Imagining the Internet Project

  Responses to this 2020 scenario were assembled from Internet stakeholders in the2008 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Predictions Survey. Participants were encouraged to provide a written elaboration to explain their answers. Some respondents chose to identify themselves; many did not. We share some—not all—of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents who shared their identity are attributed only for the purpose of indicating a level of expertise; statements reflect personal views. If you would like to participate in the next survey, mail andersj [at] elon dotedu; include information on your expertise.  

Scenario Seven:
The Evolution of the
Architecture of the Internet

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 In 2020, the original Internet architecture is in the continuing process of refinement – it hasn’t been replaced by a completely new system.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.

Compiled reactions from the 1,196 respondents:
80% Mostly agreed
6% Mostly disagreed
14% Did not respond

Expert respondents' reactions (N=578)
78% Mostly agreed
6% Mostly disagreed
16% Did not respond

Overview of Respondents' Reactions
Internet evolution will continue; there will be significant enhancements and updates; a "new" system will not "replace" the current architecture; transformations will occur gradually. IPv6 and the Semantic Web will be part of this continuing development of the system. By 2020 more-specific "walled gardens" may be created to maintain network control and for various other reasons; there may be split networks or partitions. Governments and corporations are expected to leverage security fears to retain power over individuals. Every system generates unintended consequences—the more you have to gain, the more you have to lose—crime, piracy, terror, and other negatives will always be elements in an open system.

Below are select responses from survey participants who agreed to be identified with their statements.
This is not the full extent of responses. To see more, read the report PDF, and to read reactions from anonymous participants responding to this question, please click here.

Refinement and layer improvements as a development and complement to the current public Internet is definitely the way of the future... More of an Evolution than a Revolution :-) And like any other piece of life, bad things will be attempted by bad people but they should be a recognized and risk-managed minority... –Cheryl Langdon-Orr, a leader in the Internet Society, ICANN and ALAC (At-Large); a board member of AUDA, the group in charge of Australian Domain Name registration

Second only to the telephone system, which it is already replacing, the Net has the largest installed base in the world. Furthermore, even if a better system exists in the lab, it would have to increase the freedom of the individual, relative to today's net (a trivial re-statement of “better”), and now that the world's governments and IP-based businesses understand the Net, they would never allow that to happen. The Net we have today isn't the best Net imaginable, in other words, but conserved behavior of both users and opponents both make it the best Net possible. –Clay Shirky, consultant and professor in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University; an expert on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies

Privacy is vanishing and will continue to vanish with the next-generation Internet. Even today, governments and private companies know much about us and our every transaction-speaking, writing, spending, saving, etc. As we refine technology to reduce abuse by cyber criminals we also will have to be more vigilant about misuse of our private information by governments and large corporations. I am hopeful that we can increase personal integrity and ethics such that abuse will not occur because of personal moral ethics, even as ability to abuse becomes easier. –Ed Lyell, professor of business and economics, Adams State College, Regis University, San Luis Valley Board of Educational Services; pioneer in issues regarding Internet and education

The Internet of 2020 will not be uniform, but graded in terms of capability, oversight, privacy, etc., and these grades of service will be priced accordingly. –Oscar Gandy, author, activist, retired emeritus professor of communication, University of Pennsylvania

The Bible may have been the first printed book, but Rabelais' ribald fictions established the publishing market. –Michael Botein, professor of law and founding director of the Media Center at New York University Law School; consultant to the FCC

The legacy/inertia of the current model seems sufficient to slow any shift over to “Internet 2.” –Jamais Cascio, originator of Open the Future, also works with the Institute for the Future, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and Worldchanging

Criminals are more intelligent than the innovators. –Lutfor Rahman, chairman of the department of computer science, Stamford University, Bangladesh; leader of the Association for Advancement of Information Technology

As technical capabilities increase, new formats, standards, and functions will be layered into the existing Internet. Vast swaths of functionality will be layered on top of existing aspects of the framework, similar to the way that the Web was deployed on top of the existing network, alongside Gopherspace. There will be a “new Internet” and “old Internet” running on the same network, similar to the way a city has an old quarter and a new quarter, all sitting on top of a shiny, new subway system and a 100-year-old sewage system. –Ross Rader, director of retail services, Tucows Inc.; works with ICANN in the Registrars Constituency, part of the GNSO (Generic Names Supporting Organization)

At all times the legacy investment in existing technology forces a slow pace of change—the world cannot afford a quantum leap across the globe. –Adrian Schofield, manager of the applied research unit, Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, South Africa; leader in the World Information Technology and Services Alliance

