiologist to predict the risk of a patient developing future lung cancer within six years.
- “Stanford researchers measure thousands of molecules from a single drop of blood. Stanford Medicine researchers demonstrated that they could measure thousands of protein, fat and metabolic molecules from a single drop of blood with a finger prick. Patients can collect the blood drop at home and mail it to the lab for analysis.
- “Omics is a rapidly evolving, multi-disciplinary and emerging field that encompasses genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolics. Instead of focusing on any single protein, metabolite or inflammatory marker, omics research takes a broader, systems-biology approach: analyzing the whole spectrum of proteins (the proteome), fats (the lipidome) or the by-products of metabolism (the metabolome).
“The NIH summarized how AI will generally change health care: ‘The applications of AI in medicine can … be grouped into two bold promises for health care providers: 1) the ability to present larger amounts of interpretable information to augment clinical judgements while also 2) providing a more systematic view over data that decreases our biases. Decreasing bias is another way of saying we are championing facticity.’”
Robin Raskin, founder of the Virtual Events Group, author, publisher and conference and events creator, predicted, “Big Tech as it is today will no longer be ‘big.’ Rather, tech jobs will go to various sectors, from agriculture and sustainability to biomed. The Googles and Facebooks have almost maxed out on their capabilities to broaden their innovations. Tech talent will move to solve more pressing problems in vertical sectors. By 2035 we will have a new digital currency (probably not crypto as we know it today). We may have a new system of voting for leaders (a button in your home instead of a representative in Congress or Senate so that we really achieve something closer to one man/one vote). Doctors and hospitals will continue to become less relevant to our everyday lives. People will be allowed to be sick in their homes, monitored remotely through telemedicine and devices. We’re already seeing CVS, Walmart and emergency clinics replace doctors as the first point of contact. Medicine will spread into the community rather than be a destination.”
Amali De Silva-Mitchell, founder and coordinator of the UN Internet Governance Forum Dynamic Coalition on Data-Driven Health Technologies, commented, “Development in the e-health/medical internet of things (MIoT) space is growing. This is good news for supporting and scaling up the mandate of the UN Sustainable Development Goal #3, ‘Health and Well-Being for All,’ given the rapidly increasing global population and the resulting pressure that is created on traditional medical services. Success will be dependent on quality internet connectivity for all, as well as on availability of devices and user skills or on the support of good IT Samaritans. Funding new innovation is critical. Accessibility for disabled persons can be significantly bettered through the AI and other technologies being developed for use by those who are blind or who are hard of hearing, for example, so as to enable them to access e-health and other services and activities. Robotics, virtual and augmented reality will develop to enhance the human-computer interaction space and hopefully support the e-health space as well. Ethics must be core to any development and user-support activity. The potential to train and provide access to knowledge and ethics training to users and developers becomes increasingly easier with online education and support, to create resilient, ethical, accessible, quality ICT (information and communications technology) systems. Internet fragmentation at a time of geopolitical instability is preventing the development of the rich portfolio of ICT solutions the human world could produce together. The uncertain future that is now on our global horizon requires people to work toward ICT togetherness. E-health, in particular, requires trust in multistakeholder support to enable global health and well-being especially due to the likely impacts of climate change on human health.”
Isabel Pedersen, director of the Digital Life Institute at Ontario Tech University, said, “The most beneficial changes in digital life are difficult to predict because people rarely have shared values on the concept of betterment or human well-being. Put another way, social values involving lifestyle betterment are diverse and oftentimes conflicting. However, there is one area that most people agree upon. The opportunity for dramatic change lies in medical industries and the goal to improve health care.
“Human-centric AI technologies that are embodied and augmentative could converge to improve human health in dramatic ways by 2035. With the advent of personal health technologies – those that are worn on or implanted in bodies and designed to properly respond to individuals through dedicated AI- based platforms – the opportunity exists to diagnose, treat, restore, monitor and care for people in improved ways.
“In this case, digital life will evolve to include health care not in terms of isolated activities (e.g., going to a doctor for diagnosis on a single health issue), but one whereby individual people interact with human doctors and caregivers (and their organizations) in relation to their own personalized biometric data. These types of utopian or techno-solutionist predictions have been made before. However, deployment, adoption and adaptation to these technologies will finally start to occur.”
