It's the year 2020. Most people use mobile devices to connect to the Internet; voice-recognition and touch-based user interfaces are in greater use; and notions of privacy will have changed as the differences between personal and work time or physical and virtual reality become fewer.
Those are some of the findings from a new report, The Future of the Internet III, from the Pew Internet and American Life Project with Elon University in North Carolina.
The prediction that most Internet access will be through mobile devices includes an expectation that telephony throughout the world will be offered "under a set of universal standards and protocols" so users can have "reasonably effortless movement from one part of the world to another."
Al Hilwa, a program director for industry research firm IDC, agreed that the movement toward universal standards is well under way, with the rest of the world already more in sync with each other than the United States is. He predicted that access to the Net through mobile devices for most people could "very well happen" before 2020 in emerging nations. He noted that countries with fewer investments in an existing infrastructure could more easily move to a new generation of mobile access.
Perhaps that access will lead to fewer wars. The report also contends that people will be more tolerant than today because of wider exposure via the Internet and other communications technologies. This, the report predicts, will lead to lower levels of violence, including sectarian strife, and fewer overt acts of hate crimes.
The copyright wars between content owners and content holders will have calmed down by 2020, it predicts, because of strict content controls put in place by legislatures, courts, the technology industry, and media companies. The controls include automatic billing for use of copyrighted materials.
But this control will need a refurbished Internet, not an entirely new one. The Pew report predicts that next-generation research will improve a continually refined architecture, but there won't be a completely new Internet.
Formerly Known as 'Real Life'
People in 2020 will be more comfortable sharing information with other people and with organizations. But that's the real world. In the universe of "virtual worlds, mirror worlds, and augmented reality," the report predicts that most Internet users will spend some part of every day, either at work or outside of work, involved with these alternatives to "the status formerly known as 'real life.'"
The report was developed from a survey of more than a thousand Internet specialists and analysts selected with an opt-in process.
The survey participants were located in two ways. One was by canvassing scholarly, government and business documents from 1990 to 1995 to see who had made predictions about the Internet. Several hundred of those participants responded to the first two surveys by Pew and Elon.
The other group was selected because of their involvement in the development of the Internet or because they were involved in the leadership of such organizations as the Internet Society, the Association for Computing Machinery, the World Wide Web Consortium, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.