Imagining the Internet Project

  Responses in reaction to the following provocative future scenario were assembled from a select group of internet stakeholders in the 2006 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Predictions Survey. The survey allowed respondents to select from the choices "agree" or "disagree" or to leave the scenario unanswered. Respondents were encouraged to provide a written elaboration to explain their answers; they did not always do so, but those who did provided richly detailed predictive material. Some respondents chose to identify themselves with each answer; many did not. We share some - not all - of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are shared below are attributed here only for the purpose of indicating a level of internet expertise; the statements reflect personal viewpoints and do not represent their companies', universities', or government agencies' policies or positions. Some answers have been edited to share more respondents' replies. This is a selection of the many carefully considered responses to the following scenario.  
description

descriptionScenario Three: Autonomous technology is a danger...
By 2020, intelligent agents and distributed control will cut direct human input so completely out of some key activities such as surveillance, security, and tracking systems that technology beyond our control will generate dangers and dependencies that will not be recognized until it is impossible to reverse them. We will be on a "J" curve of continued acceleration of change.

Compiled reactions from the 742 respondents:
42% agreed
54% disagreed
4% did not respond

Below are select responses from survey participants who agreed to be identified with their statements. To read reactions from anonymous participants responding to this question, please click here.

I believe that agents, automated control and embedded computing will be pervasive, but I think society will be able to balance the use. We will find these things helpful and a nuisance, but we will not lose control of our ability to regulate them. - David Clark, internet pioneer, senior research scientist at MIT; now working under a major National Science Foundation grant to rethink the architecture of the internet; internet user since 1975

Again, the issue is in the extremity of the proposal. We will certainly have some interesting technologies. Until someone finds a way for a computer to prevent anyone from pulling its power plug, however, it will never be completely out of control. - Fred Baker, CISCO Fellow, CISCO Systems, Internet Society (ISOC) chairman of the board; Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF); internet user since 1987

Completely automating these activities will continue to prove difficult to achieve in practice. I do believe that there will be new dangers and dependencies, but that comes from any new technology, especially one so far-reaching. - Thomas Narten, IBM open-internet standards development; Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) liaison to ICANN; internet user since 1983

Agree. Even in today's primitive networks, there is little understanding of the complexity of systems and possible force-multiplier effects of network failures. The science of understanding such dependencies is not growing as fast as the desire to implement the technologies. - Robert Shaw, internet strategy and policy advisor, International Telecommunication Union (ITU); internet user since 1987

The issue will be how humans and information machines will form new assemblages, not how one will displace the other. - Mark Poster, professor of film and media studies, University of California-Irvine; studies the ways social communications have changed through the introduction of new technologies; internet user since 1983

You can only automate so much, but will never get to the system having innate intelligence, i.e. the ability to make judgments and handle ambiguity. - Stewart Alsop, investor and analyst; former editor of InfoWorld and Fortune columnist; internet user since 1994

DRM and "trusted computing" initiatives already are replacing human judgment with algorithms that inevitably favor restricted access to the content on our own computers. - David Weinberger, teacher, writer, speaker, consultant and commentator on internet and technology; Harvard Berkman Center; internet user since 1986

If this were true, the world would have blown itself apart in the 20th century. - Adrian Schofield, head of research for ForgeAhead (focused on ICT research and consulting in Africa), South Africa; a leader in the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA); internet user since 1994

J-curve? Yeh, but that's not the end of the world nor of human control. Man is characterized by adaptability and also by occasional denial of the obvious. To the extent the latter is manifest, we will face surprises. The law of unintended consequences will remain the most powerful law. - Bud Levin, program head/psychology and commander/policy and planning, Blue Ridge Community College; Waynesboro (VA) Police Department; internet user since 1988

We can always switch off what we don't like and which causes trouble. This will be no more or less of a problem than a malfunctioning cruise-control, or thermostat today. - John Browning, co-founder of First Tuesday, a global network dedicated to entrepreneurs; former writer for The Economist and other top publications; internet user since 1989

People will adapt to such changes rapidly, but in the process there may be a new set of winners and losers. The "turbulence" due to such new technology will cause some short-term problems. In the long term, it depends upon whether agents develop to occupy the same economic/ecological/social niches as humans or different ones. In the former case one or other will dominate, in the later case there can be co-existence. - Bruce Edmonds, Centre for Policy Modelling, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK; internet user since 1992

While autonomous technology is likely to become a problem, as long as the everyday weapon-backed power systems (e.g. police force) are kept in human hands, no technical change is irreversible. Such reversion may take place as a socioeconomic collapse, though. - Pekka Nikander, Ericcson Research, Helsinki Institute for Information Technology; past member of the Internet Architecture Board; internet user since 1987

Systems like the power grid are already so complex that they are impossible to predictably control at all times - hence the periodic catastrophic failures of sections of grid. But the complexity and interconnectedness of computer-monitored or controlled processes is only a fraction of what it will be in 15 years. Data mining of personal traces is in its infancy. Automatic facial recognition of video images is in its infancy. Surveillance cameras are not all digital, nor are they all interconnected - yet. - Howard Rheingold, internet sociologist and author; one of the first writers to illuminate the ideals and foibles of virtual communities; internet user since 1990

The key phrase is "OUR control." These robotic agents and surveillance technologies WILL be under control, but it will be controlled by others; not those who are being tracked and surveilled. This is already happening, and escalating - not only in government operations, but also in seemingly innocuous private-sector operations. E.g., RFID tags now track consumers as they carry products they are purchasing; truckers and delivery drivers are now tracked by GIS systems that report their position - and every momentary stop for an undeclared coffee break - to their supervisors. One of the greater hopes however, is that it takes human/supervisor time and effort, to utilize the results of such automated surveillance - no matter how much assistance "those who are in control" have from machines. - Jim Warren, internet pioneer (founding editor of Dr. Dobb's Journal), technology-policy advocate and activist, futurist; internet user since 1970