Fernando Barrio, lecturer in business and law at Queen Mary University of London, wrote, “Over the next 12 years the possibility for radical change does exist. If we analyze the trends and focus on potential benefits, seeking the best changes we might find in an otherwise bleak scenario, digital technologies – specifically AI – will work wonders in health care and new drug development. AI, which is more accurately designated in today’s form as self-learning algorithmic systems or artificial narrow intelligence, is currently used to theoretically test libraries of drugs against specific diseases. Deep learning technologies have the potential to isolate the impact that different components have on specific areas of a particular disease and to then recombine them to create new drugs. Through state-sponsored initiatives, philanthropic activity or, more unlikely, a reconversion of corporate objectives, it is possible that by 2035 technology can be used to upgrade society in many realms. In the field of health, it can find treatment for many of the most serious diseases that are harming humanity today and get that treatment out globally, beyond the tiny proportion of the world’s population that is situated in affluent countries.”
Jim Spohrer, board member of the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals, previously a longtime IBM leader, wrote, “Thanks to AI’s advancing technological capabilities, it is likely that we are entering a golden age of service that will improve human well-being, including in the area of confronting harms done to underserved populations.”
Dan Hess, global chief product officer at NPD Group, commented, “Artificial intelligence, coupled with other digital technologies, will continue to have an astounding impact on advances in health care. For example, researchers have already used neural networks to mine massive samples of electrocardiogram (ECG) data for patterns that previously may have eluded detection. This learning can be applied to real-time inputs from devices such as wearable ECGs to alert providers to treatable health risks far faster and more completely than ever before. Similarly, imaging and processing technologies are driving a reduction in the cost and timing of DNA sequencing. Where once this process took weeks or months and millions of dollars, the application of new technologies will enable it to be done for less than $100 in less time than it takes to eat lunch. AI will interpret these results more thoroughly and quickly than ever, again resulting in early detection of health risks and the creation of new medications to treat them. The net result will be greater quality and length of life for humans – and, for that matter, countless other living creatures. One concern, however, is the fact that AI-driven disease detection will save lives and lead to ever-greater life expectancy. This in turn will drive further acceleration of population growth and all of its consequences for the environment, agriculture, trade and more.”
Charlie Kaufman, a system security architect with Dell Technologies, predicted, “In the area of human health and well-being we will have the ability to carry on natural language discussions of medical issues with an AI that is less expensive and less intimidating than a medical professional, especially when seeking guidance as to whether to seek professional help. We should be able to give it access to medical records and take pictures of visible anomalies. I also predict AI will be capable of providing companionship for people who don’t do well interacting with real people or have situations making that difficult. AI engines will be able to predict what sorts of entertainment I’d like to enjoy, which articles I would like to read and what sort of videos I’d like to watch and save me the time of seeking these out.”
David Bray, distinguished fellow with the nonpartisan Stimson Center and the Atlantic Council, wrote, “It’s possible to see us getting ‘left of boom’ of future pandemics, natural catastrophes, human-caused catastrophes, famines, environment erosion and climate change by using new digital technologies on the ground and in space. We often see the signs of a new outbreak before we see people getting sick. We can create an immune system for the planet – a network of tools that search for signs of new infections, directly detect and analyze new pathogens when they first appear and identify, develop and deploy effective therapies. This immune system could rely on existing tools, such as monitoring demand and prices for medicinal therapies, analyze satellite images of traffic patterns and step up our efforts to monitor for pathogens in wastewater. It could use new tools that search for novel pathogens in the air, water or soil, sequence their DNA or RNA, then use high-performance computers to analyze the molecules and search through an index of known therapies that might be able to neutralize the pathogen. Biosensors that can detect pathogens could be embedded in animals and plants living in the tropical regions rich in biodiversity, where new infectious diseases often originate. Transmissions from these sensors could link to a supercomputing network that characterizes new pathogens. Of course, such a dramatic scaling up of monitoring and therapeutics could raise concerns about privacy and personal choice, so we will need to take steps to ensure this planetary immune system doesn’t create a surveillance state.”
Kevin T. Leicht, professor and head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, wrote, “Digital technology has vast potential to improve people’s health and well-being in the next 20 years or so. Specifically, AI programs will help physicians to diagnose so-called ‘wicked’ health problems – situations we all face as older people where there are several things wrong with us, some serious and some less so, yet coming up with a holistic way to treat all of those problems and maximize quality of life has been elusive. AI and digital technologies can help to sort through the maze of treatments, research findings, etc., to get to solutions that are specifically tailored to each patient.”
Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology and author of “Re-Engineering Humanity,” wrote, “By 2035, there will be significant beneficial changes to health care, specifically in AI-assisted medical diagnosis and treatment, as well as AI predictions related to public health. I also anticipate highly immersive and interactive digital environments for working, socializing, learning, gaming, shopping, traveling and attending health care-related appointments.”
S.B. Divya, an author, editor and electrical engineer and Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated author of “Machinehood,” said, “By 2035, I hope to see good advances in areas of biotechnology – especially in terms of gene therapy and better treatments for viral infections – that arise as a result of better computational modeling. I also anticipate seeing alternatives for antibiotics when treating bacterial infections. Medical diagnostics will make greater use of noninvasive techniques like smart pills and machine intelligence-based imaging. I expect to see a wave of new employment in areas involving AI-based tools, especially for people to harness these tools and elicit useful results from them. I think we’ll continue to see rapid improvement in the capabilities of such tools, including new systems that integrate multiple modalities such as computer vision, audio and robotic motion. By 2035 we could see robots that can interact naturally with humans in service roles with well-defined behaviors and limited range of motion, such as ticket-taking or checking people in at medical facilities.”
Jason Hong, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, wrote, “The combination of better sensors, better AI, cheaper smart devices and smarter interventions will lead to much better outcomes for health care, especially for chronic conditions that require changes in diet, exercise and lifestyle. Improvements in AI will also lead to much better software, in terms of functionality, security, usability and reliability, as well as how quickly we can iterate and improve software. We’re already seeing the beginnings of a revolution in software development with GitHub Copilot, and advances will only get better from here. This will have significant consequences on many other aspects of digital life.”
Dennis Szerszen, an independent business and marketing consultant who previously worked with IBM, wrote, “Our health care system will be dramatically changed. We will still have to work through the mega-hospital system for our care, but care will be managed less by human decision-making and more by information systems that can anticipate conditions, completely manage predictive care and handle nearly all scheduled interactions, including vaccinations and surgical procedures. I predict (with hope) that medical research will change dramatically from the short-sighted model used today – which is predominantly driven by big pharma seeking to make money on medications for chronic conditions – to one that migrates back to academia and focuses on predicting and curing human conditions, affecting both lifespan and quality of life.”
Bill Woodcock, executive director of the Packet Clearing House, said, “The foundation of all current digital technology is electricity, and the single largest beneficial development we’re seeing right now is the shift from the consumption of environmentally destructive fossil fuels to the efficient use of the sun’s energy. This is happening in several ways: First, unexpectedly large economies in photovoltaic panels and the consequent dramatic reduction in the cost of solar-derived electricity is making all less efficient forms of electrical production comparatively uneconomical. Second, non-electrical processes are being developed with increasing rapidity to supplant previously inefficient and energy-consumptive processes, for a wide range of needs, including cooling and water purification. Together, these effects are reducing the foundational costs of digital technology and equalizing opportunities to apply it. Together with the broader distribution of previous-generation chip-making technologies and the further proliferation of open-source designs for hardware as well as software, I anticipate that a far greater portion of the world’s population will be in a position to innovate, create and produce digital infrastructure in 2035 than today. They will be able to seize the means of production.”
Daniel Castro, vice president and director of the Center for Data Innovation at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said, “There are three main sectors where digital systems offer the most potential benefit: health, education and transportation. In health, I hope to see two primary benefits. First, using digital to bring down the cost of care, particularly through telehealth services and automation. For example, today’s nurse intakes interviews could be completed with voice chatbots, and some routine care could be provided by health care workers with significantly less medical training (e.g., a two-year nurse technician versus a 10-year primary care physician). Second, using data to design more effective treatments. This should include designing and bringing new drugs to market faster, creating personalized treatments and better understanding population-level impacts of various medical interventions.”
Lambert Schomaker, a professor at the Institute of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Engineering at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, wrote, “The total societal cost of inadequate IT-plus-human-hellhounds who create office bottlenecks must be astronomical. In current society, human administrative work tends to be concentrated in a set of key positions in companies and institutions – for financial control, human-resource management, data and IT services, etc. The human personnel in these positions abuse their power, they do not assist but instead deflect any question without an actual solution. Office workflows could be streamlined, documentation could be written in more user-friendly ways, tailored to the needs of the people being served. It seems as if, across society, these positions are usually held by individuals who, in their hearts, have no inclination to be service-oriented toward other humans. This is where AI comes in. Replacing pesky humans at friction points in society will lead to a higher productivity and higher level of happiness for most of us. The administrative and policy people will lose their jobs, but is that so terrible, even for themselves?”
Benefits related to the future of human connection, governance and institutions
Experts in the canvassing made numerous predictions about how developments related to human connection, governance and institutions and related issues may play out. Among the ideas they shared: Some expect regulation will arise, possibly utilizing AI systems to detect rulebreakers; some said efficient, effective oversight will emerge through regional, national and global efforts, perhaps through creation of new institutions; some said the human social immune system will catch up to viral tech problems and limit the negative consequences of surveillance capitalism; some noted that communities may develop their own remedies; and some said businesses will wake up to the fact that they have to be responsible and put people and planet ahead of profit.
David J. Krieger, director of the Institute for Communication and Leadership, Switzerland, predicted, “The climate catastrophe will fully arrive, as all experts predict. The result will be: 1) the collapse of the nation-states (which are responsible for the catastrophe); 2) from the ashes of the nation-states in the best-case scenario, global governance will arise; 3) in order to control the environment, geoengineering will become widespread and mandatory; and 4) in the place of functionally differentiated society based on nation-states, there will arise a global network society based on network governance frameworks, established by self-organizing global networks cutting across all functions (business, law, education, health care, science, etc.) and certified and audited by global governance institutions.
“New values and norms for social interaction that are appropriate for a global network society and a new understanding of human existence as relational and associational will replace the values and ideologies of modern Western industrial society.
“In the opposite, dire, future setting, the nation-states will successfully block the establishment of effective global governance institutions. The climate catastrophe will leave some nation-states or regions as winners and others as losers, increasing wars, migration, inequality, etc. There will be no effective fact-checking for information processing and uses of AI, which will lead to a loss of trust and greater polarization throughout society.”
Doc Searls, a contributor at the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University and co-founder and board member at Customer Commons, said, “Business in general will improve because markets will be opened and enlarged by customers finally becoming independent from control by tech giants. This is because customers have always been far more interesting and helpful to business as free and independent participants in the open markets than they are as dependent captives, and this will inevitably prove out in the digital world. This will also free marketing from seeking, without irony, to ‘target,’ ‘acquire,’ ‘own,’ ‘manage,’ ‘control’ and ‘lock in’ customers as if they were slaves or cattle. This convention persisted in the industrial age but cannot last in the digital one. However, I am not sure this will happen by 2035. Back when we published ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual’ (2000) and when I wrote ‘The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge’ (2012), many like-minded folk (often called cyber-utopians) expected ‘business as usual’ to end and for independent human beings (no longer mere ‘users’) to take charge soon. While this still hasn’t happened, it will eventually, because the Internet’s base protocols (TCP/IP, HTTP, et. al.) were designed to support full agency for everyone, and the Digital Age is decades old at most – and it will be with us for decades, centuries or millennia to come.”
Christopher Wilkinson, a retired European Union official, board member for EURid.eu, and Internet Society leader said, “Nearly everything that one might imagine for the future depends on proactive decisions and interventions by public authorities and by dominant corporations. At the global level, there will have to be coordination between regional and national public authorities and between corporate and financial entities. The United Nations (the available global authority) and the regional authorities (e.g., European Union and the like) are too weak to ensure protection of the public interest, and available institutions representing the corporate side (e.g., World Economic Forum) are conducive to collusive business behavior.
