New Elon-Pew study predicts "killer apps" of the future
World tech experts predict telepresence, virtual reality and highly personal information apps are ahead in the next decade of high-speed Internet development.
Technology experts foresee changes across all aspects of life as Internet connectivity advances by 2025. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center shows that they expect hyper-personalized interactions with information and their surroundings, vivid telepresence and video, immersive virtual reality environments and a deepening dependency upon machines and the vast stores of information people tap into as they navigate their lives. Many say new and enhanced Internet-based applications may significantly impact health care and education.
This report is a compilation of opinions from 1,464 respondents, most of them tech experts, who were asked to consider the likely evolution of the Internet and the Web and their impact on daily life. Invited respondents were asked:
New killer apps in the gigabit age–Will there be new, distinctive, and uniquely compelling technology applications that capitalize upon significant increases in bandwidth in the US between now and 2025?
Some 86% answered “yes,” and 14% said “no.” They were asked to elaborate on their answers. Those who answered “no” said they don’t expect enhanced Internet efficiency or killer apps by 2025 for various reasons. The 86% who expect such improvements shared their visions.
“Many of these experts said that with more-efficient connectivity to more information and machines the connection between humans and technology will tighten,” said Lee Rainie, a co-author of the report and director of the Pew Research Internet Project. “They said we will be living in an always-on environment that can seamlessly integrate human-machine interactions, impacting many activities, including thinking, the documentation of our lives and the coordination of our actions.”
Survey participants also predicted a vast improvement in real-time video for teleconferencing, saying it will become much more vivid. “Some said they expect we will finally experience perfected telepresence, thus eliminating the need for travel as we can meet virtually and it will seem as if we are really sharing the same space,” said Janna Anderson, director of Elon’s Imagining the Internet Center in the School of Communications. “Quite a few expect heightened visual experiences online, including video implementing 3D holograms. They said this will completely alter health care and education and create much-more-immersive games and other entertainment options.”
A gigabit connection can deliver 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps). Globally, Akamai reports that the average connection speed in quarter one of 2014 was 3.9 Mbps, with South Korea reporting the highest average connection speed, 23.6 Mbps, and the US at 10.5 Mbps. The expectation of the people who participated in this canvassing of experts by Pew and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center is that life will be significantly enhanced if more data can be shared more efficiently.
William Schrader, the co-founder and CEO of PSINet Inc., the first commercial ISP, said, “As gigabit bandwidth becomes widespread later this decade, applications will emerge which exploit the combination of big data, GPS location, weather, personal-health monitoring devices, industrial production, and much more… Gigabit bandwidth is one of the few real ‘build it and they will come’ moments for new killer apps. The fact that no one had imagined the other killer apps prior to seeing them grow rapidly implies that no one can imagine these new ones—including me. But I am confident they will come.”
David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, predicted, “There will be full, always-on, 360-degree environmental awareness, a semantic overlay on the real world, and full-presence massive open online courses. Plus Skype won't break up nearly as much.”
Jason Hong, an associate professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, said, “My best guesses would be: a) far better telepresence, in terms of video quality, audio quality, robotic control, and time (for example: open all the time rather than just a short time for video conferencing); b) a few people starting to use life-logging technologies to capture everything in their lives (with some people choosing to share those); c) higher adoption of telesurgery and remote medical support; d) some new kind of entertainment, possibly including new kinds of social media; e) more sensor data being continuously captured and stored, including those embedded in the city (for bridges and buildings), cars, smart phones, portable home medical devices, and toys; f) better search for multimedia, especially videos; g) more cloud-based apps, offering far richer software-as-a-service than we can do today.”
Several broad themes emerged in the answers:
Theme 1) People’s interactions and ability to “be together” and collaborate will change in the age of telepresence—enabling them to instantly “meet face-to-face” in cyberspace.
Joe Kochan, the chief operating officer for US Ignite, a company developing gigabit-ready digital applications said, “Gigabit broadband connections will usher in the Internet of two-way, persistent, high-quality video to replace today's Internet of images, text and recorded video. Interactions with doctors, educators, merchants and others will consist not of emailed forms or pre-recorded messages, but instead of instantaneous, life-like video interaction that requires no setup or configuration.”
