The Envisioning Internet Futures event explored possible ideas for beyond-2020 policies stemming from long-term visions of the Internet. The event was based on participatory techniques borrowed from the Art of Participatory Leadership community of practitioners, which allow all participants to co-create ideas. The flow of the conversation was articulated around the following list of topics reflecting different technological dimensions of the future internet:
- Networks of the future
- Computing beyond the cloud model
- Future internet user experiences
- Facilities for future experimentation and co-creation
- Innovation beyond the digital age
Using some examples of long term scenarios illustrated in this slide, participants identified some challenges and opportunieites related to the scenarios. With those challenges and opportunities in mind, they subsequently elaborated ideas for underpinning policies.
Those ideas will contribute to feed the Futurium collective inquiry, which will in turn help informing the post-DAE and Horizon 2020 debate from a long-term perspective, i.e. based not only on the evidence provided by today's trends, but also on visionary ideas co-created by the participants.
At the beginning of the session, participants were asked to position themselves around three key questions:
1. Will the internet change in 20-30 years?
About half of the participants said it will dramatically change. Few of them said that most already happened in terms of technological enablers (TCP-IP, the web, social media, etc.) and that what is happening today and will happen in the coming few decades will just be speculative use of the existing technologies, with some incremental improvement. Few others said that technologies will not change dramatically, but the regulatory frameworks around them will need to adapt to fit the purpose of an ever more connected society.
2) Will the US domination on internet technologies and regulation continue in the coming 20-30 years?
The majority of the participants see a multi-polar world where BRICS countries will continue to gain more and more influential position on the development of future internet technologies and applications, as well as in regulatory issues. Some participants believe that the US will continue to lead because of the massive investments and actions made by private investors and the government, causing positive feedback.
3) Will business models around the internet change in 20-30 years?
Participants split equally between those who believe that the business model of telecoms will fade away in favour of a hyper connected society where every citizen will become a provider of connectivity and services, and those who believe that in the future the major telecoms and internet providers will expand their positions towards an oligopolistic global landscape, at least for the backbone networks. In the future business models will be cantered mostly on provision of "everything as service". Dramatic changes of roles can be expected. Few others said that business models will not change dramatically, but future internet developments will unleash plenty of opportunities for more business models to flourish.
The group then split in parallel tables to reflect about the challenges and opportunities stemming from future internet long term scenarios.
Here is a first list of challenges and opportunties emerged from the collective inquiry:
Big Data, knowledge extraction and sharing
- Opportunities: 1) unprecedented capability of mankind to sense and monitor the status of the real world (including people's thoughts) will produce zettabytes of data per month in few decades. 2) unprecedented capability to extract information and knowledge (actionable information) from big data and to effectively share it worldwide will allow to inform better decision at all levels (local, global, individual, states, organisations, etc.). The society at large will benefit from this.
- Challenges: it will be more and more challenging for people to store and digest such a wealth of information in all formats, languages and styles. There will be an increasing risk of information overload; people will no longer be able to appraise the relevance and usefulness of information.
Trust and Privacy
- Challenges: 1) in the hyper-connected society of 2030 it will not be straightforward to "log out and disappear from internet eyes". As we will be connected though thousands of different devices at the same time using multiple physical means, disconnecting such a complex set of devices will require the full orchestration of the underlying connectivity fabric. 2) Similarly, the right to be forgotten as a main right of the future internet may not be guaranteed. 3) The lack of trust in social networks may also be a major barrier to human interaction. 4) Ensuring an appropriate balance between trust and privacy in social interactions, as well as the appropriate balance between right to privacy and right of organisations and states to secure their physical spaces. 5) The risk of bypassing fundamental rules thanks to our increased capability to gather personal data, including thoughts and opinions. 6) The need to look after individuals in a world of big data.
- Opportunities: progress in encryption (e.g. quantum encryption) will allow people to hide/encrypt themselves and their digital shadow, and therefore to realise the right to be forgotten or to log out and disconnect.
- Challenges: 1) The risk to homogenise cultures and societies in the hyper-connected global world of tomorrow. 2) the need to adapt the societal protocols (between and across individuals, organisations and states) to reflect the new level of empowerment through the internet
- Opportunities: 1) Valuing creativity and talent of individuals in the digital space, contributing to the emerging digital culture. 2) Be always reachable and this never alone, be always connected with others to multiply the network effect of being social. 3) Be able to connect with people with special needs (disabled, elderly, sick, children, workers, etc.) and assist them as necessary. 4) Achieve a fully transparent society where decisions than matter to all are taken in a transparent and democratic way. 4)
- Opportunities: 1) Freedom for nothings, value for money. 2) Customisation and personalisation. 3) Alternative energy enabled by internet providing new innovation opportunities; 4) Hyper-connected research capacities enhance ease networked innovation
- Challenges: 1) breaking traditional business models with consequent risks for traditional business actors. 2) impacts on traditional economic models with a consequent reversal of roles and powers
Governance and Power/ Rules and Laws
- Challenges: 1) reconcile national Interest vs. international/global interest when dealing issues with global or regional scope. 2) Adapt the pace of development of technology to the capacity of the society to absorb , digest and use the technologies, 3) Regulatory and legal constraints limiting the beliefs of technological progress. 4) Regulate privacy protection, security, always-on man-machine connectivity
- Opportunities: 1) Achieve a global partnerships agreement about security and protection of the internet. 2) Better understand people behaviours and lifestyles.
- Challenges: 1) Making virtual meetings real (mixed reality experiences with full immersion of senses). 2) Loss of human connection, traditional standard work/social conditions, over hominization; physical contacts erased. 3) Development and take-up of complex equipment for virtual presence
- Opportunities: 1) 100% realistic virtual meetings with deeper and more intimate communication and interactions. 2) Seamless interaction with machines
What needs to be done / how do we overcome the challenges and realise the opportunities