Techies see future where Web flows like electricity

On World Wide Web's 25th anniversary, technology experts offer their expectations for the Internet of 2039

As the World Wide Web celebrates its 25th year Wednesday, top techies are looking ahead over the next 25 years, to a future when the Web will be woven more deeply, and seamlessly, into our lives.

A Pew Internet Research Project report finds that techies believe that by 2039, accessing the Internet will be like flipping a switch for electricity today.

"Devices will more and more have their own patterns of communication, their own social networks, which they use to share and aggregate information, and undertake automatic control and activation," David Clark, a senior research scientist at MIT, told Pew researchers, according to the report. "More and more, humans will be in a world in which decisions are being made by an active set of cooperating devices."

Connected devices, he added, will be more pervasive and less visible, working behind the scenes.

Pew based its conclusions on a survey of 2,558 tech experts conducted between November and January.

According to Pew, the survey found that high-tech's expert class expects an expanded Internet of Things that allows devices and products like smartphones, smart shirts and smart refrigerators to tap into artificial intelligence-enhanced cloud-based information storage and sharing.

Dan Lynch, founder of Interop and former director of computing facilities at SRI International, told Pew that "the most useful impact is the ability to connect people. From that, everything flows."

To make that happen, an increasing number of smart sensors will be deployed in automobiles, home appliances, clothing and, of course, electronic gadgets.

Jeff Jaffe, CEO of the World Wide Web Consortium, said in an interview with Computerworld this week that advances in the Web will dramatically speed up as the first online generation is hits the workforce.

"The first generation that grew up on the Web is hitting maturity," said Jaffe. "Everything that's happened until recently was with people who weren't Web natives by birth using technology and using it to improve life. I can only imagine when you have digital natives hitting maturity the level of innovation will be even greater."

Another Pew study, released late last month, found that that 87% of U.S. adults use the Internet today. In comparison, 42% of U.S. adults had never heard of the Internet in 1995 -- six years after British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee unveiled the World Wide Web.

Today, Pew found, 90% of U.S. adults say the Internet has been good for them, and 76% say it has been good for society.

"Television let us see the Global Village, but the Internet let us be actual villagers," Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina and founder of Ibiblio.org, told Pew researchers.

Survey respondents did note concerns that the Internet is boosting surveillance and cybercrime, and they called for stricter security and privacy rules.

"The good news is that the technology that promises to turn our world on its head is also the technology with which we can build our new world," Robert Cannon, senior counsel for Internet Law in the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, told Pew researchers. "It offers an unbridled ability to collaborate, share and interact. The best way to predict the future is to invent it. It is a very good time to start inventing the future."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter, at @sgaudin, and on Google+, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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