Bob Briscoe, chief researcher in networking and infrastructure for British Telecom, wrote, "Telepresence will be available in business environments. By 2025 it is unlikely to be realistic and natural... It may become possible for an individual to project into more than one presence at once, given that young people have learned to cope with partial attention on multiple threads of interaction.”
Kathryn Campbell, a partner with Primitive Spark, Inc., responded, “Bandwidth will play the same kind of transformational role in reshaping society that railroads and freeways played in our past... Something like the holodeck concept first shown in the Star Trek series is actually within our grasp by 2025. Games, films, shopping for cars and vacations and (of course) porn will all become immersive 3D experiences. So will the 2025 version of that primitive tool that we call Skype today.”
Theme 2) Augmented reality will extend people’s sense and understanding of their real-life surroundings and virtual reality will make some spaces, such as gaming worlds and other simulated environments, even more compelling places to hang out.
David P. Collier-Brown, a system programmer and author, imagined, "Avatars to go to meetings for me in Texas, rather than me flying down. Bus tours of Istanbul on Saturday afternoon from the comfort of my living room. Playing a game of football with my cousin in Ulan Bator from the gym downtown.”
Tim Bray, an active participant in the IETF and technology industry veteran, said, “I have particular hope for advances in locative augmented-reality applications, for art, entertainment, tourism and other surprising things.”
Alison Alexander, a professor at the University of Georgia, wrote, “One killer app that could take off is a virtual reality environment. Forget reality, live in your selected world. Visit wherever and whenever. Also, this is not a killer app, but the global nature of connectivity could foster an integrated world economy, breaking down the importance of nations and governments. Foolish optimism, but perhaps we will even be able to make bureaucracy operate more effectively. I am very excited about the power of connectivity to solve research problems. It is happening already, but how wonderful when barriers of time and place no longer hinder collaboration.”
Theme 3) The connection between humans and technology will tighten as machines gather, assess, and display real-time personalized information in an ‘always-on’ environment. This integration will affect many activities—including thinking, the documentation of life events (‘life-logging’), and coordination of daily schedules.
Laurel Papworth, a social media educator, responded, “We are looking at full video lifestreaming in the near future. The Lost Generation had to manually document their lives. The Eternity Generations (from now on) face a future where the tapestry of life has ceased to unravel. Lifestreaming from ultrasound to final illness (and beyond if we add intelligent bots to the life data) will be the killer app. The challenge going forward is to live a full life. No one will be able to sit around in their underwear watching TV if their lives are being streamed for current and future generations.”
David Orban, the CEO of Dotsub, wrote, “High-bandwidth and high-definition communication will allow the emergence of what we'll call emotional computing. Remote group collaboration will gain a fundamental new dimension in being able to record, transmit, analyze, and understand the full gamut of human emotions. Facial expressions, subtle changes in voice stresses, gestures, will all be part of how we will communicate among each other for work and fun across any distance, with computers and software platforms understanding these components and being able to adapt to them, facilitating the efficient reaching of goals and objectives.”
Hal Varian, chief economist for Google, commented, “The Internet of Things is real. Internet-enabled devices that interact with the physical world will be the norm. They will learn on their own, with some verbal instruction by their users. The big story here is continuous health monitoring.
Theme 4) Specific economic and social sectors will be especially impacted; health/medicine and education were mentioned often.
JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce.com, commented, “The focus will shift from just thinking about live, very high-quality, video-based apps to [experiences] that create lots of data to be moved around, sometimes synchronously, sometimes asynchronously. Having a personal healthpod you strap yourself into daily will become normal; wearing clothes that are tailor-made for you every day, 3D-printed at home, will also become normal, with the previous day's clothes recycled efficiently; the school day will disaggregate into a number of learning sessions, some at home, some in the neighborhood, some in pairs, some in larger groups, with different kinds of facilitators.”
Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said, “Telemedicine will be an enormous change in how we think of health care. Some will be from home—chronically ill or elderly patients will be released from hospitals with a kit of sensors that a home nurse can use. For others, drugstores (or private clinic chains—fast meds, analogous to fast foods) will have booths that function as remote examining, treatment, and simple surgery rooms. The next big food fad, after hipster locavores, will be individualized scientific diets, based on the theory that each person's unique genetics, locations, and activities mean that she requires a specific diet, specially formulated each day.”
Ed Lyell, a professor of business and economics and early Internet policy consultant, wrote, “Just-in-time learning will continue to expand, permitting people of all ages to find the information they need when needed. It will permit the human mind to focus on creativity and critical thinking with known information being available as needed. Time in school will need to radically change since the talking-head, expert teacher is less and less valuable. The role of teacher-coach will be even more important yet require a different emotional and intellectual skill set than that which most educators now possess.”
Theme 5) New digital divides may open as people gain opportunities on different timelines and with different tools.
Clifford Lynch, executive director for the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), wrote, “I worry greatly that most of these applications could be stillborn because affordable high-performance network connectivity to the general public in the United States is not very good and doesn't seem to be getting much better quickly… due to a whole series of public policy and economic choices that have been made.
Rex Troumbley, a graduate research assistant at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said, “We should not expect bandwidth increases to be evenly distributed. Many who cannot afford access to increased bandwidth will be left with low-bandwidth options. We may see a new class divergence between those able to access immersive media, online telepathy, human consciousness uploads, and remote computing while the poor will be left with the low-bandwidth experiences we typically use today.”
George Lessard, information curator and communications and media specialist at MediaMentor.ca, wrote, “The digital divide's gap between the US ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ will grow even larger.”
Theme 6) Who knows? ‘I have no idea due to rapid change.’ ‘The best Internet apps are yet to emerge.’ ‘If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you, I would invest in it!’
danah boyd, a research scientist for Microsoft, responded, “Moore's law predicts that the answer is yes. If I knew what it was, I'd be building that instead of filling out this survey.”
Joel Halpern, a distinguished engineer at Ericsson, responded, “Changes in capability (such as bandwidth, computation, storage, etc.) by several orders of magnitude are inevitable over the stated time frame. Such changes will produce completely new and exciting applications. To pretend we know what those applications will be is a mistake. Each time such things have emerged, they have largely been in spaces that were not anticipated. It is also worth remembering that many of the most pervasive effects will likely be in ways that are not directly visible, but make a dramatic difference indirectly.”
Howard Rheingold, a pioneering Internet sociologist and self-employed writer, consultant, and educator, responded, "Who has ever been able to predict the most significant results of increased bandwidth? … Who could have foreseen YouTube?”
Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, wrote, “There's no way I can predict what ubiquitous gigabit bandwidth will bring. I only know I want it.”
Theme 7) Advances will be gradual for various reasons: Bandwidth is not the issue. The U.S. will continue to lag by 2025 because a widespread gigabit network is not easily achieved.
Mike Roberts, Internet pioneer and longtime leader with ICANN and the Internet Society, responded, “At least three major forces are at work in what is called gigabit networks. 1) The economic issue of fair and equitable access to the Internet; 2) The economic structure in which bandwidth, applications and content generally are provided with Internet technology; and 3) The opportunities for new applications development which are possible when gigabit-style bandwidth is available to citizens. Generally, we are still stuck in the situation with Internet technology where success is being measured by comparison to the way things used to be done. Yes, there eventually will be killer apps dependent on gigabit-style bandwidth, but the path to them will be longer and more tortuous than advocates like to admit.”
David Bollier, a long-time scholar and activist focused on the commons, responded, “The question contains embedded assumptions that may or may not hold true: 1) that the Internet will necessarily remain open and nondiscriminatory (net neutrality); 2) that telecom providers will indeed build out Internet bandwidth in significant and roughly ubiquitous ways; and 3) that killer apps are the necessarily the biggest, most desirable outcome imaginable. The social capacity to use and diffuse new apps, and to innovate ‘on top’ of them, is at least as important. The most promising avenues involve social collaboration, especially in nonmarket, commons-based contexts—but most business models today presume some monetization imperative that can limit or poison collaborative possibilities, and bottom-up, self-organized financing and governance remain rudimentary and under-theorized.”
