Elon University

Future of Digital Life Canvassings

We ask the experts: How will the accelerating impact of people’s uses of digital communications networks change our lives and our world?

Researchers at Elon University and the Pew Research Internet & Technology Project have invited experts to opt-in canvassings in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and once or twice annually from 2016-2023, asking them to share their expectations for humans and the digital future based on trends at the time. Respondents are offered a series of questions or a set of scenarios with which they can choose to agree or disagree, and they are asked to elaborate on their remarks in written responses that provide insights into challenges and opportunities of the digital future at the time of each study. The links below will lead you to data from these canvassings. Each data set includes each official Pew-Elon report, plus an exclusive look at every answer submitted. We have collected tens of thousands of quotable predictions shared by respondents about the challenges and opportunities of digital evolution in the 2000s.

Future of Digital Life XIV and XV – reports released 2022, 2023

In 2022/2023 Elon University and Pew Research released two reports for which innovators, technologists, analysts and professionals assessed trends and imagined the future, sharing thousands of insightful predictions that identify challenges and illuminate hopes. The first, “The Metaverse in 2040,” released June 30, 2022, illuminates more than 600 experts’ thoughts about how extended-reality tools – AR, MR and VR – and “the metaverse” might evolve between 2022 and 2040 and what that might mean for society. The second report, released February 24, 2023, examines experts’ views on “The Future of Human Agency” by 2035, as AI-driven systems and applications take over more and more decisions in all aspects of daily life.

Future of Digital Life XIII – reports released 2021, 2022 

In 2021 and early 2022 Elon University and Pew Research released two reports that reveal insights from a summer 2021 canvassing of digital innovators, technologists, analysts and professionals in which they considered the ways in which activities in online forums such as social media platforms have begun to be seen as somewhat damaging to democracy and the fabric of society. They were asked if there will be significant improvement by 2035. The first of two reports on this topic, “The Future of Digital Spaces and Their Role in Democracy,” released November 22, 2021, contains insights as to the forces at play, along with suggested solutions. A second report, “Visions of the Internet in 2035,” released Feb. 7, 2022, shares these same respondents’ hopes for the “better world online” they’d like to see 2035: their predictions for how it might look if their imagining of an improved online realm – better designed with better human behavior and improved, humanity-forward tech – come to be realized and what that might mean for the world.

Future of Digital Life XII – reports released 2021

Earlier in 2021 Elon University and Pew Research released two reports based on a midsummer 2020 canvassing in which experts were asked two questions: one on overall quality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic and one on the development of ethical AI design. The first report, “The New Normal for 2025 Will Be More Tech-Driven, With More Big Challenges,” released February 18, contained their predictions for digital life in 2025, in the wake of the arrival of the global pandemic, and their hopes and worries as they imagined the future. The second report, “What is the Future of Ethical AI Design,” released June 16, 2021, analyzes the same respondents’ thoughts about the possibilities for the effective development of ethical design of artificial intelligence by 2030. At the time of this canvassing AI was still in its early days but its influence was already raising considerable concerns along with high hopes for amazing advances for humanity.

Future of Digital Life XI – reports released 2020

Accelerating technological change plus the further development of highly complex networks of global software and hardware and an accompanying digital disruption of economic systems clearly began to be a proven threat to democracy in the second decade of the 2000s. In 2020 Elon University and Pew Research released three reports in which innovators, technologists, analysts and professionals assessed trends and imagined the future, sharing thousands of insightful responses that identify challenges and illuminate hopes. Two reports were tied to our 11th canvassing of experts since the early 2000s. It asked participants to share their thoughts in answer to two series of questions. The first series probed their perspectives on “The Future of Democracy in the Digital Age.” The second asked them to consider “The Future of Social and Civic Innovation.” The third report, “2020 Digital Life: Predictions in Retrospect,” consists of a handful of experts’ circa-2020 viewpoints of some predictions the experts were making between 2005 and 2011 about what digital life might be like in 2020.

Future of Digital Life X – reports 2018, 2019

Digital life is augmenting human capacities and disrupting eons-old human activities. Code-driven systems have spread to more than half of the world’s inhabitants in ambient information and connectivity, offering previously unimagined opportunities and unprecedented threats. Two major reports and a smaller sidebar report were released by Elon and Pew in 2018-2019. The first, “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans,” included responses to the query, “As emerging algorithm-driven artificial intelligence (AI) continues to spread, will people be better off by 2030?” Some 979 technology pioneers, innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists answered this question. This canvassing was woven into a 122-page December 10, 2018, report based on hundreds of pages of responses from expert respondents. Respondents said the rise of AI will bring benefits and even save lives, but many expressed concerns about how AI will affect what it means to be human, to be productive and to exercise free will. The second report includes experts’ responses when asked to consider the past 50 years of digital life and offer opinions about the likely evolution of humans and networked technologies over the next 50 years. Their remarks are contained in the 127-page report “The Next 50 Years of Digital Life,” an analysis of their responses that was released Oct. 28, 2019. More than 500 of the experts canvassed responded to this question set, which asked them to consider the present and future set in the context the 50th anniversary of the first host-to-host connection of the ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, on Oct. 29, 1969. A smaller, third report, “What will historians’ verdict be 50 years from now about the internet’s impact today on people’s social, economic and political lives?” was released in December 2019. It included hundreds of insightful remarks well worth a read.

Future of Digital Life IX – Spring 2018

Several questions about the impacts of digital life on individuals’ well-being were answered by 1,150 respondents from mid-December 2017 to mid-January 2018. This canvassing yielded a concise 86-page report and a fuller 272-page report based on 444 pages of written elaborations that contain thousands of predictive statements. The reports were published by Imagining the Internet and Pew Research April 17, 2018. Respondents answered the following three questions: 1) Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally – will it be mostly helpful to well-being, mostly harmful or about the same as today? 2) Do you think there are any actions that might be successfully taken to reduce or eradicate potential harms of digital life to individuals’ well-being? 3) Please share a brief personal anecdote about how digital life has changed your daily life, your family’s life or your friends’ lives in regard to well-being.

Future of Digital Life VIII – 2017

Several questions about the future of the information environment were answered by 1,116 respondents in the summer of 2017. One massive report including more than 200 pages of data from this canvassing was published by Imagining the Internet and Pew Research Oct. 19, 2017. Respondents answered the following question: The rise of “fake news” and the proliferation of doctored narratives that are spread by humans and bots online are challenging publishers and platforms. Those trying to stop the spread of false information are working to design technical and human systems that can weed it out and minimize the ways in which bots and other schemes spread lies and misinformation. The question – In the next 10 years, will trusted methods emerge to block false narratives and allow the most accurate information to prevail in the overall information ecosystem? Or will the quality and veracity of information online deteriorate due to the spread of unreliable, sometimes even dangerous, socially-destabilizing ideas?

Future of Digital Life VII – 2016

Five questions were answered by more than 1,500 experts in an online survey during the summer of 2016. A series of five reports tied to data from this canvassing were published by Imagining the Internet and Pew Research throughout 2017. The series illuminated hopes and significant concerns revealed in thousands of predictive comments about the likely future. The five topics of the reports are: likely impacts of algorithms, big data and predictive analytics; issues tied to trends in content and tone of online discourse via social media; security and issues with the embedded Internet and the Internet of Things; global trust in the Internet; and future training for future jobs

Future of Digital Life VI – 2014

Eight reports tied to data from Future Survey VI were published by Imagining the Internet and Pew Research over the course of 2014. The series, published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, was titled Digital Life in 2025. This collection of expert’s opinions about the overall impact of the Internet by 2025 includes predictive statements by more than 1,600 people who shared comments about the likely future, including separate reports on: security, privacy, and civil liberties; the embedded Internet, wearables, and the Internet of Thingsartificial intelligence and robotics applications; the potential for cyber attacks; looming threats to the Internetkiller apps of the future; and the overall likely future of digital life in 2025

Future of Digital Life V – 2012

Here you will find the results from eight reports tied to data from Future Survey V, people’s 2011-12 predictions about the likely future of the Internet in 2020 – imagining the future for the always-on, hyperconnected generation in their teens-to-20s by 2020; the future of the mobile Web, HTML5 and native apps; the future of individuals’ financial transactions and e-money; the future of gamification, the implementation of game mechanics for interactivity and engagement; “smart systems” and the future of efficient homes; the future of corporate responsibility in the digital age; the future influence of “Big Data”; and the future of higher education. Respondents replied to these questions in late 2011, and their answers reflect the issues at that point in time.

