The Net will become invisible, like electricity. That's one of a variety of predictions in a new report from the Pew Research Center on what the Internet will be like in 2025.
The report, "Digital Life in 2025," is a continuation of Pew's efforts to mark the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. The Web was first proposed in a March 12, 1989, paper by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. An earlier Pew 25th Anniversary report looked at the past and present of the Internet.
For this report, Pew canvassed 2,558 experts and technology builders. The foundation noted that, among the many predictions, there were a few consistent visions.
Devices' Own 'Social Network'
A number of the experts, for instance, pointed to a "global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment" driven by the "world-spanning information fabric known as the Internet of Things."
In fact, the report points to a coming age when the most active users of the Net will be machines. It quotes M.I.T. senior research scientist David Clark as saying that "devices will more and more have their own patterns of communication, their own 'social networks,' which they use to share and aggregate information, and undertake automatic control and activation." Increasingly, he said, we humans will live in a world where decisions are made by "an active set of cooperating devices."
"Augmented reality" today is a term used for a limited number of technologies, including the not-yet-released Google Glass. By 2025, the Pew report said, augmented reality enhancements will be commonplace through portable, wearable and even implantable tech.
And several major trends in our current world will continue, notably disruption of 20th Century business models -- especially in finance, entertainment, publishing and education.
Several experts predict the spread of the "Ubernet," which "will diminish the meaning of borders" and may lead to the emergence of "nations" that are cross-border. One could argue, for instance, that the rise of bitcoins and other virtual currency, in addition to being propelled by speculative investment, is also part of a growing trans-border phenomenon.
Some observers are expecting that there will be, in fact, several Internets more clearly defined than now. These may exist with separate if complementary protocols and varying levels of security. Depending on whether the Federal Communications Commission and agencies of other governments enforce Net Neutrality, there may also be price-based tiers that are effectively separate Nets distinguished by the speed of their delivery.
Other predictions include the possibility of making Net access into a human right and challenges to governments in the form of digital currencies and 3D-printed personal manufacturing.
Roger Kay, an analyst with industry research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates, told us that "11 years from now is not a very long time," so 2025 might be more about the solidification of current trends than the emergence of radical new directions.
He speculated that one thing that might emerge is "an electric butler, a smart agent" that handles all those smart things.