Andre Brock, a survey participant who shared no additional identifying details, wrote, "I am unwilling to believe that there will be 'significant' increases in bandwidth before 2025. My concern lies with the unwillingness of telecom providers to upgrade their backbones to accommodate gigabit bandwidth and their continued litigation strategies to prohibit municipal Internet service providers willing to install their own fiber. Without significant federal intervention on the lines of the 'universal service' provision of the 1996 Telecom Act, we will continue to see incremental increases in bandwidth (wired and wireless), overcharges for '4G' access, and increased telecom lobbying against net neutrality in order to profit from 'tiered service' throttled access.”
Additional provocative responses:
Massive change is likely to impact cities, and 3D video and printing will advance
Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, responded, “Entertainment appliances, environmental control systems, and security alarm systems will all benefit from third-party service providers managing these systems on our behalf. Smart cities will amass substantial information in real time to deal with traffic, power generation, and distribution. High-speed connectivity means streaming will be replaced by download/playback except for real-time events. Group interaction and perhaps 3D video will become a reality. Already we see a lot of the former in Google's Hangouts. 3D printing will lead to completely new supply chains including for raw materials. Designs will be transferred on the Net and devices created at the end points with 3D printing and manual or automatic assembly.”
Sensors will be everywhere, contributing to information visualizations
Jonathan Grudin, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, commented, “I expect that the management of networks of embedded sensors and effectors will be the largest change between now and 2025, sensors everywhere—on property, on our clothes, on (and perhaps in) our bodies, all of it feeding digital information to be processed on servers or filtered and passed to the cloud. By 2025 small devices might be powered by harvested energy, in which case the possibilities expand dramatically. On the receiving end of this massive information flow will be large displays at work and in many homes through which vast quantities of information can be rapidly visualized. We have lagged in exploiting this because it is more difficult to model or demo than a simple application, but it will come.”
‘Cloud immigrants’ will appear as holograms and compete for jobs
Marcel Bullinga, a technology futures speaker, trend watcher, and futurist, replied, “No doubt the killer app will be real-life holograms operating in real time: for instance, as doctors, as surgeons, as coworkers. It will change the workplace. Not only will it diminish the need for business travel, it will also increase competition in the labor market immensely. Whereas before you had to compete with fellow humans in the same physical area, immigrants for example, in the future you have to compete with ‘cloud immigrants’—coworkers appearing in their work as a hologram.”
People will learn more about themselves and ‘avoid coercive marketing’
Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? observed, “Today, large organizations, including corporations and government agencies, use personal data to make predictions about the behavior of individuals. In the next 10 years, users will have access to a variety of apps that constantly collect and analyze data to output personalized predictions that will better enable users to avoid coercive marketing and learn more about themselves. Big data will shrink to become personalized data in app form as every individual user develops a much better understanding of how her behavior influences her rapidly-evolving future.”
Bye-bye phones: Devices will manage things machine-to-machine
Paul Saffo, managing director at Discern Analytics and consulting associate professor at Stanford University, wrote, “Never underestimate the transformative power of Moore's law. The fastest growth will be communications options aimed at machines as data consumers. Your devices will subscribe to content and apps on your behalf. Smartphones will disappear rapidly.” And Mark Johnson, CTO and vice president for architecture at MCNC, wrote, “We are approaching the post-bandwidth era where we are not constantly limited by the capabilities of our connections. We'll expect to be able to access and control everything we own that uses electricity all the time from any location using a device we always have with us. We won't think about ‘phones’ and ‘television’ as distinct things or even as services any more.”
‘Apps’ will be so over by 2025
Stephen Abram, a self-employed consultant with Lighthouse Consulting Inc. and CEO of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries, wrote, “The year 2025 will be a much different place and 'apps' actually will have gone by the wayside as the need to bind them disappears into the social-cultural and workplace eco-system.” And Katie Derthick, a PhD candidate in human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington, responded, “Applications are the wrong scale and quality of technological innovation and solution. In 22 years, I hope we are no longer churning out application after application for problems that require solutions at the institutional, social, family, or individual (as in, choices about daily life) levels. Innovation will persist at the application scale for a while, but a backlash against technologizing everything, at the cost of time, health, relationships, social skills, spirituality, presence, attention, and cultural and class divides is coming. Finally, rather than apps, the innovation with technology will be at the device and environment level, meaning communication between devices (in ways that don't require apps), in the places we live (first) and work (later).”
