What will the internet look like in 2040?

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

In 25 years, will life online be bright or bleak? In March 1989 Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a memo that led, eventually, to the web. That was 25 years ago this year. Back in the 1980s, even the simple concept of documents which could be hyperlinked was difficult to understand. So what will digital life be like another 25 years from now? How dramatically will things have changed by 2040?

Both utopian and dystopian visions of the future internet abound. By looking at people’s greatest hopes and fears for the digital future, it’s possible to imagine very different visions of what may one day come to pass.

A bright outlook

It’s a summer morning in 2040. The internet is all around you and all the things that you’re about to do during your day will fall in to place thanks to the data streams flying across the internet. Public transport to the city dynamically adjusts schedules and routes to account for delays. Buying your kids the perfect birthday presents is easy because their data tells your shopping service exactly what they will want. Best of all, you’re alive despite a near-fatal accident last month because doctors in the hospital’s emergency department had easy access to your medical history.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? This is the future in which data powers everything. It’s an idea that the web’s creator has been pushing for a while now. During a recent appearance in London, he said that we might one day also have much greater ownership over the data that belongs to us.

“I would like us to build a world in which I have control of my data, I own it,” he explained. “We’ll be able to write apps which take data from all different parts of my life and my friends’ lives and my family’s lives.”

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

Smart services, which use artificial intelligence to help us better manage our workloads, will likely contribute to a less cluttered, more streamlined online world where email overload and scheduling headaches are a thing of the past.

With data flying around in ever greater volumes, though, there are some who fear the implications for privacy. But contemporary concerns over privacy breaches and mishandling of data could well have been tidied up by 2040, according to information security expert Bruce Schneier, who is speaking at BBC Future’s World-Changing Ideas Summit next week.

“The question is, when is there going to be real legal and technical privacy on the internet? And my guess is 20 or 30 years – a generation is about right. We won’t have the current level of spying and data collection,” he argues.

Schneier explains that, decades from now, those who worry about privacy will look back at contemporary surveillance the way people today look back on child labour – it’s something that most people just don’t accept any more. 

Virtual nightmares

It’s a winter evening in 2040 and the world is a darker place. The internet is teeming with cybercrime and it’s become impossible to go online without making your bank account vulnerable or risking identity theft. Trolls have taken over social networking, the web is ludicrously priced and segmented, meaning only the rich can access the most useful and up-to-date resources. If that wasn’t bad enough, in some countries people’s every move is constantly monitored by secret police using networked sensors and internet communications. Even if you can get online, would you want to? 

Hints of the potential for digital catastrophe are peppered around the world already. As the New York Times noted, a recent Pew Research report on the likely nature of the internet a decade from now contained the word “threat” more than four times as often as the word “hope”.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141015-will-we-fear-tomorrows-internet

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