If you look at the way products are currently developed and marketed, you'd have to say we're already there: human beings have been taken out of the equation. Human intervention will soon be recognized as a necessary part of developing and maintaining a society. - Douglas Rushkoff, author of many books about net culture, teacher, New York University; internet user since 1985

The surveillance systems will themselves be surveilled by other systems, etc. - Fred Hapgood, author and consultant; internet user since 1981

Resistance is futile. And saying this gives Luddites their intellectual cover. Everything will work out, like 1984 did. - Bob Metcalfe, Ethernet inventor, founder of 3Com Corporation, former CEO of InfoWorld, now a venture capitalist and partner in Polaris Venture Partners; internet user since 1970

Yep, BIG BROTHER ON CAFFEINE AND STERIOIDS. - Tunji Lardner, CEO for the West African NGO network: wangonet.org; agendaconsulting.biz; has held various consultancies for the World Bank and United Nations as well as being a resource person and consultant to the UNDP African Internet Initiative; internet user since 1988

This is the single greatest challenge facing us in the early years of the twenty-first century. We are constructing architectures of surveillance over which we will lose control. It's time to think carefully about "Frankenstein," The Three Laws of Robotics, "Animatrix," and "Gattaca." - Marc Rotenberg, executive director Electronic Privacy Information Center; internet user since 1978

I agree that automated intelligent systems will overtake certain aspects of the information flow and that we are not capable of predicting them, but I do not think they will irreversible because the same flow of information will alert larger and larger groups of people to the threats. The major problem will be from providers and mining software that have malignant intent. - Amos Davidowitz, director of education, training and special programs for Institute of World Affairs, Association for Progressive Education; internet user since 1994

I disagree in the hope that human kind is responsible enough to understand that the flow of information is far too sensitive to leave it solely to the control of machines. - Thomas Keller, domain services, Schlund + Partner AG (a Germany-based web-hosting company – one of the largest in Europe); internet user since 1995

People are afraid of the Golem. Film at 11. - Robin Berjon, W3C and Expway; internet user since 1996

The question has an overly dramatic spin to it, but the trend is correct. Now, fear of enslavement by our creations is an old fear, and a literary tritism. But I fear something worse and much more likely - that sometime after 2020 our machines will become intelligent, evolve rapidly, and end up treating us as pets. We can at least take comfort that there is one worse fate - becoming food - that mercifully is highly unlikely. - Paul Saffo, forecaster and strategist, director, Institute for the Future; serves on many boards, including the Long Now Foundation; Internet user since 1978

As a race, we'd never let that happen. One of the things that the Internet has enabled is for the masses to collectively monitor and expose, when necessary, misguided or dangerous trends. Things won't be able to 'sneak' up on us, and freedom, especially of ideas and one's ability to think, will be of paramount importance to individuals worldwide. - Michael Gorrell, senior VP and CIO for EBSCO; internet user since 1994

I must agree. Leaving our future in the hands of automated systems is very risky. The algorithms are only as good as what you put into them, and many have never been tested to the fullest extent to determine their robustness under actual conditions (witness the strategic defense initiative's "Star Wars" guidance software that is charged with saving the American population from holocaust but which has never been field tested fully and the code is so complex some scientists doubt it is capable of functioning as designed.) - William Kearns, assistant professor at the University of South Florida; internet user since 1992

In some cases, reversal of the processes will be difficult and nearly impossible. There are scenarios where processes based on automation and intelligence based on rules and identities will miss the "outliers" and "exceptions" thereby resulting in mistakes, some of which will be life threatening. - Jim Archuleta, senior manager, government solutions, Ciena Corporation; internet user since 1989

Some people will feel they have no or less control, but people, perhaps smaller groups than present, will remain in control, using agents to leverage their power. - Willis Marti, associate director for networking, Texas A&M University; internet user since 1983

Certainly there is the potential for the autonomous "Big Brother," self-enabling-technology that is both the dream of science and the nightmare of science fiction. The need to explore, do research, experiment and examine should act as the greatest deterrent to this. We have to be careful that while we are creating systems that automate and develop intelligent conclusions, we are not also limiting our ability to go beyond the boundaries of what is possible in the moment by creating systems that could limit that. - Tom Snook, CTO, New World Symphony, internet user since 1967

While I agree that autonomous technology is a problem and has dangers, I disagree with the subsequent prediction of an inevitable run-away phenomenon. I am hopeful that interventions (perhaps by other autonomous agents) will prevent a run-away J-curve. – V.K. Wong, director of IT campus initiatives and CARAT (Collaboratory for Advanced Research and Academic Technologies), University of Michigan; internet user since 1981

I agree that we can anticipate change and new experiences that we did not anticipate as well as change that we cannot easily reverse. I also believe this is already evidenced by today with a variety of issues facing the public and corporations (SPAM, Phishing, identity theft, etc.). Security will be less of an issue, but it will be followed by other unanticipated results of technology change. - Mike McCarty, chief network officer, Johns Hopkins; internet user since 1992

As Asimov predicted, we are moving toward a more "intelligent" and robotic world. In a climate of global fear - promoted so much by USA President - we will accept increasing amounts of privacy intrusion. Like most large-scale movements, there are pros and cons to this trend. Whether we "feel" overall better off in 15 years is yet to be seen. It is likely that everyone moves to more structured, confined, and socially limited behavior as fears of being an "outed" outcast rise among even law-abiding people worldwide. - Ed Lyell, pioneer in issues regarding internet and education, professor at Adams State College; internet user since 1965

Personal freedom continues to erode beyond anything that our founding fathers could probably imagine. Outsourcing surveillance and security functions to organizations like ChoicePoint has already resulted in a fraudulent election of a President. And governments seldom ask for less power. This trend is not likely to be addressed unless a significant portion of the population comes to their senses and realizes that much of the authority being asked for in the name of national security does nothing to make them more secure, but does a lot to make them less free. - Joe Bishop, VP business development, Marratech AB; internet user since 1994