Machines will have ‘more-complex intelligence’ and decision-making capability
Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst for the Altimeter Group predicted, “In the next 10 years, we'll see tremendous advances in the fields of automation (robotics) and information (data). We're already seeing the emergence of drones for simple commercial use; in time, these devices will be invested with more-complex intelligence and a more sophisticated range of uses and decision-making capability. We'll also continue to see blurring of the lines between physical and virtual reality, as well as an infusion of social, linguistic, and neuro-scientific research into technology development. New and more complex big data streams—images, sensor data, sound files, video, natural language—will continue to challenge us, however, as there is a limit to the ability of algorithms to account for human language and behavior. As a result, we'll need to see dramatic advances in machine-learning capability. This will invest machines with a kind of sentience, although one far removed from the dystopian vision of a William Gibson. Our struggles with privacy, identity, and ethics will continue as technology advancements exceed our capacity to understand their implications.”
‘Computer-mediated sex will be a killer app’ and it becomes the Snowcrash Metaverse
Stowe Boyd, lead researcher for GigaOM Research, predicted, “Computer-mediated sex will be a killer app. Teledildonics and immersive reality will require a great deal of bandwidth to get right. This will involve both peer-to-peer sex—connecting to other people through these devices—and artificial sex, where the AI tool creates fictitious partners, or partnerless sex. Young people in 2025 will generally have sex this way with new partners… High-fidelity meeting tools will decrease the need for business travel. These will present participants with artificially constructed online places to meet, and create high-fidelity renderings of people's real-time actions based on cameras and other devices. For example, I could be writing on a 'whiteboard' with others, as well as seeing them standing next to me. In fact, I would be in my office in Beacon, New York, wearing an Oculus-ish headset and writing on my wall, while meeting with people from London and San Francisco. The culmination of that meeting trend will be the true online conference, where I might be sitting in my office, again, but sensing that I am in a large conference hall with hundreds of others, hearing a lecture, and being able to chat with the people on either side of me. I sneeze, and five people say 'Gesundheit.' Basically, it is the Metaverse from Snowcrash.”
The ‘Internet of context’ could help us solve major social problems
Jerry Michalski, founder of REX, the Relationship Economy eXpedition, wrote, “If someone had told me in 2005 that there was room between blogging and instant messaging for an application I would like and use more than either, I would have said it was impossible. Yet I use Twitter all the time. So by 2025, a long time from now, I'm certain several innovations like that will have taken place. That said, I don't think full-time, high-definition video, the obvious higher-bandwidth application, is the answer. Google Glass is facing backlash already, videoconferencing is interesting but not compelling. One possibility, if we turn back copyright laws (egregious at their current terms) and help people weave a context for their lives, is that we'll have a rich Internet of content in context, representing many different points of view. This will allow us to dive deeper into conversations than the superficial modes of today's discourse, where the same shallow ideas are repeated over and over. Context will give us depth, which will help us solve major social problems.”
The fundamental constraint is time
Joe Touch, director of the Information Sciences Institute's Postel Center at the University of Southern California, responded, “Approaches and solutions change when a property shifts from being a constraint to being a resource, i.e., when it shifts from being part of the challenge to being part of the solution. We've seen that shift happen with CPU power, memory, and storage (disk) already, and we'll soon start to see bandwidth in that light. The fundamental constraint is time—it's fundamentally what we care about, and it's the one thing we can't speed up. We can trade bandwidth for latency; I explored this 25 years ago in my thesis, and the time is now becoming ready for that approach.”