If there is a radical departure from the current Internet, it will come from an unexpected source and most certainly not from the NSF program. History never repeats itself. TCP/IP succeeded because of a number of historical contingencies that cannot be reproduced. –Milton Mueller, professor, Syracuse University and Technology University of Delft; expert on Internet governance, technology policy; active in ICANN’s Non-Commercial User’s Constituency

There is too much invested in the current infrastructure that brings Internet access, and it is too pervasive, to be replaced. It will be upgraded, differentially, over the long haul. –Steve Jones, professor of communication and associate dean of liberal arts and sciences, University of Illinois-Chicago, co-founder of Association of Internet Researchers

Cultures, people, and thereby their use of technologies are more conservative than revolutionary (for better or worse).  We're still stuck with exposed power lines, despite the disasters that trees and ice storms can bring because it's too expensive, the argument goes, to move to buried lines. By the same token, at least in the US, I don't think people will prefer an enhanced version of the current Internet over a potentially revolutionary replacement for the important political and ethical reasons mentioned but simply for economic ones: it'll be cheaper, and certainly we can't count on a state-supported system to subsidize any changes by very much. The situation in Europe may well be different, given the much stronger role of the state as a co-player in these sorts of initiatives (see, e.g., Niels Ole Finnemann's analysis of the importance of the state in the Nordic countries in establishing and expanding the needed infrastructure for the Net). Finally, no technology has even been proof against bad actors. While technological instrumentalism (“a tool is just a tool”) is certainly false and misleading, it's nonetheless correct to say that hammers and screwdrivers can be used to build useful and beautiful artifacts: they can also be used to kill people. So, I think we'll do what we've been doing for millennia—muddle through as best we can! The optimistic part is, that usually seems to work (e.g., no nuclear wars, so far, at least). –Charles Ess, a professor of philosophy and religion and researcher on online culture and ethics, Drury University (Springfield, MO), and active leader of the Association of Internet Researchers

There will be a way to improve the actual applications but not replace them. The misuse of the Internet should be heavily penalized. The implementation of an identity-management system and an accurate global jurisdiction will help locate the harm-doer and impose a pre-defined sanctions. –Hanane Boujemi, ICT researcher for DiploFoundation, working on educating people about Internet policy and Internet governance, Malta

The need by communities and individuals to use the Internet to solve local problems will generate resistance to any efforts to privatize the high-bandwidth Net. –Cliff Figallo, social innovator and original member of the first online community – The WELL, now of; expert in fitting and implementing social Web applications to groups

The Internet itself was built on earlier work, so it's not likely something radical happens to erase the Internet of today to replace it with something new. Even efforts at a new architecture will build on what we have today, and even if the temptation to announce a “new Internet” comes, people will see beyond the hype and know that new things are often a recreation of old platforms. Fortunately, if a new Internet is created, this comment will go with the old one and I won't be caught saying this :) –Gbenga Sesan, Internet for development consultant, Paradigm Initiative, Nigeria; his work is tied to the use of ICT’s in socioeconomic transformation, focusing on underserved groups

In the same way that transportation has many varied paths (rail, road, boat, air, etc), the Internet will have many channels or “styles” for network architecture—context will mean everything. –Michele Perras, artist, consultant, researcher, and futurist with Interactive Ontario

This seems obviously true, with the caveat that the most sophisticated technologies, interfaces, and protocols will be shifted to the fastest part of the Internet (fiber to the computer, quantum computing), and older technologies will poke along on the current infrastructure. And of course, your ability to pay will predict how much time you get to spend on each system. –Peter Eckart, director of health information technology, Illinois Public Health Institute

The idea that anyone could create a network that no one could hack, phish, spam, or otherwise vandalize seems rather silly. If one person can figure out how to create a network, another, sufficiently motivated, person can figure out how to hack it. The current Internet will be improved and refined, and we will see development of security protocols that are harder to hack. For instance, I foresee greater use of biometric technology in transactions involving the transfer of money from one party to another such that having someone's credit card number, for instance, would be virtually worthless. –Janet Snowhill, automated system coordinator, Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Service

No matter how good the security and reliability of the Internet improves in 2020, there will always be vulnerabilities, and cybercriminals will find a way to exploit them, cause technical damage to the architecture, as well as economic harm to individuals. –Cristos Velasco, director general of North American Consumer Project on E-Commerce; Mexico-based attorney and active in the Internet Governance Forum and Internet Society

