What's next for the internet?

Leon McCarthy (12) printed himself a new finger from a MakerBot 3D printer after breaking his prosthetic hand playing football. (Reuters)

Leon McCarthy (12) printed himself a new finger from a MakerBot 3D printer after breaking his prosthetic hand playing football. (Reuters)

It has been 25 years since Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web. Over the past two and a half decades we have experienced tremendous changes in how we share, access and consume information across the world's most powerful communication vehicle.

But as internet capabilities continue to grow, what do the next 25 years have in store? As it stands today, we are lacking in co-operative international efforts when it comes to internet governance. Such governance will be crucial as the web continues to evolve if we want to maximise its benefits and minimise its unwanted side effects, particularly in three key areas that greatly impact society:

The ever-growing power of our computing devices will have profound implications for healthcare.
For instance, we could see implanted networked devices become commonplace.

These devices will offer great benefits, such as detecting and preventing diseases by alerting individuals and their medical professionals of vitamin deficiencies, irregular cell counts, degrading organ functions, or even early stage cancer.

These same devices, however, could do more harm than good – from revealing personal medical information to triggering a heart attack – if they fall under the control of malicious actors.

Crime prevention
Surveillance technology and its regulation are already a hot topic. But we will have much more to contend with in another quarter of a century as internet capabilities continue to advance. Continuing miniaturisation will probably mean we'll have effectively invisible cameras nearly everywhere – even embedded in our clothing.

On the one hand, recording the daily actions of citizens worldwide may bring a major decrease in crime, as visible crime becomes less likely to succeed.

But on the other hand, uncontrolled surveillance may bring forth a rise in intrusive snooping from government agencies, corporations and other entities.

As such, we'll need to continually and carefully consider how such surveillance technologies should be used and consider measures such as mandated transparency to allow us to "watch the watchers".

Technology's impact on manufacturing
Technological advances over the next 25 years are likely to result in widespread adoption of 3D printing, allowing people to print things at home that would otherwise require whole industries.

This could result in a boom for home invention, with things like new design innovations coming more quickly to light. It's possible that the internet will once again rewrite supply chains, likely to the detriment of traditional manufacturing. We could experience a further shift to an economy based not on the supply of physical objects, but digital ones.

The internet and the world wide web have already transformed the world in many ways. Few would have predicted 25 years ago the progress we've already made.

We can predict much of the likely technological innovation in the next 25 years, but how these powerful technologies are used will depend critically on the decisions society makes – or chooses not to make.

While the possibilities seem endless, it is up to human beings to decide which changes are desirable, and which should be resisted. – gadget.co.za

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