No doubt. However, as recent events have demonstrated, human miscommunication of intelligence, both accidental and deliberate, remains a huge problem. Intelligence available to everyone without human intervention could help stop unnecessary wars by letting everyone see whether or not there are troop buildups, and could help stop some environmental problems by letting everyone see what companies are polluting or clear-cutting. Maybe we won't want to reverse some of these changes, because they will be beneficial. - John S. Quarterman, president InternetPerils Inc.; publisher of the first "maps" of the internet; internet user since 1974

This is the AI bogeyman. It's always around 20 years away, whatever the year. - Seth Finkelstein, anti-censorship activist and programmer, author of the Infothought blog and an EFF Pioneer award winner

Technology may create more opportunities at leisure, increased productivity, and enhanced efficiency in some operations. It will never displace human creativity. - Rashid Bashshur, director of telemedicine, University of Michigan; internet user since 1980

Intelligent, automated and distributed don't necessarily lead to uncontrollable, out of control and dangerous. Very few, if any, technologies live beyond the control of its creators - everything has a chokepoint. This is almost a certain design inevitability - people build in control points, often subconsciously, as matters of convenience, safety and elegance. Wholly-autonomous is probably unworkable. - Ross Rader, director of research and innovation, Tucows Inc; internet user since 1991

This dysfunctional universe may come true for several types of applications, on and off the network. We better start designing some hydraulic steering mechanisms back into airplanes, and simple overrides of automatic systems in cars. Not to speak about pencil-and-paper calculations to get back your life's savings from a bank! - Alejandro Pisanty, CIO for UNAM (National University of Mexico); vice chairman of the board for ICANN; member of United Nations' Working Group for Internet Governance; active in ISOC; internet user since 1977

We are already, aren't we? But can't we also be into self-correction of this problem? Awareness is beginning to emerge, and technological solutions can develop for the technological challenges named IF we self-govern as industry, and partner with governments to achieve some limitations of the surveillance powers of the "states." - Marilyn Cade, CEO and principal, ICT Strategies, MCADE, LLC; also with Information Technology Association of America (business alliance); internet user since 1986

It's a great science fiction plot, but I don't see it happening. I am skeptical about intelligent agents taking over any time soon. - Hal Varian, professor at University of California-Berkeley; Google; internet user since 1986

Not every society around the world is as uptight about issues of privacy and surveillance as is the population of North America. In Latin America, for example, for centuries the "haves" had domestic servants circulating around the house, making any kind of privacy absolutely impossible; and even today privacy and surveillance are not issues which concerns most citizens in this part of the world. Electronic surveillance and tracking systems in the streets and interiors of buildings will be absorbed by the population here just as traffic lights, seat-belts and metal detectors - as necessary evils, but only because they take extra time, not because they "invade" someone's private space. - Fredric M. Litto, professor, University of Sao Paulo; president, ABED-Brazilian Association for Distance Education; internet user since 1993

We will cut direct human input in a variety of human activities and this will cause problems. This is already causing problems and we're not yet near the "singularity" where we're likely headed. However, the notion of "technology beyond our control" is an alarmist construct. While one might argue that we're already going to wars without informed consent and our children are burning up their adolescence in escapist technological dodges - this statement doesn't allow for a learning curve. In all of the above areas, we are learning as we are making mistakes. So while we are hell-bent on acceleration of change, I believe we will also rethink and respond to those systems that seem to be running away from us. We have the time to understand our relationship with technology and I think we will not get lost on a dead-end J-curve. - Barry K. Chudakov, principal, The Chudakov Company; internet user since 1989

Certainly intelligent agents and distributed control will automate some tasks. But heavy automation of tasks and jobs in the past (e.g., telephone operators) hasn't led to "dangers and dependencies." - Robert Kraut, Human Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

It's a foolish proposition. Autonomous technology is widespread today and indispensable. Characterizing it as a "problem" is fairly clueless. - Anthony Rutkowski, VP for regulatory and standards, Verisign; a co-founder and former executive director of the Internet Society; active leader in International Telecommunication Union (ITU); internet user since 1979

Yes, with mandatory date retention in Europe and a demise of democracy in USA associated with voting right given to suppliers of "voting machines" instead of people it is already a very real problem. - Wladyslaw Majewski, OSI CompuTrain SA, ISOC Polska; internet user since 1989

I truly do agree that there will be nearly complete automation of such boring-to-humans activity as surveillance, security, and tracking systems. There will clearly be unintended consequences, some of which may endanger or take human life. However, I don't believe it will be impossible to reverse such things; indeed, we will continue to perfect them while undergirding them with something like Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. - Glenn Ricart, executive director, Price Waterhouse Coopers Advanced Research; member of the board of trustees of the Internet Society; internet user since 1968

Yes, this will increasingly be a problem. But, hopefully, the importance of these feedback loops can be recognized and this problem can be managed in cases where it is important to do so. - Greg Brewster, associate dean, DePaul University; internet user since 1979

This is likely to be so, but hopefully common sense prevails and necessary safeguards are put in place prior. - Rajnesh D. Singh, PATARA Communications & Electronics Ltd., Avon Group, GNR Consulting, ISOC Pacific Islands; internet user since 1993

We already have no way of predicting how new technologies will affect society, and we know that innovations are occurring more rapidly. That such difficulties will continue appears to me to be a "no-brainer." - Alex Halavais, assistant professor, State University of New York-Buffalo; internet user since 1984

Whilst this is a hypothetical "risk scenario" that we might indeed be headed towards, there is no such thing as an "impossible to reverse situation" whilst Internet users and public interests groups are actively involved. - Cheryl Langdon-Orr, independent internet business operator and director for ISOC-Australia; internet user since 1977

In many ways, this has happened already - some writers of Internet worms purport to have written a piece of code that they never expected to have as far reaching implications as they originally intended - others, of course, were completely malicious in their attempts to disrupt networks. Flight systems (space shuttle, commercial aviation, etc.) are susceptible to this as well, and poor results from these automated systems can have deadly consequences. However, this issue will remain isolated to certain instances throughout the next 15 years rather than being a widespread problem. - Philip Joung, Spirent Communications (wireless positioning products); internet user since 1989

I agree, however, the problem is not simply with the technology, but also with people's tendency to comply with surveillance. - Monica Whitty, professor at Queen's University, Belfast; internet user since 1994

Although there may be unforeseen dangers, I believe vigilant and involved citizens (netizens?) will act as a corrective to these problems. Organizations like CPSR and EPIC will serve critical roles in revealing, understanding, and addressing these problems. - Ben Detenber, associate professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Dystopian scenarios are always a good warning, but it seems to me that such a complete erasure of the human function in the process is an exaggeration. Lack of privacy and surveillance, which includes humans, or more precisely human decisions, seems to me to be a more serious threat. - Mirko Petric, University of Zadar, Croatia; internet user since 1996

I disagree with such dystopian technology perspectives, if only because they ignore the fact that technologies don't suddenly become autonomous agents overnight - people are there in the process of their becoming more autonomous every step of the way and can respond to the issues arising in the moment. I do believe, however, that it is important to thoroughly think through the consequences of new technological developments and the accompanying social and political consequences they will have. - B. van den Berg, faculty of philosophy at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; internet user since 1993

This is a scenario out of a science fiction movie; I doubt it will take place. There will be points at which more data is collected than we intended to, but I don't foresee "dependence" in the sense it is laid out here. - Randy Kluver, executive director, Singapore Internet Research Centre; internet user since 1989

There may be pockets of uncontrolled (by humans/"victims"), but I would expect to see technology evolve that once again puts the person in control of the environment. While we may use intelligent agents, they will be utilized in such a manner allowing the user to define precisely how and when used. Further, others, using intelligent agents to perhaps get information on someone, will be unable to do so without the object person allowing it. In other words, I believe the hue and cry of privacy violations today will invoke systems to protect the individual and preserve privacy. - Don Heath, board member, iPool, Brilliant Cities Inc., Diversified Software, Alcatel, Foretec; internet user since 1988

Human beings always have control, but they often choose to give it up. For example, when the airline agent tells me I cannot do something because "the computer won't allow it." Human beings have made choices to program the computer in that way, to limit human abilities to override functions. I could also say I agree since we do seem willing to give up control to systems, and increasingly legislators and the judiciary have allowed surveillance, security and tracking systems that would seem to me - and to many others - to be dangerous. My struggle in answering this question is my unwillingness to give in to technological determinism. - Leigh Estabrook, professor, University of Illinois; internet user since 1978

I qualify my agreement in that the autonomous technology will be in the form of communication ultra-structure capabilities that allow almost anyone to project power with little or no cost. The repertoires of individuals and groups will be readily available and successful or attractive ones will spread and scale rapidly. The aggregate adoption will cause huge and likely unpredictable shifts in social, political, economic arenas. People will no longer favor incumbent systems, but will move to systems that make sense to them and serve their needs. This will force incumbent systems to adapt quickly or fail. Governmental protection of incumbent corporate and social power will lose much of its effectiveness as a force of social control. These parallel systems to serve people's needs will arise via digital networks and form a new bottom-up, global, civil society. - Ted M. Coopman, activist, social science researcher, instructor at the University of Washington, Seattle, member of AoIR board of directors

This is pretty possible scenario, so I believe there is a responsibility for internet researchers in that respect - to recognise those dependencies in advance and to act on preventing dangers. - Lilia Efimova, researcher, Telematica Instituut, Netherlands; internet user since 1993

This already happens with some technologies (and applications of scientific knowledge in general) and the more complex technology becomes, the more often it will be misinterpreted and trusted beyond reasonable levels. For examples of the same happening today, one can think of uses of technology for medical diagnosis - medical doctors already trust the results of laboratory exams and technically produced images of the human body much beyond what their patients report. One can also see that when technology is used in court - DNA exams and the images from security cameras appear to be misused and misinterpreted rather often. - Suely Fragoso, professor, Unisinos, Brazil; internet user since 1994

While there may be occasional home-grown rogue technologies, these will be limited to small outbreaks instigated by people on the fringes of mainstream society (religious fanatics, anti-corporate activists, and the like). Large corporations and governments are so concerned about maintaining control that they will be very careful about building anything that might self-replicate. We see this attitude playing out in the form of crop seeds that cannot replicate and attempts to force people to pay every time they watch TV, a DVD or listen to music. I doubt 125-year copyright system or the patent process will have significantly loosened its grip on the exchange of intellectual property in 15 years. - Scott Moore, online community manager, Helen and Charles Schwab Foundation; internet user since 1991

There will be a trend in this direction, not as extreme as displayed in the above scenario, but bad enough that we will experience injustice, I think that some of those systems may be reversible, others may not. I would guess a probability of about 30% that such systems develop. - Arent Greve, professor, The Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration; internet user since 1983

I agree but it is not a doomsday scenario and the development of these technologies will echo previous technologies with similar curves, unexpected developments, and unauthorised appropriations by grassroots groups. - Mark Gaved, The Open University, United Kingdom; internet user since 1987

I'm putting a positive spin on this by disagreeing. I suspect there will be examples where the prediction is true but that socially mediated expectations will lead to limitations on such technologies. - Andy Williamson, managing director for Wairua Consulting Limited, New Zealand; a member of the NZ government's Digital Strategy Advisory Group; internet user since 1990

That scenario will be real only in the technologically most developed segments in our countries. Maybe most of humanity will be under surveillance and control by the technological resources and its managers but not in real command of that means. - Raul Trejo-Delarbre, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; internet user since 1993

There is a collision between individual security and commercial interests. There is a flood of research on technologies that exploits all possible vulnerabilities. - W. Reid Cornwell, director of The Center for Internet Research; internet user since 1974

I don't trust technology as much as I trust human intelligence as input into decisions. Technology is changing so rapidly that there is no time to really nut out consequences that could be negative. - Barbara Craig, Victoria University; internet user since 1993

I agree that it is a very real danger. However, I think that our present thinking about how automation and distributed computing works is naïve. In the year 2020, the general public will be much more aware of how to utilize their agents and control schemes. We should see a much more "AI-literate" population, if not in 2020, then in 2040. - Charlie Breindahl, external lecturer, University of Copenhagen, IT University of Copenhagen; internet user since 1996

This is already a problem. We have become so content with technology handling the "little things" that we have lost a sense of perspective on the "big picture." We are out-sourcing our privacy. - Martin F. Murphy, IT consultant, City of New York; internet user since 1993

Aided by governmental policies like those of the Bush administration, "the people" lose track of what the governments are doing. "The people" insist on using credit and other trackable means. We all lose to the machine or its ghost. - Edward Lee Lamoureux, associate professor, Bradley University

Unless we severely damage our physical environment, cultural and social structures have proved to be flexible. History shows that empires fall. If we get an empire of the net, this will eventually fall too. - Torill Mortensen:, associate professor, Volda University College, Norway; internet user since 1991

Technology will not master the emotional elements that drive certain decision-making. Of course, left unchecked, we could become too dependent on machines, e.g., using a calculator for simple math when one's own computational skills could be used. - Richard Yee, competitive intelligence analyst, AT&T; internet user since 1995

Increased automation will be problematic, but not irreversible. We'll still have some control, though end users will be more frustrated when the automation fails and no backup plans are in place. - Kevin Schlag, director of web development and IT for Western Governor's University, BYU-Hawaii; internet user since 1993

That, sadly, is the price of technology evolution - like it or not. No good technology goes unpunished. - Stan Felder, president and CEO, Vibrance Associates, LLC; internet user since 1985

While a few activities could spin off course, most really problematic issues will be spotted early and repaired. Also, monitoring which alerts humans to problems will become a high-order business on its own, incorporating "self-healing" networks equipped with alarms when boundaries are exceeded. - Michael Reilly, GLOBALWRITERS, Baronet Media LLC, Hally Enterprises, Inc., State University of NY at Stony Brook, Global Public Affairs Institute; internet user since 1972

We have only begun to see the beginning of the acceleration. Convergence of technologies will present complications and scenarios not yet thought of. - Todd Costigan, National Association of Realtors; internet user since, 1985

This is one of the scariest consequences of our light-speed technological advancement. Hollywood fiction will become reality. - Daniel D. Wang, principal, Roadmap Associates (coaching and advisory company); internet user since 1995

We are not unaware of the possible dangers. Science fiction has warned of nearly any threat that autonomous technology can raise. There will be problems caused by autonomous tech, but, like germs provoking an immune system response, the eventual effect of the initial damage will be to install safeguards that protect us from long-lasting damage. - Sean Mead, consultant for Interbrand Analytics, Design Forum, Mead Mead & Clark and other companies; internet user since 1989

Calm down. We are only talking 14 years from now. There are so many problems even with basic "intelligent agents" that exist today that much scepticism exists and the standards for dependency will be very high. - Ralph Blanchard, investor, information services entrepreneur; internet user since 1994

Dangers exist now as the Patriot Act is the start of the "J-curve." Illegal wiretaps by governments is already taking place and explained away using the "lipstick on a pig" spin. A society based upon fear is not a free society. - Ted Summerfield, president, Punzhu.com

For the most part, society has a self-adjusting mechanism. As dangers on the horizon approach, the relative importance society puts on them increases until the cost to not address them becomes too great. It's the issues that require us to anticipate far in advance that may give us a problem. - A. White, a respondent who chose not to share his/her specific identity

Things may be much worse with the increasing prevalence of RFID chips and similar technologies. Before 2020 I think that every newborn child in industrialized countries will be implanted with an RFID or similar chip. Ostensibly providing important personal and medical data, these may also be used for tracking and surveillance. - Michael Dahan, professor, Sapir Academic College, Israel; Digital Jerusalem; internet user since 1989

The drive to make smart technologies with artificial intelligence means developers will allow AI unrestricted access to the internet. Self-learning AI could theoretically teach itself to override all security measures and begin the "J-curve." - J. Fox, a respondent who chose not to share his/her specific identity

With the advancement in tech (hardware & software) and our knowledge of robotics and material science like nanotech, we shall increasingly rely on machines. Whether the development of AI will lead to self-awareness in machines, time will tell. Welcome, the Age of the Terminator. - Alik Khanna, Smart Analyst Inc. (business employing financial analysts in India); internet user since 1996

Barring interruption that does seem where we're headed. People are accepting more and more of this type of thing, though I continue to hope they will revolt against it. - Ralph Mueller, self-employed; internet user since 1977

There will still be generations living in 2020 who are not willing to give up so much control. It also takes a long time to prove autonomous technology for mission-critical applications. - Brian T. Nakamoto, Everyone.net (a leading provider of outsourced e-mail solutions for individuals and companies around the world); internet user since 1990

Although the political climate of the U.S. in particular appears to be shifting in this direction, in 2020 balancing voices will be heard that argue for moderation, limiting technological progress but preserving privacy and control. - Peter Kim, senior analyst, marketing strategy and technology team, Forrester Research; internet user since 1993

It is not really a binary choice. I do not believe that autonomous technology will be any different than other technologies like internal combustion, genetically modified organisms, or production agriculture in their likelihood of removing human control or creating unalterable, negative change. Like these examples, there will be benefits and challenges that individuals will have to deal with on a personal basis. The fears will be disproportionately covered, as is human nature. The real danger is in autonomous technology that stifles interdependence among humans. I believe that human interdependence is the characteristic of our species that enables us to evolve and adapt to challenges we cannot foresee. - Jeff Hammond, VP, Rhea and Kaiser; internet user since 1992

History has shown that as technology advances the abuse of that technology advances. History has also demonstrated that we do not control technology as much as we think we do. - Paul Craven, director of enterprise communications, U.S. Department of Labor; internet user since 1993

Not exactly in the way described. A kind of war between intelligence will come true: we will always have "people against" what is on, i.e., intelligence against the way things are at a certain moment. - Ivair Bigaran, Global Messenger Courier do Brasil, American Box Serviço Int'l S/C Ltda.; internet user since 1994

We have to be careful that we still maintain our rights defined in our Constitution. I am already uncomfortable with how much Big Brother is watching, thanks to technology. - Beth Gallaway, trainer/librarian/consultant, Metrowest MA Regional Library System; internet user since 1992

While intelligent agents and distributed control will replace much of the direct human input required today, the human element will never be totally replaced. While technology beyond our control may come frighteningly close to reality, machines will never be able to replace the human conscience. - Mitchell Kam, Willamette University, Oregon; internet user since 1979

Soon people with parts of the knowledge about these devices will be valued, like car mechanics of high-tech cars on a lesser scale. - Susan Wilhite, design anthropologist, Habitat for Humanity; internet user since 1993

The more autonomous agents the better. The steeper the "J curve" the better. Automation, including through autonomous agents, will help boost standards of living, freeing us from drudgery. - Rob Atkinson, director, Technology and New Economy Project, Progressive Policy Institute (a think tank); previously project director at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment; internet user since 1993

There may be some merit in the thought. However the rate of evolution required is far greater for a 2020 situation. - Syamant Sandhir, leader in experience design and implementation, Futurescape; internet user since 1995

We're there already. Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, said in 1999, "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it." - Nicco Mele, internet strategist, political web architecture expert

I agree that this is a risk, but not a certainty. UCSD Prof Natalie Jerimenko's idea of "legibility" and the "human readability" I call for in my story "Human Readable" both present plausible answers to this problem. It's possible that future commercial services, like search engines, that publicly expose their "secret sauce" sorting and ranking algorithms will out-compete their proprietary and secretive brethren. After all, science improves when you publish. - Cory Doctorow, self-employed journalist, blogger, co-editor of Boing Boing; born in Canada and now lives in London; EFF Fellow; internet user since 1987

This prediction is too pessimistic and not in keeping with North American and Western European political sensibilities. - Ellen K. Sullivan, former diplomat, policy fellow, George Mason University School of Public Policy; internet user since 1988

The use of standard decision-making software by stock market traders has already led to effects outside of what we planned or wanted. I don't fear robots looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger taking over the world, but unexpected and unwanted effects of distributed control are feasible. - Henry Potts, professor, University College, London; internet user since 1990

This is simply too far-fetched. - Mark Crowley, researcher, The Customer Respect Group; internet user since 1995

I think we're smarter than to let this happen. I think, I hope, we can use technology as a tool and not to cut human input out of the process. - Lori Keith, internet marketing consultant for Mannington Mills

This is a negative result but I can't see either the commercial or political forces yielding on this one with so much wealth and power at stake. - Jill O'Neill, director of planning & communication, National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services; internet user since 1986

I prefer to be optimistic on this one. There is a danger that some of those things will happen, but I think - at least in democratic states and regions - popular pressure and checks and balances will ensure that such developments are prevented. - Olav Anders Øvrebø, freelance journalist based in Oslo, Norway; internet user since 1995

This has already happened to some degree. But the combination of human/bureaucratic/governmental screw-ups and technological complexity will continue to produce bloated, under-performing uber-systems, and the NSA of the future will continue ineffectually spending mega-billions of dollars blindly screening communications traffic and surveillance data while turning up thousands of wasted false positives to every genuine hit. Only in small, well-demarcated areas will intelligent agents prove cost-effective. Some over-reaching system designs will become famous blunders and public jokes. - Walt Dickie, VP and CTO, C&R Research; internet user since 1992

These trends are already evident. Ironically, these trends are being escalated by those who tend to devalue science and science education in favor of anti-scientific and anti-technological fundamentalist religious curricula. - Benjamin Ben-Baruch, senior market intelligence consultant and applied sociologist, Aquent, General Motors, Eastern Michigan University; internet user since 1980

I'm not necessarily talking science fiction here, more like self-replicating, out-of-control viruses and DNS attacks that 1) lack author-derived backdoors, and 2) reproduce like minks. - Roger Scimé, self-employed web designer; internet user since 1994

Sensing and monitoring is already a problem intimidating many people. It will only get worse as more and more devices and programs have that built-in capability shoved down consumers or employees' throats. - Steffan Heuer, U.S. correspondent, brand eins Wirtschaftsmagazin; internet user since 1994

While this scenario clearly a danger, we don't yet understand how powerful fully-connected human beings can be. - Mary Ann Allison, chairman and chief cybernetics officer, The Allison Group, LLC; futurist; internet user since 1981

We are already here. It's a common theme from literature about technology for the past 150 years: unintended consequences, loss of control, dis-association of functionality from the real costs incurred by organic life. - Denzil Meyers, founder and president, Widgetwonder (internal branding consultants and facilitators of corporate storytelling), Applied Improvisation Network; internet user since 1993

In 2020, the big decision that each human being will make about their cultural alignment will not be "Windows or Mac," or "gay or straight," but "corporate or Open Source?" Corporate, proprietary systems and internets will provide better performance, ease-of-use, anticipatory agents, etc. However, corporate-system subscribers will be trading privacy and control for convenience and pop-culture inclusion. Open Source life will be for technological innovators, programmers, pamphleteer bloggers, artists, pornographers, content-creators, citizen journalists, political dissidents and hackers. Participants in Open Source culture will be fierce defenders of privacy, human rights and civil liberties. - Daniel Conover, new-media developer, Evening Post Publishing; internet user since 1994

These are two separate statements. I agree that we will be on the vertical part of a "J-curve" of continued acceleration of change, but I don't foresee that we will be so shortsighted as to completely lose control of the intelligent agents that we create and program. - Michelle Catlett, instructional technologist, Edubuilder, Apria Healthcare, Laureate Education; internet user since 1992

This sounds like the scenario of The Terminator movie. I don't believe that is a likely outcome (although entertaining for a movie). I suspect there will be more autonomous technology and most people will be as unaware of it as they are about the computer in their cars. It may replace some people from their jobs (as robots have on car assembly lines), but most people will just see the end product and not know the difference. - Rangi Keen, software engineer, Centric Software, internet user since 1989

The slippery slope of want of privacy plus want of security changes the balances and leaves open the possibility for abuse of the information (which will be tremendous) generated from surveillance, security and tracking systems. This also leads to more people trying to live "off the net" which leads to distrust of this group (what are they trying to hide?). Some of which may just be want of keeping privacy. - Chris Miller, a respondent who chose not to share his specific identity

Due to homeland security fear (and money) there will be way more development of sensors and surveillance tech, but it won't be "beyond our control." People will question the tradeoffs in ways they don't at present, i.e. they'll give up private info to join a contest or get a discount. - Steve Cisler, former senior library scientist for Apple, founder of the Association for Community Networking, now working on public-access projects in Guatemala, Ecuador and Uganda; internet user since 1989

How "intelligent" will these agents be is questionable, but the rise of automated surveillance without any real counterweights seems very likely. What does not imply that it will be impossible to reverse them like any other form of oppression. - Michel Menou, professor and information-science researcher; born in France, he has worked in nearly 80 nations; internet user since 1992

While I don't suffer from Pollyanna thinking, and I do recognize the nature of subtle control over the web by those with less than sterling character, I believe we will be able, and willing to create safeguards and public opinion mechanisms that will drive the internet to safe and humane standards without cutting our chance at creativity. - Walter J. Broadbent, VP, The Broadbent Group; internet user since 1994

I believe such technology will exist in some venues but not throughout the world and definitely not throughout society. There will be dangers and accidents that will result in deaths of some individuals and populations in some geographical regions where technological disasters occur. - James Conser, professor emeritus, Youngstown State University; internet user since 1985

Just read classic science fiction - it is "the history of our future," and I believe many of the issues related to automated systems will truly come to pass. - Gail Ives, executive director for institutional research, Mott Community College; internet user since 1985

The only reason I can agree with this is because of my first hand experience within the technology industry. In my experience, the people who write this code are so proud of their work--and they should be--that the rational, real-world checks and balances that should be implemented on their results fall into a second-class citizenry level of import. Until testing, bug fixing, user interfaces, usefulness and basic application by subject matter experts is given a higher priority than pure programmer skill, we are totally in danger of evolving into an out-of-control situation with autonomous technology. Look at the state of affairs today: what we needed to inform us about the September 11 attacks on the United States was not automated intelligence, it was field intelligence. More than four years later, field intelligence has not improved. - Elle Tracy, president and e-strategies consultant, The Results Group; internet user since 1993

I think that we need to strive to educate our people so that human input is involved in the oversight and accountability of automated systems. - Jeff Bohrer, learning technology consultant, University of Wisconsin-Madison; internet user since 1993

We are slowly learning that we ALL have to live together, that there aren't "others." So we will learn new ways of living together, rather than continue old habits of putting up barriers to protect ourselves from "others." - Cheris Kramarae, professor, Center for the Study of Women in Society, University of Oregon; internet user since 1976

Wherever it has become technically possible for the powerful to covertly increase their control over others, they have been eager to do so, and wherever the unscrupulous have learned the techniques, they have not hesitated to use them for criminal ends. The majority of humanity have no protection from such exploitation but the law. The lawmakers are too often unfamiliar with the technology and too ready to believe what the experts claim: that anything that can be done, should be done - regardless of social and ethical considerations - and the laws changed accordingly, rather than that the social goals and protections written into existing laws should be updated so as to also govern the use of new technologies. - Judyth Mermelstein, Canadian writer, professional communicator

Probable cause could take on a new meaning. Did "intelligent agents" have probable cause to freeze your accounts, call for your arrest, prevent you from travelling, turn off your car ignition, etc.? - Mike Parker, internet user since 1994

I think that the opportune decisions will be made so that this doesn't happen, overall in the societies more advanced technologically. For example, they are already seeing each other stock in this address from the governments in EU: studies, proposals and investments in development in new technologies have been recently published and approved by the European Commission. - Sabino M. Rodriguez, MC&S Services; internet user since 1994

If there is one thing that I think that history has shown us in this area is that very few individuals, organizations or governments are capable of visualizing the long-range results of changes in technology. Without the human capability of review, evaluation, decision-making, etc. autonomous technology could easily create problems that we can barely anticipate at this time. - Loretta Righter, librarian, Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library; internet user since 1995

HAL is alive and well. - Celia Bouchard, assistant professor, St. Louis Community College

A new field of study and academic training will emerge to specifically address the particular issue of identity, control, and security of communication technologies. Finding a balance between automaticity and human-interface-interaction will become an interest in research and in application. - Clement Chau, Research Assistant and Program Coordinator, Tufts University-Developmental Technologies Research Group; internet user since 1995

Doomsday predictions have always followed technological advancements and the web is no different. The human element will always be needed to make judgmental decisions, something computers are unlikely to be able to accomplish. - Doug Olenick, computer technology editor, TWICE (This Week In Consumer Electronics) Magazine; internet user since 1996

Technology can only serve mankind, it will never lead it. Certainly there will be opportunities for abuse, but the culture of technology development is fused with the rights of personal expression, and this alone will probably suffice to assure reasonable balances. - Al Amersdorfer, president and CEO, Automotive Internet Technologies; internet user since 1985

Ha ha, this is simply third grade science fiction. Dangers come much more subtle (read: less anthropomorphic) issues. - Mikkel Holm Sørensen, software and intelligence manager, Actics Ltd. (ethical management systems); internet user since 1997

The internet will evolve like other pathogenic systems; at some times the pathogens will hold the upper hand as they adopt to measures to counter them, and sometimes they will not. - Jeff Corman, government policy analyst, Industry Canada, Government of Canada; internet user since 1995

The structuring of the question leads the responder to consider AI issues etc. These are not a threat in my view. Dependency on technological solutions is a potential problem, as is seen nowadays whenever there is a power cut. It is this type of dependency that will increase. We will not be able to get into or out of our offices if the system fails, we will not be able to move from one place to another etc. I am not sure that we will be on a 'J-curve' any more than we have been for the last half century. The desire for convenience, for ease of use, for the removal of tedious, laborious tasks is - in my opinion - inherent in us as beings. As such we will continue to use and abuse technology to make our lives easier. The price for this is increased dependency on the technology. - Robin Lane, educator and philosopher, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; internet user since 1990

This is a wildcard since it involves so many interim political and social steps as well as technology development. Yes, converged applications of automated tech - such as face scans matched to databases - are already on the way and will be widespread before 2020. But depending on global poliltical developments, this Big Brother scenario could happen well before 2020... or much much later (if ever). Does 2084 sound like a century-late benchmark? - Gary Arlen, president, Arlen Communications Inc., The Alwyn Group LLC; internet user since 1982

The problem is not automated systems that resemble our behavioral patters - the problem is biomimetic systems that develop behavioral patterns of their own, which we cannot understand. If we leave surveillance to an adaptive AI, there will come a moment in which we won't understand the processes behind its efficiency. Then it will be a problem. But as long as surveillance, tracking and tagging are modeled after human behavior, and thus after human values, we do have issues but not unsolvable problems. - Miguel Sicart Vila, junior research associate, Information Ethics Group, Oxford University; internet user since 1997

Technology will certainly provide the means for this scenario to take place but... I'm optimistic that policy-makers in government will be able to craft the regulatory framework to prevent this from getting out of control. There will be bitter debates in the US between civil libertarians and technologists but in other countries and cultures there will be no debates. The only reason this scenario will not take place in many countries outside of the US will be the lack of technology infrastructure in LDC and 3rd-world countries. - Michael Conlin, former legislator, currently an entrepreneur; internet user since 1990

While potentially troublesome, I think that because of the sci-fi depictions of the impact that autonomous technology could have such as the most renowned example depicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL will certainly be managed by smart and "administratable" measures to avoid a logarithmic and uncontrollable set of circumstances. - Kevin McFall, director, Online Products & Affiliate Programs, Tribune Media Services, NextCast Media; internet user since 1984

The increased threat of terrorism, cyber-terrorism and financial security will drive new security and crypto systems. - Terry Ulaszewski, publisher, Long Beach Live Community News; internet user since 1989

This autonomous tech scenario is overstated. There will be many problems, but more will occur as a consequence of human choice and intervention than machines run amok. - Suzanne Stefanac, author and interactive media strategist, dispatchesfromblogistan.com; internet user since 1989

I hope to be wrong - but I believe the stampede towards such monitoring in the name of "security" now, creates an environment where autonomous technology seems a logical consequence. Now, with the emerging social consequences of even "harmless" technologies such as mobile phone cameras, we need to be very cautious about more even more intrusive technologies. - Jean-Pierre Calabretto, former professional now a Ph.D. student at University of South Australia; internet user since 1989

I suspect that we are already there. There are a couple of wild cards, however. 1) If the Pentagon report, which states that North America could be under ice by 2012, should come to pass then all of this may be a moot point. 2) incompetence in organizations is so high that, even if the technical components are in place, it may not happen. - Timbre' Wolf, songwriter and member of PG5YP (People's Glorious Five-Year Plan – a band in Oklahoma); internet user since 1994

Managing intelligent agents and distributed control will be a significant issue, but lessons learned from the stock market and other venues where AI is used remind administrators to build in controls. - Alix L. Paultre, executive editor, Hearst Business Media, Smartalix.com, Zep Tepi Publishing; internet user since 1996

Not a prediction it is a current reality. Do you know how your computer, cellphone or microwave work? - Gordon MacDiarmid, Lobo Internet Services; internet user since 1988

Are not we almost there? See NSF, Homeland Security, need to know. - Joe Schmitz, assistant professor, Western Illinois University; internet user since 1985

Autonomous systems will not become a serious problem until they are sophisticated enough to be conscious (and thus assert their own desires). As it stands now they simply tools - advanced tools, but tools nonetheless. True AI is still 50-100 years away. - Simon Woodside, CEO, Semacode Corporation, based in Ontario, Canada; internet user since 1992

Disagree in that we are already aware of these potential problems and will not allow the autonomous entities to dominate. The main fear I have here is the impact these restrictive governments will have on the freedom and flexibility of these networks. - Jim Aimone, director of network development, HTC; internet user since 2000

There is likely much truth to this, and a fair amount of the difficulty will arise out of the inaccuracy of these intelligent agents. - David Irons, VP, co-founder, AScribe Newswire; internet user since 1993

This is an extension of the current status. A suggestion for an XML standard for emergency deployments during Hurricane Katrina ignored the fact that there was no electricity, no Internet access, decreasing batteries, and no access to equipment that was swamped. Non-technical backups will become increasingly important - even as we keep forgetting about them. We will need to listen carefully to people on the ground to assess -and plan for - events in which we have no (or non-trustworthy) technology. - Gwynne Kostin, director of Web communications, U.S. Homeland Security; internet user since 1993


 

A project of the Elon University School of Communications
All rights reserved. Contact us at predictions@elon.edu