Experts Predict the Internet's Next Decade

Leading experts on the Internet, technology and policy have chimed in on what we can expect in the next decade when it comes to connectivity and its effects on society.

The Pew Research report asked thousands of experts and members of the public for opinions on "the most significant overall impacts of our uses of the Internet on humanity" — and some had a rosier outlook than others.

Visitors walk past a Samsung stand during the first day of the Mobile World Congress 2014 at the Fira Gran Via complex on Feb. 24 in Barcelona, Spain. David Ramos / Getty Images

"The smartest person in the world currently could well be stuck behind a plow in India or China," said Hal Varian, Google's chief economist. "Enabling that person — and the millions like him or her — will have a profound impact on the development of the human race."

Early Internet pioneer David Hughes concurred: "When every person on this planet can reach, and communicate two-way, with every other person on this planet, the power of nation-states to control every human inside its geographic boundaries may start to diminish."

Wearables could monitor more than just steps, predicted UC Berkeley's Aron Roberts — or do more than just monitor: "We may literally be able to adjust both medications and lifestyle changes on a day-by-day basis or even an hour-by-hour basis."

Microsoft Research's Jonathan Grudin is more pessimistic: "By making so much activity visible, it exposes the gap between the way we think people behave, the way we think they ought to behave, the laws and regulations and policies and processes and conventions we have developed to guide behavior — and the way they really behave. Adjusting to this will be an unending, difficult task."

And the divide between rich and poor will have a new aspect: "Only the relatively well-off (and well-educated) will know how to preserve their privacy," warned one expert — anonymously.

Maybe it will be a bit of both.

"Will the Internet make it possible for our entire civilization to collapse together, in one big awful heap? Possibly," admitted Harvard's Doc Searls. "But the Internet has already made it possible for us to use one of our unique graces — the ability to share knowledge — for good, and to a degree never before possible."

The full "Digital Life in 2025" should be available at Pew's website soon. An earlier survey addressed the Internet's past and present, and more are to come.