The Internet cannot be “replaced” by something different (which would also involve disruption of a vital context of life)—it will be developed... –Norbert Klein, member of ICANN’s GNSO Council and Internet Society leader who works with Open Institute Cambodia, a company whose primary focus is on information

This sounds about right, a balancing act between security and search on reliable platforms and applications with open development of tools; and some will be bent on creating viruses and causing trouble. Joanna Sharpe, senior marketing manager, Microsoft

Unfortunately, there are just as many great scientific minds on the wrong side of the law. –Janie Graziani, manager of new media and technology for the American Automobile Association

[The Internet will be] more of the same with bigger stakes and more complexity. –Richard Hall, professor of information science and technology and co-director of the Laboratory for Information Technology Evaluation, Missouri University of Science and Technology

The Internet will continue to wrestle with these problems, and we will see the rise of more walled gardens, and privately-owned-and-controlled networks, in part as a way of governing against spam and other security issues. Like AOL, Compuserve, and other early ISPs, these will run in tandem with the existing Internet, possibly built on its infrastructure, and possibly on privately-held wireless infrastructure. –Alexander Halavais, professor and social informatics researcher, Quinnipiac University; explores the ways in which social computing influences society

It is almost impossible to stop governments and powerful corporations from eventually controlling the Internet in ways that consolidate their power and/or improve their profits. Viruses, spam and the like will provide the perfect excuse for these organizations to successfully convince most people that a more-controlled Internet is in their best interest despite the opposite being true. –Christian Ferris, Washington University

There will always be crime. –Julian Hopkins, social scientist and Ph.D. candidate at Monash University, Malaysia

One word: IPv6 (i.e, the replacement for the addressing system, which hasn't replaced the old system, and is only slowly coming into use). –Seth Finkelstein, anti-censorship activist and programmer, author of the Infothought blog and an EFF Pioneer Award winner

The current Internet architecture is so pervasive, that incrementalism is the only possible solution. –Bill St. Arnaud, chief research officer, CANARIE Inc., an industry-government consortium that promotes and develops information-highway technologies in Canada; active in Internet2

Another scenario (the second so far) that comes quite close to my own prediction. –Rollie Cole, director of technology policy, Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank headquartered in Indianapolis, IN

The only thing higher walls do is make committed people who want to get over them climb higher. –Sam Smith, Web interface developer, University of Manchester, UK

Any “new” network technology will have to be incrementally deployable and yield clear benefits as it's incrementally deployed. –Brough Turner, chief technology officer and co-founder of NMS Communications; oversees evolution of technology and product architectures

There will be complementary Internets that will increase the digital gap. The Internet2 will have the latest technologies and improvements, and entities which are only connected to the historical network will be excluded. –Rafik Dammak, software engineer, STMicroelectronics, Tunisia; DiploFoundation participant in the study of Internet

It is very rare for new information technologies to completely replace older technologies. Typically, the newer technologies build upon and supplement older technologies. The same should be true for the next-generation Internet building upon the current Internet. –Gary Kreps, chair of the department of communication, George Mason University; formerly founding chief of the health communication and informatics branch of the National Cancer Institute

Depends on what you want to accomplish. Systems will have to evolve to distinguish which kind of “actor” is involved in each transaction. –Greg Laudeman, utilization catalyst and facilitator, community technology specialist, Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute

Replacing the Internet would require too much capital. Also, governments are not creativity organizations. This needs to be left to industry and industry will be hesitant to change. –Todd Wagner, health economist, Health Economics Resource Center, Palo Alto, part of the US Veterans Administration; also involved with the Center for Healthcare Evaluation

Those of us whose livelihood depends on the Net are annoyed, nay angered, at the time wasted on deleting spam, creating spam filters, etc. However, I am a realist. There are too many people out there with too much time on their hands and they will always figure a way to hack the Net faster and better than our experts can design ways to stop them. –Judith Siess, president of Information Bridges International Inc. and publisher and editor of the One-Person Library newsletter, author and blogger

2020 is only 12 years away. We'll still be coming out of this year's recession and the payback for the Iraq War. So who's paying for this? Nice idea, no surprise; programmers always argue for reprogramming from the bottom up. Good luck with that. –Karen G. Schneider, research and development College Center for Library Automation, Tallahassee, Florida; expert and thought-leader in the library and technology community

It is impossible to say today if we will see an evolution of Internet or a next Internet. We need to work on the two issues. –Sebastien Bachollet, president of the Internet Society of France, operates the European Global Event on domain Names and Address systems, known as EGENI, active participant in ICANN

The Internet we have will be extended, but not replaced. Think of the roads in our country. They rarely get replaced, simply improved. There's not enough money, will, or need to make a new Internet. Plus, there are strong special interests that wouldn’t WANT that, since their business is built around providing security and responding to threats. And the concept that some governmental/business body that could create an unhackable, unexploitable Web is laughable. Even if a site was somehow unhackable, that simply doesn’t address the corruptability of humans. We're suffering from the fallout of governments like Russia, with nuclear secrets leaking to nations with money and a desire to be nuclear superpowers. –Buddy Scalera, vice president for interactive content and market research for CommonHealth Qi, in charge of interactive online strategies, including social and viral marketing

The more technology changes, the more it stays in concept the same. –Stan Felder, president and chief executive officer, Felder Communications, a marketing and advertising firm in Grand Rapids, MI

It would be more costly to try to improve current infrastructure than to build a new one, much in the same way that it is less costly to build a new physical structure than to try to remodel an existing structure while you are trying to live and/or work in the present one. It only creates more expense and waste as you try to accommodate the users. –Debbie Murray, associate director, health education through extension, University of Kentucky

The scenario pictured here seems very plausible. The very assumption that the Internet could be “cleaned of terrorism” is inadequate because the Internet is primarily a communications medium. Just as telephone lines cannot be cleaned of terrorism, neither can the Internet. As for the other issues ranging from spam to phishing to viruses, the development will continue as it has so far: New challenges will arise all the time, defense mechanisms will evolve to counter and master those challenges. In a continuous process, the Web infrastructure will mature and evolve. –Peter Bihr, freelance consultant on Web strategies, communities, blogging and social media based in Berlin, Germany

Corporations and governments still will be wrestling with how to adapt to the common-man's technology. Corporations mostly will benefit by internalizing technology to create efficiencies of production and service. They will not have mastered how to adapt technology to a customer interface. If anything, a corporation's customer will become more independent and elusive for the corporation. Any corporate attempt to benefit by the collection of personal data will remain flawed. Government, however, will still be trying to figure out what all the x's and o's mean. Like the soon-to-be divorce, government will be the last to know. –Eric James, a respondent who chose not to share any other personal information

An evolution scenario is much more credible than a “revolution” scenario. –João Miguel Rocha Filho, director, DataOne, a provider of software for connecting to Linux; based in Brazil

We add new highways to the current system of interstate travel because it makes economic sense or due to safety issuessame for the Internet. And just like our highways, some will still use the Internet (any Internet, current or future versions) to traffic illegal goods or activities. I would hope that there is a multinational patrol force to help police the Internet in the future. –Teresa Hartman, associate professor and head of education, University of Nebraska Medical Center

In the history of communication technologies, new technologies provide new opportunities to innovate, but they also create new opportunities for fraud. Writing leads to genres like history and the essay, as well as the letter and the contract, but it also permits forgery. Printing too allowed the recreation of traditional documents and the creation of new kinds of writing: from the novel to the newspaper to paper money, but it too provided space for criminals and jokesters to trick or swindle us. So it's no surprise that the same thing happens with digitizing and the Internet. As we develop new ways to authentic online docs, cheaters develop new ways to circumvent our controls. The spiral will continue, and who's to say that a new, from-the-ground-up Internet, will be unhackable? As in, remember the Titanic? –Dennis Baron, professor of English and linguistics, University of Illinois, runs the Web of Language site and researches the technologies of communication

Enhancement of present infrastructure is more likely than replacement, but it will only occur if a government administration is willing to support telecommunications companies by partially funding the overhaul, and more importantly, forcing them to follow-through, as they've already received $200 billion in public funding to provide fiber optic to every home, and have never done so. –Jay Neely, social strategist in the process of founding News Armada, a Boston-based company working to advance Internet-based news and commentary and community online

The current Internet will become so full of spam and so infested with bots and malware that it will be almost unusable. Efforts to clean things up will fail and a new architecture will have to be developed. –John Jobst, IT specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The current-generation Internet is still being deployed. IPv6 has yet to take off. Bandwidth is still limited. It seems that the spam problem can be addressed, however, by 2020 (barring the use of quantum computing for spam). –Brian T. Nakamoto, co-founder of MrJoy Inc. and product-line manager for, (a leading provider of outsourced e-mail solutions for individuals and companies around the world)

A complete replacement would seem to be a power grab, and the opposing out-cry would be too loud and far-reaching to ignore. –Woody Degan, chief executive officer and operations director, Memphis Sound Entertainment; Consumer First Consulting, IT Consulting

Just as the width of modern railroads are based on the separation between the wheels of Roman ox carts, certain aspects of the basic structure of the original Internet will continue to underlie the Internet of the future: The need to maintain backward compatibility will ensure that this is the case. –David F. Salisbury, associate director for science and research communications, Vanderbilt University; formerly science and technology reporter for The Christian Science Monitor

By 2020 the next generations of search, security, and reliability will be much stronger and we'll look back at the ways things are now in 2007 like it's the old black telephone with a megaphone mounted on an oak box on the wall with a town gossip switchboard operator connecting us...not quite tin cans, but almost! –Christopher Brown, strategist and managing editor of new media for the U.S. television program “America’s Most Wanted” on FOX

Whether or not there is a next-generation Internet, there will always be ways of causing trouble...and, for this disruptive factor, we should be grateful. It pushes humans to grow in important directions. –Mary Ann Allison, principal, The Allison Group, has worked with Microsoft, Glasgow’s Urban Learning Space, and other businesses, governments and NGOs

This is prediction of non-progress. But for someone who recalls Gopher, Archie and BBS posts, the Internet is not all that different today. Graphics and GUI aside, the underlying architecture is relatively constant. –Richard Fowler, auditor specialist, Northrop Grumman

The underbelly will continue to grow and the scum and villainy found there will expand to fill the available space. At the same time the speeds will be increasing and the ability of constructive people to produce usable product will continue to increase. Replacing the Internet is not a good idea. Anything put up in its place WILL suffer from regulation and corporate interference and kill any innovation that might grow from the improved technology. –Eric Kreider, director of Web services, the University of Akron (Ohio), US

While I am not in favor of cybercrime per se, I am also not in favor of someone else defining it for me and labeling agitators as criminals. –Alex Don, linguist and educator

This continual process of refinement is in the best interests of the Internet. Crimes and mischief will cause their troubles but will not thwart the revolution in connected intelligence that the Internet has become. –Barry K. Chudakov, principal, the Chudakov Company, a marketing and advertising strategies creative consultant who has worked with many major corporations, including Microsoft and Disney

Older people will be joking about the Internet connectivity like the do know about party lines and three-digit phone numbers. –Robert Grant, chief executive officer, VoyaCare Inc

Like ancient cities built on top of older ones in the same location, it's not always an immediate transition. –Hank Dearden, director of business development, Digital Industry Inc., a provider of technology services in the Washington, DC, area

The rate of organic evolution in the Internet will continue at a high rate. Wholesale replacement will only occur under government fiat (think China), and will probably be killed by its extraordinarily and unavoidably high development and install cost. –Jim Lucas, Web manager, CACI, a provider of national security, defense, and intelligence-related solutions in the interests of the United States

As the move towards more online commerce continues, there will be more motivation for hacking and cyber crimes. –Kathryn K. Goldfarb, president, KG Communications, an independent consultancy

The issue is backward compatibility. Better technology causes disruptions. Government and corporations will have to learn that can't legislate backward compatibility. Here's a quote: “Standards should be discovered, not decreed,” from a computer scientist explaining why TCP/IP crushed OIS, as described in the book "Where Wizards Stay Up Late—Origins of the Internet.” –Dick Davies, partner, Project Management and Control Inc.; past president of the Association of Information Technology Professionals

One simple factoid, attributed to FCC member Kevin Martin:  YouTube in 2008 takes up as much bandwidth as was used by the entire Internet in 2000. Net packing and P2P sharing and technology will only do so much before the pipes become clogged. Alternatives, such as broadband over power lines and Internet2 and over-the-air digital signals will be needed to satisfy demand. Just as the Interstate Highway system was created to supplement and clogged state and federal roads even though the state and federal roads continue to be able to handle much of the traffic. –Michael Castengera, senior lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Grady College and president of Media Strategies and Tactics Inc., a media-consulting firm

Like the switchover from analog TV to digital TV, the migration from the current Internet to a “new generation” version will take a very long time because it has to satisfy (and not harm) so many different sectors. The vested interests in the current system will stand for gradual improvements to it, but it is quite difficult to imagine a radically-different system which would take a quantum leap into a whole new world of communication. That day will come, surely; but not likely by 2020. –Fredric M. Litto, consultant for Pearson Education Global e-Learning, president, Brazil Distance-Learning Association