It’s hard to notice how much our technology has changed. It doesn’t happen suddenly, the way we might elect a new president or open a new restaurant. It happens gradually, sometimes in fits and spurts, but usually in improvements or adaptations so minor they exist beneath our notice. Connection speeds gradually increase, Wi-Fi availability ratchets up, new devices influence designs, and consumer trends shape functionality, so that somehow, in about the last 15 years, we’ve gone from a slow, dial-up, boxy version of the Internet to one that can be accessed at incredible speeds from pretty much anywhere. It’s completely revolutionized the marketing industry (among others), introducing strategies that never existed before and making a number of older ones obsolete.
So what’s going to happen in another 15 years?
How the Internet Is Evolving
There are a number of published articles, features, and works attempting to predict how the Internet and our world of technology will develop, including PBS’s rundown of the next few years, the Wall Street Journal’s general prediction of the average Internet experience of the future, and the BBC’s projection of ethics and fears associated with possible coming changes.
Predictions run the gamut, as you might imagine, but there are a few principles that stand out across most sources and predictions:
1. Internet connection will be permanent and automatic. We’ve been “connecting” to the Internet in various ways, from the minutes-long process of dialing up to the seconds-long process of entering a Wi-Fi password once for a given location. Eventually, connectivity will be constant and streamlined to the point where no individual “connection” is really necessary. Universal Internet is slowly becoming a reality, and overlap between systems may establish a layer of redundancy that prevents worries of service outages or bad connections.
2. Augmented and virtual reality will play a major role. Mobile devices let us access the Internet in the real world, but next-gen devices will project the Internet, or embed it, into the real world through a form of augmented reality. Google Glass pioneered this space, while Microsoft’s HoloLens looks promising to carve the path forward. Though augmented reality has seen some unsuccessful fits and starts, its close cousin, virtual reality, is starting to see significant growth amid the launch of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and the upcoming PlayStation VR. The world wasn’t ready for AR a few years ago, but a few years from now, it will be.
3. Machines might take over your job. Already, machines are capable of many manual tasks, and they’re starting to gain mastery over high-level and intellectual tasks, like writing. Combined with the ubiquity of the Internet, these apps will make it so that less work and more resources are directly available. The need for people to work will decrease along with job availability (at least, ideally), resulting in a system that’s more or less balanced. As we struggle to find this balance, we’ll undoubtedly encounter hurdles of joblessness and unbalanced resource distribution—but these are short-term drawbacks of a more connected, richer world.
4. Privacy will become commoditized. With a constant (and possibly un-severable) connection to the Internet and more apps that run our lives, privacy will become an even bigger concern. It may even be commoditized to the point where only the rich can afford to be off the grid. As a result, I expect we’ll see a number of independent organizations and companies striving to maintain some level of privacy for consumers; whether or not they’ll be successful is another story.
5. The ‘Internet of Things’ will fully mature. Already, the “Internet of Things” connects refrigerators, alarm clocks, and various other household appliances. In another 15 years, that connection will extend to vehicles, wallets, health monitors, and perhaps even our paper currency. The more freely information flows, the greater power and freedom we have; this truth will drive our desire to connect everything we can to the Internet.
6. Businesses and individuals will struggle to adapt to the increasing rate of change. As fast as we’re already used to technology developing, and as amazing as some of these developments seem, the pace of development in the future is going to be even more astounding. Thanks to machine learning and increased computing power, the development of Internet-based technologies will accelerate to the point that for many, it feels out of control. Businesses and individuals will struggle to adapt, while self-regulating algorithms and complex interrelated systems will start changing themselves as necessary. Today’s luddites are often techno-phobes or frugal consumers unamused by the latest breakthroughs. Tomorrow’s luddites will include these as well as willing adopters who simply aren’t able to keep pace with the coming changes.
7. Earth won’t be the only planet with Internet access. Extra-terrestrials aside, Earth is the only planet with Internet access. By 2030, Mars will have Internet access, too. SpaceX founder Elon Musk is on a mission to colonize Mars, and I think he’ll succeed. The first Mars settlers will need to be able to communicate with friends and family back home, and they’ll use the Internet to do it. Orbiting satellites around Mars will transmit Internet data back and forth, though it will take up to 24 minutes for the data to transmit back to Earth (one-way).
I have a good feeling about these predictions (though if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have made them), but of course, they must be taken with a grain of salt. Historically, few predictions about technological developments prove themselves true—and the ones that do tend to manifest in ways the predictor didn’t fully expect. There will be twists and turns in the evolution of the Internet that none of us are currently able to foresee, but one thing’s for sure—in another 15 years, the way we use the Internet may be almost unrecognizable from what we know today.
This article was written by Jayson DeMers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.