Internet everywhere by 2020, but at what price?
By Andy Goldberg Sep 26, 2006, 0:42 GMT
San Francisco - A wide-ranging survey of technologists and futurists has found almost unanimous agreement that a low cost Internet will be available to the vast majority of the world's population by 2020. But the survey also uncovered widespread disagreement about the impact of the pervasive technology.
The report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project was released Monday and surveyed 742 experts in the fields of computing, politics and business on the future internet.
'Key builders of the next generation of internet often agree on the direction technology will change, but there is much less agreement about the social and political impact those changes will have,' said Janna Quitney Anderson, lead author of the report, The Future of the Internet II.
'One of their big concerns is: Who controls the internet architecture they have created?' she said.
Experts agreed that the digital communications infrastructure would expand massively by 2020. By then it would cover regions and populations currently left out of digital society. It would also stretch far beyond today's personal computers to encompass billions of devices in every walk of life.
Just over half of the researchers believed in the positive aspects of this development - such as greater educational opportunities and a 'flattening' of the global economy to allow poorer countries to better compete.
But 46 per cent of the experts also had serious reservations about the spread of the net, including the loss of personal privacy and the danger that humans could lose control of the technology they create. There was also widespread fear that governments and corporations might try to stifle the growth of technology, or use it inappropriately.
Some 60 per cent of respondents predicted the emergence of extensive communities of 'Luddites' who opt out of the connected lifestyle, with some extremists launching attacks against the technology infrastructure.
More than half of respondents disagreed that English would become so dominant as the lingua franca of the internet that it would displace other languages.
But over 40 per cent feared that humans could lose control of technology, potentially in much the same manner as in the movie, The Matrix.
Bob Saffo of the Institute for the Future predicted that 'sometime after 2020 our machines will become intelligent, evolve rapidly, and end up treating us as pets.'
Luddites take their name from a man in early 19th Century Britain, Ned Ludd, who led a movement of disgruntled workers who broke into factories at night to destroy machinery.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur