Imagining the Internet Project

The links on this page lead to thousands of forecasts about the networked future

This eight-part 2008 survey of technology experts and social analysts inspired thousands of intriguing predictive statements tied to eight compelling question sets about the state of things in 2020. Experts were asked what devices we will use to access the Internet and how we will connect, if social tolerance will be improved thanks to new ways of connection, if our work and home lives will be better, and how much influence virtual reality and augmented reality will have.

To see the report of results, click here to download a PDF of the official Pew Internet & American Life report on the 2008 Predictions Survey: content is available on this site at the links below.

In this web-based survey, 578 leading Internet activists, builders, and commentators and 618 additional stakeholders (1,196 respondents) were asked to assess thought-provoking proposed scenarios for the year 2020. The point of this non-random survey was to add focused input to the ongoing conversation about the future of the Internet; respondents' written elaborationsthe qualitative resultswere the most valuable data gathered by the study. Thus we have built this site with links to thousands of answers, with our thanks to the survey participants for contributing to this repository of thoughtful projective data.

Among the quantitative results from the expert group:

  • Some 77% said the mobile computing device (the smartphone) with more significant computing power will be 2020's primary global Internet-connection platform.
  • 64% favored the idea that 2020 user interfaces will offer advanced touch, talk and typing options and some added a fourth "T" - think.
  • Nearly four out of five respondents (78%) said the original Internet architecture will not be completely replaced by a next-generation 'net by 2020.
  • Three out of five respondents (60%) disagreed with the idea that legislatures, courts, the technology industry, and media companies will exercise effective intellectual property control by 2020.
  • A majority—56%—agreed that in 2020 "few lines (will) divide professional from personal time, and that's OK."
  • 56% said while Web 2.0 is bringing some people closer, social tolerance will not be heightened by our new connections
  • 45% agreed and 44% disagreed with the notion that the greater transparency of people and institutions afforded by the Internet will heighten individual integrity and forgiveness.
  • More than half (55%) agreed that many lives will be touched in 2020 by virtual worlds, mirror worlds, and augmented reality, while 45% disagreed or did not answer the question.
12 more links: To read report content with added supplemental information not contained in the official reportincluding a large selection of the thousands of fascinating written responses by Internet stakeholders to each of the survey's scenarioslook at the listing below and click on a topic of interest to you. Included are biographies of some respondents and the news release explaining this project. All scenarios are set in 2020.

Scenario One: The evolution of mobile Internet communications
Survey participants were asked to respond to the following scenario: The mobile phone is the primary connection tool for most people in the world. In 2020, while "one laptop per child" and other initiatives to bring networked digital communications to everyone are successful on many levels, the mobile phone—now with significant computing power—is the primary Internet connection and the only one for a majority of the people across the world, providing information in a portable, well-connected form at a relatively low price. Telephony is offered under a set of universal standards and protocols accepted by most operators internationally, making for reasonably effortless movement from one part of the world to another. At this point, the "bottom" three-quarters of the world's population account for at least 50% of all people with Internet access—up from 30% in 2007.

Scenario Two: The Internet and the evolution of social tolerance
Survey participants were asked to respond to the following scenario: Social tolerance has advanced significantly due in great part to the Internet. In 2020, people are more tolerant than they are today, thanks to wider exposure to others and their views that has been brought about by the Internet and other information and communication technologies. The greater tolerance shows up in several metrics, including declining levels of violence, lower levels of sectarian strife, and reduced incidence of overt acts of bigotry and hate crimes.

Scenario Three: The evolution of IP law and copyright protection
Survey participants were asked to respond to the following scenario: Content control through copyright-protection technology dominates. In 2020, strict content controls are in place thanks to the efforts of legislatures, courts, the technology industry, and media companies. Those who use copyrighted materials are automatically billed by content owners, and Internet service providers automatically notify authorities when they identify clients who try to subvert this system. Protesters rarely prevail when they make claims that this interferes with free speech and stifles innovation.

Scenario Four: The evolution of privacy, transparency, integrity, and forgiveness 
Survey participants were asked to respond to the following scenario: Transparency heightens individual integrity and forgiveness. In 2020, people are even more open to sharing personal information, opinions, and emotions than they are now. The public’s notion of privacy has changed. People are generally comfortable exchanging the benefits of anonymity for the benefits they perceive in the data being shared by other people and organizations. As people’s lives have become more transparent, they have become more responsible for their own actions and more forgiving of the sometimes-unethical pasts of others. Being "outed" for some past indiscretion in a YouTube video or other pervasive-media form no longer does as much damage as it did back in the first decade of the 21st Century. Carefully investigated reputation corrections and clarifications are a popular daily feature of major media outlets’ online sites.

Scenario Five: The evolution of augmented reality and virtual reality  Survey participants were asked to respond to the following scenario: Many lives are touched by the use of augmented reality or spent interacting in artificial spaces. In 2020, virtual worlds, mirror worlds, and augmented reality are popular network formats, thanks to the rapid evolution of natural, intuitive technology interfaces and personalized information overlays. To be fully connected, advanced organizations and individuals must have a presence in the "metaverse" and/or the "geoWeb." Most well-equipped Internet users will spend some part of their waking hours—at work and at play—at least partially linked to augmentations of the real world or alternate worlds. This lifestyle involves seamless transitions between artificial reality, virtual reality, and the status formerly known as "real life."

Scenario Six: The evolution of the Internet user interface
Survey participants were asked to respond to the following scenario: In 2020, the most commonly used communications appliances prominently feature built-in voice-recognition. People have adjusted to hearing individuals dictating information in public to their computing devices. In addition technologies based on touch feedback have been fully developed, so, for instance, a small handheld Internet appliance allows you to display and use a full-size virtual keyboard on any flat surface for those moments when you would prefer not to talk aloud to your networked computer. It is common to see people "air-typing" as they interface with the projection of a networked keyboard visible only to them.

Scenario Seven: The evolution of the architecture of the Internet  Survey participants were asked to respond to the following scenario: Next-generation research will be used to improve the current Internet; it won’t replace it. In 2020, the original Internet architecture is in the continuing process of refinement – it hasn’t been replaced by a completely new system. Research into network innovation, with help from the continued acceleration of technologies used to build, maintain, enhance, and enlarge the system, has yielded many improvements. Search, security, and reliability on the Internet are easier and more refined, but those who want to commit crimes and mischief are still able to cause trouble.

Scenario Eight: The evolving concept of time for work and leisure
Survey participants were asked to respond to the following scenario:
Few lines divide professional time from personal time, and that’s OK. In 2020, well-connected knowledge workers in more-developed nations have willingly eliminated the industrial-age boundaries between work hours and personal time. Outside of formally scheduled activities, work and play are seamlessly integrated in most of these workers’ lives. This is a net-positive for people. They blend personal/professional duties wherever they happen to be when they are called upon to perform them—from their homes, the gym, the mall, a library, and possibly even their company’s communal meeting space, which may exist in a new virtual-reality format.

Research Directions: What do you want to know?
Survey participants were asked the following question:
We consider these surveys to be a conversation with technology policy makers and leaders; we would like to know what you would like to know about the Internet and related technologies. What key research questions about the direction of technological change and about the impact of the Internet would you like to see addressed by organizations such as the Pew Internet Project? What should we be measuring? What research questions should we address in future surveys of Internet experts and leaders? Are there some critical uncertainties about Internet evolution in your field of expertise that we should position ourselves to monitor?

> Use this link to download the full report in PDF format.

> Use this link to read the 2008 Future of the Internet Survey news release in PDF format.

> Use this link to read brief biographies of hundreds of key survey respondents.

Participants in the survey were presented with eight possible 2020 scenarios and asked to select if they "mostly agree" or "mostly disagree" with each; this was followed by a request for them to elaborate on their answers. The scenarios – woven from data collected in recent industry and research reports and predictive public statements by leaders in science, technology, business, and politics – were constructed with overlapping elements to spur discussion and an illumination of issues. The agree-disagree aspects of the survey yielded useful quantitative numbers; the respondents' elaborations attached to each answer yielded significant qualitative information, adding many more predictions to the Imagining the Internet site.

A savvy, international sample was sought for the survey. Nearly half of the respondents are Internet pioneers who were online before 1993, and many of the respondents are involved with Internet leadership organizations such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the Internet Society, and the Multistakeholder Advisory Group for the Internet Governance Forum. About one fourth of the respondents said they live in a part of the world other than North America. A sampling of the workplaces of respondents includes the World Bank, Booz Allen Hamilton, AT&T Labs, VeriSign, Cisco, Google, BBN Technologies, Fing, Yahoo Japan, France Telecom, the International Telecommunication Union, Alcatel-Lucent, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, GLOCOM, AfriNIC, Electronic Privacy Information Center, APNIC, Universiteit Maastricht, Amnesty International, BBC, PBS, IBM, Microsoft, Forrester Research, Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Open Society Institute, Open the Future, Yahoo, First Semantic, CNET, Microsoft, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, IDG, FCC, Institute for the Future, 1&1 Internet AG, Moody’s, HP Laboratories,, Gannett, Lexis/Nexis, Tucows, InternetNZ, ICANN, Oxford Internet Institute and many other top groups.