“Since 2035 is, like, next week in the world of planning for institutions and populations, the main priority should be to ensure that the best solutions are extended to full populations as a whole. It is no longer the time for blue sky research. A lot of all that has already been done. The benefits of existing technology and knowledge need to be extended to the population as a whole, if the objective is to improve implementations by 2035. If not, digital applications in governance and other institutional decision-making will continue to be distrusted. Voting machines, identification, what else? Usually, the best solutions already exist somewhere, if only they can be identified and reproduced.”
Barry K. Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research, wrote, “To fully appreciate how human connections, governance and social structures or institutions are affected by digitization, it is useful to step back and consider how the structures of connection, governance and institutions evolved. They came from the alphabet and its accelerator, the printing press, which organized reality categorically, hierarchically. Digital tools operate differently. Instead of naming things and putting them into categories; instead of making pronouncements and then codifying them in texts and books that become holy; instead of dividing the world topically and then aggregating people and states according to that aggregation – digital tools create endless miscellany which creates patterns for data analysis.
“How will this new dynamic affect human connections, governance, and institutions? Since we build our governance and institutions based on the tools we use to access and manipulate reality, the newer logic of digital tools is omnidirectional, non-hierarchical, instantaneous, miscellaneous, and organized by whatever manner of organization we choose rather than the structure of, say an alphabet which is front to back, A to Z. Digital tools constitute the new metrics. As Charlene Li, chief research officer at PA Consulting, said of ESG (environmental, social, governance criteria):
‘The reality is that investors are looking at your company’s ESG metrics. They want to know what your climate change strategy is and if you’re measuring your carbon emissions. They’re curious if you pay your employees a fair wage, if you’re active in the community, and if you consider the health and safety of your team and your customers. They want to make sure you’re operating ethically. … How do you determine the right metrics? … You have to monitor and take action on your data points constantly. You have to measure meaningful metrics tied to a strategic objective or your organization’s overall values. … Otherwise, you’ll only tackle token measurements just so you’re doing something. And if you’re not measuring what’s meaningful or taking impactful steps, you risk never making real progress.’
“One of the best and most beneficial changes that is likely to occur by 2035 in regard to digital technology and humans’ use of digital systems is continuous measurement – and the concomitant obligation to figure out what constitutes meaningful measurement in all the data collected. While humans have measured for certain tasks and obligations – cutting cloth to fit a given body, surveying land to know which parcel belongs to whom – measuring is now taking on a near constant presence in our lives. We are measuring everything: from our steps to our calories, our breaths and heart rate and blood pressure to how far a distance is from a destination on Google Earth. The result of all this measuring is facticity. We are unwittingly (and thankfully) moving from a vague and prejudicial assessment of what is real and what is happening, to a systematic, detailed, and data-driven understanding of what is, and what is going on – whether tracking a hurricane or determining traffic violations at a busy intersection. This flies in the face of many blind-faith traditions and the social structures and institutions those faith-based structures built to bring order to peoples’ lives. Measurement is a new order; we’re just beginning to realize the implications of that new order.”
Jonathan Taplin, author of “Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy” said, “I am optimistic for the first time in 20 years that both the regulatory agencies and Congress are serious about governing in the digital world. The FTC is seriously challenging the Big Tech monopolies and the SEC seems intent on bringing crypto exchanges under its purview. Whether these changes can be enacted in the next two years will be a test of the Biden administration’s willingness to take on the Silicon Valley donor class, which has become a huge part of Democratic campaign financing. At the congressional level, I believe that Section 230 reform and some form of Net Neutrality applied to Google, Amazon, Meta and Apple (so they don’t favor their own services), are within the realm of bipartisan cooperation. This also makes me optimistic.”
Susan Aaronson, director of the Digital Trade and Data Governance Hub at George Washington University, wrote, “I see an opportunity to 1) disseminate the benefits of data to a broader cross-section of the world’s people through new structures and policies, and 2) use sophisticated data analysis such as AI to solve cross-border wicked problems. Unfortunately, governance has not caught up to data-driven change.
“If public, private and nongovernmental entities could protect and anonymize personal data (a big if) and share it to achieve public good purposes, the benefits of data sharing to mitigating shared wicked problems could be substantial. Policymakers could collaborate to create a new international organization, for now let’s call it the Wicked Problems Agency. It could prod societal entities – firms, individuals, civil society groups and governments – to share various types of data in the hope that such data sharing coupled with sophisticated data analysis could provide new insights into the mitigation of wicked problems.
“The Wicked Problems Agency would be a different type of international organization – it would be cloud-based and focused on mitigating problems. It would also serve as a center for international and cross-disciplinary collaboration and training in the latest forms of data analysis. It would rent useful data and compensate those entities that hold and control data. Over time, it may produce additional spillovers; it might inspire greater data sharing for other purposes and in so doing reduce the opacity over data hoarding. It could lead entities to hire people who can think globally and creatively about data use. It would also provide a practical example of how data sharing can yield both economic and public good benefits.”
Jim Fenton, a longtime leader in the Internet Engineering Task Force who has worked over the past 35 years at Altmode Networks, Neustar and Cisco Systems, said, “By 2035, social norms and technological norms will be closer in alignment. We have undergone such a rapid evolution in areas like social networking, online identity, privacy and online commerce (particularly as applied to cryptocurrency) that our society doesn’t really know what to think about the new technology. At the same time, I don’t expect innovation to slow in the next 12 years. We will undoubtedly have different issues where society and technology fall out of alignment, but resolving these fundamental issues will, in my opinion, provide a basis for tackling new areas that arise.”
Marcus Foth, professor of informatics at Queensland University of Technology, said, “The best and most beneficial changes with regards to digital technology and humans’ use of digital systems will be in the areas of governance – from the micro-scale governance of households, buildings and street blocks to the macro-scale governance of nation-states and the entire planet. The latest we are seeing now in the area of governance are digital twins – in essence, large agglomerations of data and data analysis. We will look back at them and perhaps smile. They are a starting point. Yet they don’t necessarily result in better political decision-making or evidence-based policymaking. Those are two areas in urgent need of attention. This attention has to come from the humanities, communications and political science fields more so than the typical STEM/computer science responses that tend to favour technological solutionism. The best and most beneficial changes will be those that end the neoliberal late-capitalist era of planetary ecocide and bring about a new collective system of governance that establishes consensus with a view to stop us from destroying planet Earth and ourselves. If we are still around in 2035, that is.”
Greg Sherwin, a leader in digital experimentation with Singularity University, said, “A greater social and scientific awareness of always-on digital communication technologies will lead to more regulation, consumer controls and public sentiment toward protecting our attention. The human social immune system will catch up with the addictive novelty of digitally mediated attention-hacking through communications and alerts. Attention hijacking by these systems will become conflated with smoking and fast food in terms of their detrimental effects, leading to greater thoughtfulness and balance in their use and application.”
Robin Allen, a UK-based legal expert in AI and machine learning and co-author of “Technology Managing People: The Legal Implications,” wrote, “I expect to see really important steps forward from just a debate about ethical principles to proper regulation of artificial intelligence as it regards overall governance and impacts on both individuals and institutions. The European Union’s AI Act will be a complete game changer. Meanwhile steps will be taken to ensure that definitional issues will be addressed by CEN/CENELEC [European standards bodies] and IEEE.”
John McNutt, professor of public policy at the University of Delaware, said, “Technology offers many new and wonderful possibilities, but how people adapt those technologies to their lives and the uplift of their societies is where the real genius occurs. Our challenge has always been how we use these tools to make life better and to prevent harm. The legal/lawmaking system has begun to take technology much more seriously and while the first efforts have not been particularly impressive, the beginnings of new legal regimes have emerged. The nonprofit sector will rebalance away from the current bricks-and-mortar sector to a mix of traditional organizations, voluntary associations and virtual organizations. Many of the issues that plague the sector will be addressed by technology and the new forms of social organization it will allow. Communities will develop their own technology which will supplement government.”
Erhardt Graeff, a researcher at Olin College of Engineering who is expert in the design and use of technology for civic and political engagement, wrote, “I’m hopeful that digital technology will continue to increase the quality of government service provision, making it easier, faster and more transparent for citizens and residents engaging with their municipalities and states.
- “I’m hopeful that it will increase the transparency and therefore accountability of our government institutions by making government data more accessible and usable.
- “I’m hopeful that criminal legal system data, in particular, will be made available to community members and advocates to scrutinize the activity of police, prosecutors and courts.
- “I’m hopeful that the laws, policies and procurement changes necessary to ensure responsible and citizen-centered applications of digital technology and data will be put in place as citizens and officials become more comfortable acknowledging the role digital technology plays and the expectations we should have of the interfaces and data provided by government agencies.”
Michael Kleeman, a senior fellow at the University of California, San Diego, who previously worked for Boston Consulting and Sprint, predicted, “Basic connectivity will expand to many more people, allowing access to a range of services that in many places are only available to richer people. And this will likely increase transparency, causing the dual effect of greater pressure on governments to be responsive to citizens and allowing those who know how to manipulate information the ability to sway opinions more with seeming truths.”
John Verdon, a retired Canada-based complexity and foresight consultant, said, “Imagine a federally-funded foundation (the funding will be no issue because the population is becoming economically literate with Modern Monetary Theory). The foundation would be somewhat along the lines of DARPA [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]. It will only seed and shape the development of open-source tools, devices and platforms in order to strengthen and fertilize a flourishing infrastructure of digital commons. Let your imagination run free, keeping in mind that every light will cast shadows and every shadow is cast by some light.”
Pete Cranston, a pro bono UK knowledge consultant and former co-director of Euforic Services Ltd., said, “There’s hope for some progress in limiting surveillance capitalism. I hope the level of control recently introduced by the European Union will be extended and companies that harvest data will only be able to on the basis of informed consent. A poor outcome would be that the level of control recently introduced by the EU will not be extended and carried on, and companies that harvest data will continue to harvest and share personal data without informed consent. Another major concern is that splinternets and commercial monopolies will prevent all global populations from participating equally in their own languages. Convergence of tech means this is likely to be through handheld mobile devices which will be as randomly priced as at present, but where the highest level of security, and control will be more expensive than the majority of people will afford or want to afford.”
Jeffrey Johnson, professor of complexity science and design at The Open University, said, “Among the advances I foresee is that the internet will become better regulated. It will no longer be possible to make anonymous comments about people. This will curtail the terrible misogyny, lies, threats and false news that currently poison social media and damage social and political life. If effective internet regulation does not come to fruition, it will remain possible to make anonymous comments about people. This will exacerbate the terrible misogyny, lies, threats and false news that currently poison social media and damage social and political life.”
Jim Spohrer, board member of the International Society of Service Innovation Professionals, previously a longtime IBM leader, wrote, “There will be greater emphasis on how human connections via social media can be used to change conflict into deeper understanding, reducing polarization. It is hoped that there will be institutions and governance wise enough to eliminate poverty traps. An example of policy to reduce poverty in coming decades is ‘Buy2Invest,’ which ensures that customers who buy are investing in their retirement account.”
Alexander Klimburg, senior fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Austria, said, “In the best possible circumstances, by 2035 we will have fully internalized that cybersecurity is a policy and political issue, not just a technical issue. That means we will have honest and productive public discussions on the various tradeoffs that need to take place – how much individual security and responsibility? How much with companies? How much for government? And most importantly, how do we ensure that our values are maintained and keep the Internet free – meaning under smart regulation, not new-age state-mandated cyber-despotism or the slow suffocation of individual monopolies. The key to all of this is cracking the question of governance of cyberspace. The decision points for this are now, and in particular, in 2024 and 2025.”
George Lessard, information curator and communications and media specialist at MediaMentor.ca, responded, “The best thing that could happen would be that the U.S. law that protects internet corporations from being held liable for content posted on their platforms by users will be revoked and that they become as liable as a newspaper is for publishing letters to the editor. The second-best thing would be that internet platforms like Google and Facebook are forced to pay the journalism sources they distribute for that content like they do in Australia and soon, Canada. And the third-best thing that could happen is that sites/platforms like Flickr and YouTube will be required to share the revenue generated by the intellectual property users/members share on their platforms. The most harmful thing that could happen is that the intellectual property posted by users to platforms like Facebook, Flickr and YouTube will continue to create revenue for these sites well past the life of the people who posted them, and their heirs will not be able to stop that drain of income for the creator’s families/agents.”