Future of Digital Life IV – 2010

Respondents shared thousands of opinions on various Internet issues – exposing predictive statements in a qualitative and quantitative survey from late in 2009 through early 2010. Experts were asked about the Internet and the evolution of: intelligence reading and the rendering of knowledge; identity and authentication; gadgets and applications; the core values of the Internet; the future of institutions; the semantic Web; cloud computing; social relations; and millennials’ adoption of communications technologies. This site offers extra data tied to the series of Elon/Pew reports, released with details of respondents’ answers to the 10 questions asked in the 2010 Elon University/Pew Internet Future of the Internet survey. (Data from the three earlier “Future of the Internet” surveys had been released in single reports. 2010 data was  released in six reports.)

Future of the Internet III – 2008

Participants in this Web-based survey filed their responses in the timespan from late in 2007 through the early weeks of 2008. This particular group of survey respondent predicted that in 2020 the mobile device will be the primary tool for connection, talk and touch interfaces will be prevalent, tolerance will not increase, intellectual property conflicts will remain unresolved and hyperconnectivity will alter some social structures. The answers to the questions asked in this survey were compiled into one overarching report.

Future of the Internet II – 2006

Respondents participated in this Web-based survey from late in 2005 through the early weeks of 2006. They were asked to respond to issues that included: the pros and cons of pervasive, autonomous technology; the loss of privacy; the impact of virtual reality; the “flat-world” revolution; the possibility that some people living “off the grid” may protest violently against accelerating technology; and world priorities in regard to developing information and communication technologies. They shared fascinating insights that are all gathered up in a single report.

Future of the Internet I – 2004

Nearly 1,300 technology stakeholders participated in Imagining the Internet and Pew’ first “Future of the Internet” study, fielded in the fall of 2004. One report shares a selection of their responses to a set of 18 questions about: institutions that are undergoing change; the future of civic engagement; embedded networks; security; and threats. Most of the respondents classified themselves as research scientists, entrepreneurs/business leaders, authors/journalists or technology developers/administrators.

Below are select Internet future predictions made by anonymous participants in the first Elon/Pew “Future of the Internet” survey in 2004.

“The world will get a nervous system, and that is a big deal.”

“Peddlers of wares and services, hucksters of all descriptions and general riff-raff will make these larger social networks somewhat less than useful.”

“Global distribution of information and knowledge over the Internet at lower and lower cost will continue to lift the world community for generations to come.”

“Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. The Net will wear away institutions that have forgotten how to sound human.”

“In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes in their own reality show.”

“You’ll get more information, but much of it will be contradictory.”

“Entirely new technologies and societal coping mechanisms will need to be developed to process data into information (and who knows if wisdom will follow).”

“Losses from Internet-related crime and terror will exceed losses from all natural disasters.”

“There will be a move toward networked individualism … in work, neighborhoods, kinship and even households.”

“Government will be forced to become increasingly transparent, accessible over the Net, and almost impenetrable if you’re not on the Net.”

“The greatest changes will occur in the arena of trust and human relations.”

“New methods of securing the true from the false will emerge. The source will become more important than the message.”

“The digital divide will grow ever deeper.”

“(We will see) the rise of the sovereignty of the individual (and) the rise in impact of groups of individuals.”

“Knowledge (will be) knowable by impetus of the individual… A new role for teachers will emerge.”

“Transportation will be refined through massive substitution of communication. The current flight to cities will be reversed.”

“We’ll probably see more attempts at control of the Internet, both by business and governments around the world.”

“Connection and automatic sharing of contact information … will foster digital tribes and a stronger sense of ‘family.'”

“Children will grow up with the knowledge that their every move is being watched. This is a recipe for killing the kind of independent thinking that creates innovation.”

“Creativity may bloom but that does not mean it will be seen or appreciated by all.”

“Virtual communities of interest will exercise episodic political power … like a swarm of angry bees!”

“The Internet is like graffiti, only it can be targeted to the right niche.”

“Enhanced communications and access to information are on the evolutionary path to freedom.”

“It is better to be actively, thoughtfully and humanly adapting technology than to be creating inertia to resist it.”