Or none of the above Part I: Developments conspire against such progress
David Ellis, course director for the Department of Communication Studies at York University in Toronto, commented, “There's a prior question: Will increases in bandwidth up to a gigabit materialize by 2025? A lot of developments continue to conspire against this outcome. One, the access business stays firmly on the path to concentration, especially on the cable side. Two, and despite the foregoing, the integrated ISPs in Canada and the United States have a vested interest in continuing to treat bandwidth as scarce and expensive. Three, a conservative school of thought continues to argue that the status of US (and Canadian) broadband is just fine, while invidious comparisons with other developed nations are irrelevant or misleading. Four, the progress in municipal Wi-Fi and fiber alternatives, and other carrier-neutral transmission platforms, is still not very encouraging, in part because of the extent to which the incumbents have convinced many US jurisdictions that publicly-funded connectivity should be outlawed. Five, the FCC’s pushback against further entrenchment by the incumbents on the content side (Open Internet Order) seems likely to get tossed by the DC Circuit this year.”
Or none of the above Part II: Intellectual property issues could squelch the whole thing
Jamais Cascio, a writer and futurist specializing in possible futures scenario outcomes commented, “The development of new killer apps for the gigabit age is, if not predetermined, highly likely simply as a consequence of greater numbers of people experimenting with the technology. The big potential roadblock—and the main reason I could just as easily have answered ‘no’—is the disturbingly high likelihood that intellectual property controls and the demise of network neutrality will undermine the end-to-end agnosticism of the Internet. If the gigabit future is essentially the modern wireless/cellular network writ large, then incremental innovation may even be difficult, let alone radical innovation.”
About the report:
The report about these predictions comes in the sixth canvassing of experts done by the Pew Research Center in association with the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University. This is the fourth report generated out of the results of Web-based questions fielded from late November 2013 to early January 2014. The survey gathered opinions on eight Internet issues from a select group of experts and the highly engaged Internet public. For additional details on methodology, please read the full report.
Here is a selection of other institutions at which respondents work or have affiliations:
Yahoo; Intel; IBM; Hewlett-Packard; Nokia; Amazon; Netflix; Verizon; PayPal; BBN; Comcast; US Congress; EFF; W3C; The Web Foundation; PIRG: NASA; Association of Internet Researchers; Bloomberg News; World Future Society; ACM; the Aspen Institute; GigaOm; the Markle Foundation; The Altimeter Group; FactCheck.org; key offices of US and European Union governments; the Internet Engineering Task Force; the Internet Hall of Fame; Oxford Internet Institute; Princeton, Yale, Brown, Georgetown, Carnegie-Mellon, Duke, Purdue and Columbia universities; the universities of Pennsylvania, California-Berkeley, Southern California, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Maryland, Kansas, Texas-Austin, Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Boston College and many more.
Complete sets of credited and anonymous responses to this question, featuring many dozens of additional opinions can be found on the Imagining the Internet site:
The four previous “Digital Life in 2025” reports released by Pew Research and Elon University in 2014 examined other aspects of the remarkable technological advancements that are rapidly connecting billions of people and devices around the world.
- A March 2014 Digital Life in 2025 report issued by the Internet Project in association with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center focusing on the Internet’s future more broadly. Some 1,867 experts and stakeholders responded to an open-ended question about the overall future of the Internet by 2025.
- A May 2014 Digital Life in 2025 report on the Internet of Things from Pew Research and Elon University examining the likely impacts of the Internet of Things and wearable and embedded networked devices. A majority of the more than 1,600 respondents said they expect significant expansion of the Internet of Things, including connected devices, appliances, vehicles, wearables, and sensor-laden aspects of the environment.
- A July 2014 Digital Life report on Threats to the Open Internet from Pew Research and Elon University canvassing a number of experts and other stakeholders on what they see as the major threats to the free flow of information online. A majority of these experts expect the Internet to remain a place where people can freely access and share content, even as they anticipate a number of potential threats to this freedom in the coming years.
- An August 2014 Digital Life report on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics from Pew Research and Elon University gathered opinions from experts about the roles that robots and many forms of artificial intelligence (AI) – including digital agents that perform programmed tasks – will play in our lives by 2025. The results were an even split, with 52 percent envisioning a future in which robots and digital agents do not displace more jobs than they create and 48 percent saying they will displace significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers.