Elon University

Anonymous Responses: Future of Social and Civic Innovation

This page holds full for-credit responses with no analysis to the following 2019-2020 research questions: Will significant social and civic innovation occur between 2020 and 2030? Will humans’ use of technology lead to or prevent significant social and civic innovation? (By “social and civic innovation” we mean the creation of things like new technology tools, legal protections, social norms, new or reconfigured groups and communities, educational efforts and other strategies to address digital-age challenges.) If you see no relief, why? If you see success in social and civic innovation as likely, how might it come to pass and what kinds of new groups, systems and tools will be created?

Results released June 2020 – What’s in store in regard to digital social and civic innovation over the next decade? To illuminate current attitudes about the likely future evolution of humans plus internet-facilitated technologies in the next few decades, Pew Research and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a large-scale canvassing of technology experts, scholars, corporate and public practitioners and other leaders, asking them to respond.

A total of 666 experts responded to the first question, which simply asked – yes or no – if significant social and civic innovation is likely to occur between now and 2030.

About 84% said yes, significant social and civic innovation will occur between now and 2030.

About 16% said no, significant social and civic innovation will not occur between now and 2030.

A total of 646 experts responded to the second quantitative question, which asked how humans’ technology use will influence social and civic innovation in regard to mitigating the societal and civic negatives arising in the digital age. They were asked to choose one of these options: 1) Technology use will contribute to innovation that will significantly mitigate problems of the digital age; 2) Technology use will prevent innovation from significantly overcoming the negatives of the digital age; 3) Technology use will have no effect on social and civic innovation.

20% said technology use will prevent social and civic innovation from significantly overcoming the negatives of the digital age

69% said technology use will contribute to social and civic innovation that significantly mitigates problems of the digital age

11% said technology use will have no effect on social and civic innovation

This page contains the written elaborations of respondents who took credit for their answers to all of the questions. The responses are organized in three sections that are divided according to the respondents selection of one of the three choices listed above.

To read the full report on the Future of Social and Civic Innovation between 2020 and 2030, click here:

To read the credited responses to the questions, click here:

Following are full responses by study participants who wrote an elaboration on their choices in answering the questions above who also chose to take credit for their remarks. Some of these are the longer versions of expert responses that are contained in shorter form in the survey report. This page also includes some responses that were not in the report.

Will significant social and civic innovation occur between 2020 and 2030, and can it help solve emerging issues?

The following respondents wrote these qualitative remarks after choosing as their quantitative response that “technology use will prevent social and civic innovation from significantly overcoming the negatives of the digital age.”

An associate professor of computer science who previously worked with

An infrastructure architect who is also an internet pioneer said, “The kind of social innovation required to resolve the problems caused by our current technologies relies on a movement back toward individual responsibility and a specific willingness to engage in community. As both of these work against the aims of the corporate and political elite as they exist today, there is little likelihood these kinds of social innovations are going to take place. The family and church, for instance, which must be the core institutions in any rebuilding of a culture that can teach the kind of personal responsibility required, were both hollowed out in the last few decades. The remaining outward structures are being destroyed. There is little hope either families or churches will recover without a major societal event of some sort, and it will likely take at least one generation for them to rebuild. The church could take on the task of helping rebuild families, but it is too captured in attempts to grow ever larger, and consume or ape our strongly individualistic culture, rather than standing against it. I struggled with the answers to the ranking of items from 1 to 10 because they often seem to be false dichotomies to me. For instance, will there be more social stability? Most likely. But this social stability is not likely to come about through a stronger attachment to truth or what is best for the individual – rather, it will likely come about because there will be more control over the individual in a way that produces stability. This is not necessarily a positive outcome, however, from the perspective of individual freedom or mental health.”

A systems engineer commented, “Generally speaking, throwing more technology at the problem does not fix the underlying problem with the technology’s effect in the first place, even if it helps you sell another app. This is akin to throwing more encryption on top of a dodgy key delivery system with users who are prone to phishing. The solution is simplification and clarification of the role technology is playing, combined with truth-in-tech regulations to ensure that this remains above board. Regulation needs to occur in the offline world, not within the context of yet another application, yet another website or forum, or yet another ineffectual industry group controlled by the Big Tech oligopoly.”

A British-American computer scientist and computing pioneer said, “Social and civic innovation threatens the platforms’ dominance, and governments’ control of their citizens. So it will be suppressed. As we see with the lack of impact of the various ‘decentralized web’ efforts, new tools by themselves will have no impact on the dominant platforms. If they looked like having an impact, they would be acquired by the platforms and shut down. The fundamental problems are the runaway inequality of wealth and the total collapse of anti-trust enforcement. A small number of oligarchs control society’s information flow. Social and civic innovation threatens their dominance. This is not a problem technology can assist fixing, because the oligarchs control the technology, and can buy any that looks like succeeding. This is not a problem electoral politics can fix, because the oligarchs can either buy the politicians or use their control of information flow to destroy them (Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbin, Lula, …). There will be no significant change until the climate catastrophe is upon us.”

A chair of political science based at a university in the American South commented, “Technology always creates two new problems for every one it solves. At some point humans’ cognitive and co-operative capacities, largely hard-wired into their brains by millennia of evolution, can’t keep up. Human technology probably overran human coping mechanisms sometime in the later 19th century. The rest is history.”

A co-founder of one of the internet’s first and best-known online communities wrote, “The best answer may be both yes and no. The near inability to act with anonymity will make pressure to do things through the existing systems, albeit with creativity and innovation. But will big money allow legal channels to persist? That’s the problem. I am fairly pessimistic about anything that runs counter to the desires of corporations and the super-rich.”

A director for a leading global human rights organization said, “The technological revolution is based on private companies and governments collecting personal data on a massive scale as a means to profit or as a means of social control. Unless this fundamental dynamic changes, it is hard to see how technology can contribute to massive solutions when the basis of it is a fundamental challenge to the notions of privacy. Unless there is fundamental change to the right to privacy and better regulation to protect it, the problems of technology will persist. I am skeptical about the overall benefits of technology to solve social problems because it hasn’t been shown in fundamental ways and absent changes to privacy laws and regulations it will be difficult to realize change. However, other countries and companies want to use technology explicitly as a means of social control and do not have an interest in strengthening democracy. That may not change.”

A distinguished professor electrical engineering and computer science at a U.S. university, expert in the future of communications networks wrote, “It is certainly possible to harness information technology in a way that would foster social and civic innovation. However, current trends are in the opposite direction due to a number of factors, such as the emergence of for-profit monopoly platforms that are primarily designed to generate revenue rather than creating or improving civic institutions, an emerging consensus that values profit over privacy in most Western societies, the inability of existing legal and political systems to deal with fundamental changes being driven by information technology, etc. Of course, analogous to the changes that followed the industrial revolution, it is possible that post-information revolution societies will operate in a chaotic way for a few decades, followed by a reform movement aiming to mitigate the damage caused by unregulated use of information technology. Some of the solutions that need to be considered include new legal frameworks for IT, strong privacy protections, limits to the use of social media for political and business purposes, and so on. Ultimately, this may require a fundamental redesign of some of the dominant technology platforms to make them more socially responsible and citizen friendly.”

A fellow at a major university’s center for internet and society wrote, “I worry that in the current political climate, the regulations we would need for social and civic innovation simply won’t be feasible. Big tech companies not only resist such changes, they actively cater to damaging extremists on the right. They are loathe to block Nazis and white supremacists from their sites, making specious arguments about their inability to block hate speech, but have little difficulty marginalizing or blocking those on the left – the right complains extensively that they are being discriminated against despite all evidence to the contrary. They are a true threat to democracy and milquetoast ‘both-sides’ folks leading tech companies cave. The privileging of STEM above all else impoverishes the abilities of leaders and others to think critically or ethically about society and the society they want to create. I am deeply pessimistic about the capabilities of technology to solve our pressing social and civic problems. Tech leaders are too focused on shareholders and the bottom line and they are just not held accountable in any meaningful way. Republican leaders care nothing for democracy and resist change at every turn. I do not believe things will get better and I certainly don’t think technology will lead the way. So far, tech innovation has lined the pockets of the very wealthy and corrupted our democratic processes. I see little hope that that will change without revolutionary political change.”

A futurist based in North America observed, “Without decentralization of the tech infrastructure and a break-up of the large tech monopolies, technology is most likely to continue to degrade democratic institutions. The imperatives of capitalism have driven the tech industry toward increasingly addictive technologies that swallow vast amounts of people’s time and attention. Without regulation making such systems illegal, or a robust alternative to capitalism that takes its place, this will not change.”

A leader for a top-level internet domain registry said, “My response was also biased by concerns of global economic stability in the next two to five years. This will lead to a further commoditization of individuals and their data without an equal benefit. The ever-widening income gap makes many health-related tech advances outside the economic grasp of some our most vulnerable citizens. Without access – that does not come with a sacrifice, e.g., of privacy – the benefits are limited to a statistically small group of people.”

A longtime CEO and internet and telecommunications expert commented, “Relief is not possible unless there is recognition that social media firestorms lack critical protections such as due process and presumption of innocence. This is unlikely to occur, as it requires respect for existing institutions that is lacking within the online community. The problem is not with big technology firms or technology per se, but in failure to map our basic institutions of law enforcement and justice into the cyberspace equivalent. Security of self is a human right just as applicable in online as in the real world, but accepting that requires recognizing that law enforcement (which serves as the entity that provides the human right of security when threatened by others) has an online role, and that identification of both minimal acceptable norms of behavior and processes for LEA cooperation are necessary if some human rights are to ever exist online. As long as individuals hold cities and their citizens for ransom without recourse, there is no meaningful human right of security on the internet.”

A longtime internet-rights activist based in South Africa responded, “Social and civic innovation will not be enough to successfully mitigate the consequences of unleashing tech forces on citizens, the global economy and society. Fundamental changes to the structure of tech power and the relationship between citizens, governments and tech need to take place. The problem is akin to that of climate change and global warming, conceptualised as hyper-objects. The internet and the tech/state industrial complex that produces it have created an object that is both transcendent of traditional boundaries of power and interpolates almost every person on the planet in an intimate way. The tech companies themselves cannot control its effects and nor can governments who are currently in a global cyber war posture with one another. For citizen groups to prevail is currently unimaginable. Everyone is completely unprepared for the changes tech has brought about – to go from a tech-induced utopia to dystopia in the course of a decade is startling, as are the concomitant changes in the political sphere from democracy to authoritarian populism. The crisis is also tied to the form of economic system created over the last 40 years that privileged markets over people. Big tech has pushed this beyond any limits. The destruction of regulation, whether economic, financial or technological, has produced this state of affairs, which is Hobbesian and Orwellian in its scope and practice. Pushing this back while facing a climate emergency is beyond the capacity of social and civic innovation. Only a global revolution could have any effect and that seems unlikely.”

A longtime participant in the IETF wrote, “Society has been getting more divided into ideological camps over the last decade and each of the camps has been using technology to try to disrupt the others – I do not see that changing – and such divisions will tend to stifle social progress. I am pessimistic about there being any positive progress in any of the areas due to the ideological divisions I already wrote about.”

A technology journalist for a major U.S. news organization commented, “Over the course of the information age, both pundits and social scientists have largely missed forecasting the negative impact of new information technologies. The science fiction community DID draw an accurate dystopian portrait of the future. Why did we ignore it?”

A North American research scientist said, “It is completely unknown if technological advances will impact social and civic innovation positively or negatively. While your previous prompt suggests that in the past people’s intervention has caused changes that mitigated the negative effects of past technological ‘advances,’ I am less than convinced that is always true. Industrialization in the past ushered in a period of intense social inequality and discrimination against under-valued minorities. It was only after a period of intense social unrest that the negative effects of technological change were confronted by social forces that forced the development of more positive social conditions. Will this be true of our current technological advances? I think we don’t know at this time and certainly not by 2030. Positive social and civic innovations are most likely to occur for those features of human life that are more overtly physical – like health care. I’m not at all sure that positive change will occur for those features that are tied to social and emotional issues. It seems to me that control of those types of information are of value to corporations and governments to forward their own agendas and that may weigh against beneficial innovations being sought and integrated into systems.”

A partner at a major European law firm said, “Governments are national, but the internet has no borders, and the international community is very divided.”

A pioneering researcher of human-computer interaction commented, “I am concerned that technology will effectively undermine resistance to it. I believed the opposite until only a few months ago. Now, I am stunned by the amount of tech money thrown at the ‘morals’ of artificial intelligence, just when AI and surveillance are becoming synonymous. So, I am much more concerned.”

A professor and internet researcher said, “There will be attention paid to large social networking companies and their practices, but I believe that citizens will not be able to understand the results of these queries. Thus, large tech like Google, Facebook and Amazon, as well as foreign governments with more tech-savvy constituents, will reduce the impact of citizens’ voices in the U.S.”

A professor of business at a major state university based in California wrote, “I am concerned that ‘humans’ will lose control of their destiny because of unbridled technology. The irony is that it is the humans are doing this for themselves/ourselves. I am concerned about the role of ‘technology’ that will act against human interests.”

A professor of computer science said, “It took more than 100 years and the blood of many workers before a balance between capital and labor was struck in the wake of the industrial revolution. Let’s revisit this question in 2100. I think perhaps some neo-Luddite responses will have local and temporary successes. In general, technological innovation has a global return to scale that renders even state-level governmental intervention fairly limited in power. Consider the example of Chinese tech companies selling surveillance technologies to dictatorships around the world.”

A professor of journalism at a major university in New York said, “Technology is making privacy a thing of the past, and without privacy, it is difficult to be radical, to be innovative and to foster change. As privacy disappears, the status quo will become more rigid. Please note that the previous questions are rather poorly worded and will lead to contradictory answers. Privacy issues are unlikely to be mitigated, as we currently have a generation that’s been raised in a post-privacy era and have little sense of its worth.”

A professor of public policy at a major university based in the U.S. South said, “A real change would require a kind of regulation that is probably barred by the First Amendment and in any case difficult to implement effectively given the nature of the technology. New more virtuous platforms will be created, but more nefarious uses of the internet will not be stopped.”

A professor of sociology and public policy wrote, “Early in the computer and internet revolutions, I was hopeful thinking this would help to inform, empower and network people. We are seeing conclusively that although these things happen, the greater effect (assisted by uncontrolled amorality of corporations such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube) has been destruction of democracy and civic society. Concentration camps on the U.S. border, speeding into climate and ecological disasters, rising nationalism in the U.S. and elsewhere, Iranian nuclear enrichment and the example of North Korea proving that everyone needs nukes to be respected, rich getting richer while using social media to manipulate masses – these are just some of the huge and possibly irreversible changes that technology/social media are rapidly bringing about. I am deeply pessimistic because of what I see happening every day. Social media tipped the U.S. toward fascism and are doing this in other countries as well. Nothing I have seen from Facebook, Twitter, Google or YouTube suggests they really understand or care about what they’ve done; if anything, it accelerates where they claim algorithmic solutions (that don’t even begin to work).”

A professor, civic media scholar and game designer commented, “The force of change for the public good will come from political will and democratic institutions – not technology, which is not a saving force for such democratic concerns. Health is the big winner, as it has fewer unintended consequences for directed interventions.”

A researcher who works for an international multistakeholder organization said, “Technology design is driven by status quo interest, therefore designed only to disrupt as long as the current arrangement prevails over any substantive change. Innovation is not driven by any ‘civic’ agent. It is driven by economic forces where civils are just consumers.”

A retired information science professional said, “Dream on, if you think that you can equate positive change with everybody yelling and those with the most clout (i.e. power and money) not using their power to see their agendas succeed. Minority views will always be that – a minority. At present and in the near future the elites manipulate and control. What drugs are you on? What makes you believe that there is even a possibility that social and civic innovation will yield a real positive change? There might be the facade of telling ourselves that we will have a bright future, but EXACTLY how will this happen, especially if the past is any guide.”

A retired professor commented, “Technology will both contribute to and inhibit social and civic innovation. The problem is not with the technology. It is our economic and political institutions that are driving the worse forms of technological innovation. They need to be changed. Technologies cannot solve problems unless they are developed and deployed. Unfortunately, democracy is not a profitable consumer item. However, there may be the political will to deploy a few useful items: 1) secure voting machines; 2) financial system tracking that can follow corporate campaign contributions and bribes; 3) ways to secure infrastructure and online information from the electronic weapons developed unwisely by our own intelligence services (who never realized that people who live in electronic houses shouldn’t throw worms and fake news); 4) CO2-free manufacturing, transportation and electricity production technologies; 5) cheap medical preventive and diagnostic technologies; 6) ecologically sound agricultural innovations, especially in meat and staple grains production. The last three are relevant insofar as healthy, well-fed people who can travel to a meeting or a polling place are more likely to engage in civic action.”

A security intelligence and advanced threats researcher at a major U.S. technology company wrote, “I foresee governments dismiss all good rationale and reason in this regard, and an increase in efforts to use technology to stem political discourse, criticism or activism. Unfortunately, what is already becoming an Orwellian worldview will become more pronounced and more oppressive as governments around the world entrench their policy perspectives.”

A senior attorney working at the intersection of business and telecommunications said, “I cannot truly answer this question without the ‘some/little’ potential response and a full range of answers, from negative to positive, on the next questions. I am leaving the boxes at zero where they should be negative. Glad to see Pew has such a positive outlook. I look forward to explanations. While technology can increase health and societal improvement, in the U.S. social norms and corporate goals appear to be leading to the opposite.”

A software engineer based in Poland responded, “What I hope for is cultural-technical coevolution – groups adopting new ethical norms that lead to using technology more effectively and are copied by other groups. I don’t think this can happen on a large scale at once – it needs a lot of experimenting.”

A specialist in telecommunications policy who works for the U.S. government said, “This question is full of false dichotomies. I don’t feel comfortable with any of the answers. Social and civic innovation is occurring and will continue to occur thanks to technology. But the law has not and will not be able to keep up with identifying, much less mitigating, the harms. There is not much political will to stop anything that can be labeled as ‘innovative’ and money is a powerful motivator for sliding into abusive practices.”

A technology consultant for associations and nonprofit organizations wrote, “I do not know what sources to trust. Privacy is not respected, so it’s a big risk to share ‘confidential’ information. Media IS being used to create better facts that rely on video, not a witness. It also helps spread information quickly to provide help and awareness. I am concerned that the next wave of social media and digital media will be focused on niche information and further polarize and isolate people. I worry that this isolation will make mental health worse. People are spending more time connected to a device than outside or with other people. All of this makes communities weaker and more vulnerable. On the good side, digital may help identify medical problems early and provide telemedicine options. It may help people who have no voice a digital community.”

A vice president for public policy for a major global telecommunications company said, “Technology certainly will contribute positive benefits to social and civic innovation by facilitating the sharing of information and helping to democratize civic participation. However, it’s not clear that these benefits will be enough to significantly improve the overall environment. Technology will improve health care and other aspects of our lives, but it will lead to continued social and political disruption.”

An anonymous business leader wrote, “Technology is a force multiplier for, and creator of, bullies on both sides of the political continuum. The ruthlessness of left-leaning bullies – the doxing and shouting down of discourse by the illiberal left – is particularly toxic and virulent. Social media’s echo chambers corrode the bonds of trust in real-world communities by allowing people to justify demonization of those with whom they disagree. More screen time will corrode people’s physical and mental health and will corrode civic institutions.”

An anonymous cybersecurity journalist said, “America today is an oligarchy enforced by the secret police. Preventing any kind of meaningful social or political progress is essential to maintaining that status quo. Information technology gives totalitarian power to the toxic partnership between Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the so-called intelligence community. Power desires always more power, and fights like hell to prevent any loss of power. This technology shift rewrites constitutional law, yet we keep citing law as though technology cares a whit for words on paper.”

A futurist/consultant commented, “We have become too politically correct and are afraid to voice our true opinions because they may affront someone. We are becoming ‘Elsie,’ Carnation’s contented cow from the 1960s commercials. Large internet companies are too large and powerful for real change to occur. Too much money is at stake. Plus, once governments realize the power of social media in manipulating public opinion they will not give it up – think Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, etc.”

A researcher wrote, “Part of the challenge is that technology is still not open and available to everyone. Sure, I hear many people say that there are public computer terminals in coffee shops and public libraries, but not everyone has the access as much as they would like, or the knowledge of how best to learn and engage. A lack of access when/where citizens want to engage means that everything from innovation and justice will not be significantly advanced just because the technology exists. I look at what is happening in the United States right now – the president of the United States, as well as other political leaders, are promoting such hateful language and attitude toward individuals. These Twitter attacks and other ‘chants’ at rallies makes my heart sink and stomach sick – I dont see how we as a nation will be able to pull out of this and have any success in social and civic innovation when our top leaders will not take a stand for what is right and just.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “There will be a digital ‘arms race’ between organisations wishing to attain or maintain a ‘ruling class’ status in the community and individuals and groups attempting to maintain lines of communication to keep their activism alive. Because of the way in which artificial intelligence systems can be applied to internet-based material, anonymity will be pitted against ever improving systems for identification. Those with lesser resources will be dominated. There is a strong resurgence in the thinking that the people in democratic societies can be manipulated and controlled. This has happened because our virtual communications have been and continue to be quite thoroughly undermined by those with the vested interests and access to powerful analytical and tracking internet-based technologies. These controlling interests know they can carry out this undermining without being identified or constrained by legal processes. The lack of legal enforcement over the misuse of digital technologies is because it is not in the interests of the digitally dominant groups for such legal constraints to exist.”

An anonymous respondent said, “It is not the tech itself, but the politics of that tech – how it is designed, how it is used and the reasons why it was created in the first place. Capitalism and war are the foundations, reasons and purposes for our tech. Social and civic ‘innovation’ cannot be ‘successful’ within these systems. We need a complete systems change – infrastructure, capital, etc., – to have social and civic innovation. Tech will not do that.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Social networking is junk food for the mind! Tech is already abusing its power. Disgusting elitists that look down on everyone and want to control how we think and our behavior. It’s power and it will be abused as you see with the news media. It is causing division. Just look at CNN; it’s a hate platform!”

An anonymous respondent said, “Technology and its use is slowly becoming monopolized by those in political power. Freedom of information and free use is being limited. I fear this is a trend that will continue and the monopolies controlling and using social media will influence the democratic process in ways that prevent the majority from understanding the true issues or candidates for political positions. I believe that physical health may improve as result of changes but mental health will continue to denigrate. Politics is about manipulation … changing minds and convincing people to take on specific opinions and support specific candidates. It’s all about presentation, and when presentation can be done well people are convinced and swayed. When that presentation does not represent reality, expectations of the people are unmet as those that they vote for are not who they appear to be based on the presentation. This is the new norm and I believe these deceptive practices will only continue and worsen. As ‘deepfakes’ become harder to debunk, not only will we not be able to believe what we hear, but what we see will be a misrepresentation of reality as well. I do not anticipate measures coming from those in power will be able to mitigate the mass distribution of lies. I do not believe there is the will or the capacity to stay ahead of the technology.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The outcome technology’s effects are embedded within technology in its design. The scripts embedded in today’s technology is more akin to widespread public surveillance than widespread public engagement. That said, individuals can still mod, hack or otherwise subvert the technologies. I just don’t believe it will be on wide enough a scale.”

An anonymous respondent said, “For all the reasons described earlier, which mean that the information available to people will be very poor, it is likely that the reaction to the abuses of technology companies like Facebook will be attenuated by these platforms’ political and economic power. There’s little appetite in the public for civic innovation, and what innovations have been created in the ‘technology’ field have, on balance, been corrosive to democracy and civic life. The owners of technology companies and platforms have no incentive to change the way they do business, and there’s no political will to address the pathologies created by these platforms.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Technology will both contribute to and prevent innovation.”

An anonymous U.S. policy and strategy professional said, “Today’s technology use is driving social unrest and isolation. As new laws and regulation are put in place, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, they create unintended consequences that have far-reaching impacts beyond what the law/regulation was developed to address. GDPR creates privacy online for your data, however it also blocks law enforcement from identifying bad actors and tracking them down. Which is more important? I see little social and civic innovation occurring as technology is isolating people to the point that some are losing their social skills and are unable to talk in person. They would rather connect online where they can avoid direct interaction. As technology grows, this isolation will increase.”

An education program coordinator said, “Tech companies will resist any social and civic innovation, so it will be hard fought and hard to implement. Maybe if there is a giant crisis, things will change. Some basic measures will probably pass, but it won’t be nearly enough. Of course there will be change – just is it beneficial or harmful? Where people are making money off of harmful systems, we will see no change. Locally, people may use technology to improve communities – think about debating and creating plans for a new high school in a community. If some laws break up the power of the tech companies, there will be more positive changes.”

An expert in computer-supported cooperative work and socio-technical systems wrote, “Technical innovation will remain under the control of tech firms, who will use this power to increase their own returns, further undermining privacy and the political and economic interests of the 99%. By virtue of their command of an increasing proportion of resources and political power, the advances that occur will not have beneficial effects for the minority.”

An expert in the ethics of autonomous systems based in Europe said, “The main positive aspect in social and civic innovation is that any information concerning politicians or stakeholders is quickly known on social networks or in the media. Today, that allows to build a new participative way of control on the behavior of politicians and prevent them taking appropriate advantages of their position. Some recent examples have shown the power of the press and social networks and situations where politicians were obliged to retire because of misbehavior reported on the net or media. However, this innovation is counterbalanced by the fact that active people can be clustered and targeted when they are using the net to provide negative advices and judgment concerning some politician. Another very bad drawback concerns the fake news that are more and more used to manipulate the person’s opinion. This war of information is becoming so important that it can influence democracy and the opinion of people before the vote in an election, for instance. Some artificial intelligence tools can be developed to automatically recognize fake news, but such tools can be used in turn in the same manner to enhance the belief in some false information. My opinion is that people are no more users of computers but become the subjects of applications that are provided on computers and smartphones by providers that can manipulate them. Most of them are not conscious that they are dominated by the tool they use and that their data are collected in real time and that they are influenced by the way the information is presented to them. Moreover, these tools have changed their behavior and prevent most of them from thinking independently and freely. This evolution is very scary because these persons are no more able to think by themselves.”

An internet pioneer developer and administrator who is active in the Internet Engineering Task Force said, “I see many likely social and civic innovations, excellent campaign organizing in U.S. elections, excellent data analysis by civic organizations. But until there are regulations, they are very much outweighed by the innovations with undemocratic impacts. I’m not a tech optimist but I think some areas have a shot at net good, such as the potential for medical experts to be able to reach widely dispersed populations. Everything depends not on tech but on human leadership able to understand tech innovation rather than bow before it. Tech innovation can be a great component of a well-governed civic society, but it should not be allowed to be the owner of policy because of complexity or because of uncivil goals of those who control the tech.”

An internet services consultant who served many years as an architect for a major telecommunications company said, “Future innovations will be directed by the left and created to convince and herd people into a certain mindset. I don’t believe that new innovation will lead to positive change. There is too much focus on social networks run by propaganda. I only think this will increase.”

The director of a global online civil rights organization wrote, “Until safeguards for constitutional and human rights are built in alongside data security, it’s likely that these systems will be used to undermine rather than strengthen. I don’t think the field is strong enough to build useful, secure, rights-respecting and resilient systems.”

The founder and chief operating officer of a brand strategies company wrote, “Technology for communications empowers the mass surveillance and control of public discourse; as such it remains in opposition to actual social innovation. The rest will be buried in spam. Your questions are all backwards – instead of ‘how much will this improve,’ you should be asking ‘how much will this degrade.’ We are at the end of a golden age of open network experimentation, on the cusp of dystopia. I envision 24/7 ‘social compliance’ monitoring by a government/megopoly consortium, rampant unemployment related to automation, forced ‘redistribution’ and the flight of the ‘haves’ into shelters or even off-planet.”

The program director of a university-based informatics institute said, “There is still a widening gap between rural and urban as well as digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ As well, the ability to interact in a forum in which all members of society have a voice is diminishing as those with technology move faster in the digital forums than the non-tech segment of the population that use non-digital discourse (interpersonal). The idea of social fabric in a neighborhood and neighborly interactions is diminishing. Most people want innovation – it is the speed of change that creates divisions.”

Will significant social and civic innovation occur between 2020 and 2030, and can it help solve emerging issues?

The following respondents wrote these qualitative remarks after choosing as their quantitative response that “technology use will contribute to social and civic innovation that significantly mitigates problems of the digital age.”

A director for a university-based internet and society center commented, “We are in the early days of the transformations that the digital era has brought about. Many positive as well as negative challenges and opportunities will continue to bubble up, as will new standards, models of governance and forms of critical scrutiny. Like every such revolution, the transformations that we are and will be living through have pluses and minuses. And there’s a lag time between when technologies emerge and when institutions respond, reshape themselves and innovate.”

A director of a think tank’s technology policy program and cybersecurity expert said, “Techlash is likely to start an important conversation around social and civic innovation, and lead to new and important innovations as a result. I don’t believe that we are going to let our society fall apart over social media and clickbait advertising. New programs like TechCongress, the Public Rights Project, etc., show a willingness to move in that direction.”

A former provost and vice president with a major technological university wrote, “An idea is a technology. Today’s digital technologies emerge from and in the midst of our ideas. Individuals and society will continue to propose social and civic solutions to challenges and digital technologies will be part of solutions proposed and implemented. More network-like groups, more network-like systems, network-like protocols for working with groups and systems are distinct possibilities – possibilities that move in different directions from vertically integrated and hierarchical systems and include possibilities more and different types of people and institutions to interact or to engage systemically in challenges. Cross-network use of big data (and emerging data) to inform decisions; cross-network integration of citizen activities and groups; cross-network political activism; cross-network organizational exchange; cross-network social exchange and improvement; cross-network medical exchange and improvements. Competition for resources and the adversarial histories/tendencies brought forward across institutions will persist unless extreme crisis forces different behaviors for survival.”

A futurist and researcher expert in data and privacy said, “I don’t believe technology will ‘cause’ the social and civic evolution, but various technologies will certainly be used, or will be the basis of social and legal actions to address perceived threats and harms. I do think we will see an arc similar to the Industrial Revolution of 100 years ago, and have made this parallel myself before. We ‘innovated’ without much restraint over several decades, but as abuses and harms became evident, countervailing values pushed back with new social norming, civic organizations, legislative actions and even constitutional amendments. We will see, we are seeing, many of the same things now – consumers demanding more nuance, transparency and control of their privacy; demanding higher security practices and standards; and looking for state and federal legislation to set boundaries based on social values rather than technological capabilities. This will be particularly applicable in machine learning (pattern recognition) systems that are potentially incorporated into the criminal justice system, but also personal autonomy and individual rights and freedoms balanced against perceived security benefits. There will probably be separate (but parallel) actions regarding private (corporate) data collection and management and consumer rights as opposed to government data collection and activities with impact on civil rights (mass surveillance, facial recognition, border controls). It’s a case of deciding with intent what aspects of technological capability we’re comfortable with, benefit to risk ration-wise. Human nature doesn’t change. Technology is not the cause, but it is the tool, and in some cases may have more beneficial effects than others – but in all cases there are risks that will have to be addressed. Overall economic disparity within and among countries will lead to power imbalances that may put too much control of the tech systems in a limited number of hands, which will be anti-democratic and dangerous. However, it is also possible that technology will provide the ability of groups to counter some of those forces more easily than in past centuries and improve the lot of society generally. So health care will likely get better, but people will still be hateful online, and prejudice and bias will still manifest throughout any system that impacts other individuals. Again, technology isn’t the cause – humans will still be humans, but they now have new tools and techniques by which to both do good and cause harms.”

A director of entrepreneurship and innovation at a major technological university wrote, “We see these changes happening already. Groups can form more naturally around affinities and proclivities. Communication and constancy of presence – through digital means – will prevail. At an Ivy League university where I managed the alumni association’s ‘digital transformation’ as an alumnus volunteer 20 years ago, we broke through every single previous alumni participation record the university had seen – almost by five times – when we allowed alums to engage digitally. Every single new technology application has been adopted faster and deeper. There are dystopian visions, sure (see ‘Years and Years’ on HBO), but on the whole people are more civically engaged: There’s no way the 1M Women’s March on D.C. could’ve happened absent Facebook and Twitter. Or the democratic demonstrations in Hong Kong. And these changes are irreversible. There is a nascent movement in, of all places, Cuba because of the spread of smartphones. Digital therapeutics will provide treatment for patients when they need it – not when doctors or pharmacists can dispense it. In the long, longer future, digital avatars may even be able to diagnose. Product developers that are digitally native will develop safeguards to make sure that the balance between personal and public is established. Think of ‘unlisted’ for phonebooks, or that cellular numbers are unlisted as an early form of this phenomenon. However, I think it’s preposterous to think that digital development should police itself. Has language? Technologies to spread the spoken word (think Guttenberg, etc.) Has physics or chemistry? Then why digital technology? It is a tool. Not an application. I’ve often thought that the biggest issue surrounding the press is the Luddite subculture that surrounds a lot of journalists and writers I know. It’s frustrating. Maybe they’ve been failed by journalism school? Dunno. As an issue it will go away with the passing of time and the baton to a younger generation. As a society, we rely on the press to transmit information, to provide context for that information and to research and query publicly to hold politicians and other leaders accountable. Information transmission is now essentially free (in the developed world). What I am concerned about is that many reporters now can’t get people on the record, and that seems to be OK with news editors. And as concerning is the lagging ability for reporters to give the news context. When it’s trivially easy to fact-check a reporter’s stories*, then that reporter better get the context of their story right. I think these problems could be resolved by technology. But it needs to be developed by journalism-savvy people. *The most recent example I can bring up are stories that came from a delegation of congresspeople visit – that included Rep. Castro – to a Department of Homeland Security illegal immigrant facility in Texas last week. Didn’t read any published report because the context of the story was consistently wrong (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today). The Congressional Hispanic Caucus sponsored the visit. But since no currently serving republican is member, journalists couldn’t decide if it was congressional delegation, Hispanic congressional delegation or democratic congressional delegation. Context – delivered by the adjectives to describe the delegation – were inflected depending on the political leaning of the editorial page.”

A coordinator of enforcement and internet policy said, “The new tools will be apps and standards that allow people to connect across great distances in authentic ways even if they are busy with their lives. A member of my family, for example, asked me to join an app recently that would allow us to keep in touch more effectively through video messages, something I have never tried before but am willing to try. Social media is not the only medium people will use in the future. It will be part of a mosaic of social interactions and standards on the internet that are still forthcoming. Even though I see many positives in technology, there are always going to be challenges, and so my predictions are somewhat conservative. It will always be a two steps forward, one step back situation wherein some harm will be done within a system that will overall slowly advance human interactions and institutions. I can envision a society that is more expressive and comfortable online and in person at the same time where both interactions enhance the other.”

An instructor of computer science at a U.S. university said, “To take one example: e-courts are proving useful, relatively inexpensive and very much broaden access to courts, especially in areas like family law (divorce, child custody issues), providing far broader access to those who otherwise would face significant issues (child care, absence from work, attorney costs) to solve these issues.”

A financial consultant wrote, “Technology is a tool. People will harness it for needs. I can see contributions to improve our social norms along with possible harmful actions. Look what China is doing with social norms score. I don’t agree, but technology is looking to help them with this score. It can also lead to changes like a revolution if the score is used improperly. I expect that we will have tools that aggregate ideas and help to mitigate issues. I am not sure if technology can mitigate all problems, but it can be used to add transparency and information so positive change can occur.”

A futurist commented, “We’re on the brink of a change of pathways that is several years away. The reign of Trump will lead to a countermovement that will bring about sweeping changes in the digital world. We will see a set of privacy laws similar to Europe. We’ll see the breakup of monopolies like Google that will generate new innovations.”

A civil society advocate said, “Tomorrow will be different. I can’t answer the question. I don’t think we can extrapolate from today. I expect a lot of change. Things will be very different. Values and standards and expectations will change.”

A consultant who works for U.S. government agencies said, “Too many people have the idea if it does not involve me I don’t care what happens. They are blind to how technology will and already does affect their world. In time there will be artificial intelligence platforms that will run many facets of daily life observing. This technology will reach a point that it will act on what is in its best interest and not man’s best interest. We are a race that likes to think technology has the answer for everything. The answer is in the people, not technology. With greater use of technology in areas removing the human element we lose control of the world. If we become too dependent on AI systems we will not know how to do the tasks we take for granted today. Our love of technology will be man’s downfall if he lets if take over the ability to think objectively.”

A dean and professor at a major California-based technology university wrote, “The way the question is posed makes an honest answer difficult. We can already see strong evidence of both trends: Tech is both being used to advance social and civic innovation AND it is being used for non-democratic ends. The outcomes, which will be determined in the complex play of political and economic power, are not predictable and will ultimately have little to do with the technology itself.”

A dean of research in the humanities based in Australia commented, “There will be innovation in the technology space in reaction to the increasing use of artificial intelligence, machine leaning and automation alongside increasing challenges to democratic governance and political processes. Disruption in the work, educational and everyday life practices of people alongside climate change challenges and increasing political reconfigurations will provide the impetus for the development of a raft of technological, regulatory and social innovations to adapt, address or counter these.”

A director of strategic initiatives for a major data organization said, “Technology will allow exploration that is not inhibited by geography. Access to knowledge will continue to be the most important innovation. I believe we will work to develop data literacy which will mitigate the dangers of disinformation.”

A director with a Europe-based deliberative-democracy organization said, “Innovation will be supported by technology. Innovation is social and can use technology.”

A Europe-based internet governance advocate and activist said, “People are realizing that the information and communications technologies in general, and the internet in particular, are having an important effect on all walks of life. Politicians will react to that and propose laws and regulations. While such proposals might initially be absurd, in the end reasonable solutions will be found to channel technology so that it serves humans, rather than the current situation where there is an attempt to channel humans so that they serve technology and the unbridled greed of a few individuals.”

A fellow at a think tank’s center for technology and innovation wrote, “Technology is already contributing to a level of polarization when it comes to political groups and associations, and in other areas, including lifestyle, cultural nuances, among other things. The ability of technical systems to filter out our preferences and prioritize our interests will only lead to more fragmentation, thus leaving very little room for brokers between groups and interests. Social innovation will positively impact areas where there have been other investments in growth, such as health care. I am not confident that technology will substantially improve the listed functions. Rather, they may make them much more ineffective or confusing.”

A fellow at one of Europe’s leading schools of economics and independent digital policy consultant said, “We already see many promising experiments from different groups around the world, though I can’t pretend to have an overview. But ultimately force wielded by large entities like nation states and giant corporations can override most if not all of these. Situations are likely to vary very much around the world. You didn’t say where you’re talking about – too often ‘the West’ (or even North America or the USA) dominates discussion. What I do expect is far more assertion of their rights by increasingly aware and increasingly threatened non-Western populations, many of whom will try to move to safer temperate climates. What we now call a migration crisis is nothing compared with what’s coming, however hard we try to reduce carbon emissions.”

A former assistant for U.S. information policy said, “Technology will help identify what is true versus what is not true. More knowledge will spread, but the number of sources (e.g., small-town newspapers) may diminish.”

A leader for a foundation wrote, “Users must take responsibility for their actions. They must remain informed and aware of their actions, implement tools. Tech companies must take responsibility and not exploit users. My responses are predicated on users’ being responsible users of tech, and governments being vigilant about the potential abuses and working with providers to enhance but also protect against abuse.”

A lecturer in media, science and technology studies wrote, “Your question is polarizing because it says ‘significantly.’ I anticipate positive protections and institutions that will mitigate negative effects. However, as your brief history suggests, these changes will have a high price. Many children died and more were maimed before workplace regulations were instituted. It seems like the improvements will occur in the management of employer-focused health care and worker productivity. Those will be substantial improvements of a sort. However, those who cannot or do not wish to adapt to digital life will be left behind.”

A longtime leader in the Internet Engineering Task Force who has worked with several top global technology companies said, “A number of technologists see the potential for danger in the current trends. These technologists appear to be focusing on how technology can support civic and social innovation. As with any technology, there are good and bad aspects. The technologists focused on civic/social innovation are ready to develop solutions that minimize the bad aspects and emphasize the societal goals.”

A longtime professor known for her research into online communications and digital literacies said, “New groups that expose the error of false equivalence and continue to challenge humans to evolve into our pre-frontal cortex. I guess I am optimistic because the downside is pretty terrible to imagine. It’s like E.O. Wilson said: ‘The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.’”

A member of the IETF based in California wrote, “The rate of change in technology and due to technological innovation is accelerating. The impact of technology on society is not well understood and completely uncontrolled. Facebook claims their intent was to shrink the world and bring everyone together. What has really happened is like-minded people can now more easily find one another and reinforce whatever their existing beliefs may be. At the same time, the impersonal nature of communication through technology has made it much easier to dehumanize those with alternate viewpoints. I believe this is why there is a growing intolerance for anyone with a different viewpoint that manifests in increasingly harsh discourse. The incentives for innovations and policies that protect individuals and society at large are too small. Those with the most to gain will gain the most by largely ignoring the public good.”

A North American research scientist said, “My perception is that social and civic innovation happens when there is close interaction of people living in close proximity. Somehow, we are witnessing an increased urban density (at least in some areas such as Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and a number of U.S. cities). In my interactions with people who live and work in these urban areas I see the social and civic awareness happening and the talk of social and civic innovation. In general these people tend to be also more highly educated and more interested in social and civic issues. In my contacts with small town-based people this interest is totally missing. Thus, in my view, any technology that makes people live in a higher density setting will contribute to social and civic innovation. A new run to the suburbs and the exurbs will kill social and civic innovation. Some problems associated with digital technology are instead problems of weak laws. In the U.S. and to a smaller extent in Canada it is too easy to spread fake news under the pretense of freedom of speech. Technology is a force for good and can improve many outcomes (hence my perception that it will improve health). However, if the individualistic ideology prevails, no progress is possible (hence my skepticism of improved workers’ conditions). I have an eye of central northern Europe from Switzerland to Scandinavia. I see technology improving people’s lives much more there than in North America. There are problems there too, but they are dealing with it. People spreading fake news get prosecuted much more forcefully there.”

A North American research scientist said, “Technology has contributed greatly to social and civic innovations in some ways, but it evolves so quickly that it has also contributed greatly to the decline of some social and civic institutions as its creators and users abuse its powers; for instance, Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to regulate Facebook’s users or, perhaps worse, its own use of their data. This pattern will continue as technology evolves.”

A pioneering internet-information personality said, “Again, in the United States this entirely depends on getting Trump out of the White House and flipping the Senate blue. Progressive countries will find tech and other solutions to many of these issues. Whether it happens in the U.S. or nothing is entirely hinged on the administration and the sea change that I hope happens. Ping me again after the election.”

A post-doctoral scholar studying the relationship between governance, public policy and computer systems said, “Technology is constituted of society, reflecting the needs and prevailing ideas present during its development. It also creates needs for social and civic innovation, which create needs for technological innovation in a virtuous cycle. Society creates tools that solve perceived problems, and then adapts around those tools to make them useful as perceptions of the true problems change and mature. There is a lag between when the technologies are created and brought into the world and when new norms are developed and broadly understood enough to gain normative force. For example, as the ability to circulate information has been democratized, the monopoly of journalists on creating broadly disseminated media has broken, giving way to a world where everyone can create on an equal footing. But this has caused a breakdown in the norms around information dissemination: in the past, journalists would attempt to convey the truth, even if that effort had a particular political or social bent or bias; today, anyone can disseminate any information, true or not. As a result, those used to truth in journalistic products can be surprised by ‘fake news’ – misleading information dressed in the trappings of traditional journalism. However, those who understand the fluidity of new media also understand that there is a higher burden placed on speakers for establishing the veracity of their claims, and also understand how to cross-check those claims with the world as understood or with other tools such as search engines or social validation. Risks balance benefits here, too. For many of the questions, social and civic innovation around technology will likely undermine the goal as stated in the question. For example, efforts to make ‘ethical’ uses of algorithms risk replacing the interpretive space in ethics and policymaking with the mechanization of the machines to be governed. The emergence of new social structures around these efforts could lend credence to standardized solutions for problems of ‘fairness’ when case-by-case analysis is necessary to preserve human dignity and flourishing. Better governance structures are therefore most likely to further entrench existing power structures. And yet, the same technologies hold promise to help people organize to resist these changes, or to automate the things that can be automated while preserving the necessary interpretive space for social and civic innovations to take up. The question of how well these interests can or will be balanced is open and important. It is incumbent on technologists and policymakers to find ways to realize the good uses, being aware of likely social and civic innovations, while holding off bad outcomes.”

A principal research scientist with a major U.S. university’s initiative on innovation and the digital economy said, “By 2030 there will be a better sense of public sentiment and greater attention to problems like the border camps in the U.S. now.”

A professor and director at a university based in the U.S. South wrote, “As of yet, I do not see any way that the situation can be prevented. The use of technology platforms is wrapped up in individual rights.”

A professor and expert in management organization at a major European university commented, “We are now facing wicked problems when it comes to social and civic issues, particularly when it comes to inclusivity and participation. Of course solutions will be mustered to combat this, but this alone isn’t enough. We also need to pay heed to the manner of ways in which anti-civil/social tech will be deployed to counter our strives to make society better. There are monsters out there, and they don’t have teeth; they have weaponized social media. Technology carries tremendous promise, but you would have to be tremendously naive to think that it can solve any and all problems. Technology isn’t a double-edged sword; it is a fractal one that is quite able to turn against itself and then against turning against itself. Technology alone will not save us. Policy and open social dialogue is necessary to guide the technologists.”

A professor at technological university based in Sweden wrote, “To use the internet requires literacy. Though this in no way guarantees a friendly attitude to other people, the combination of literacy and the internet gives spaces to explore the world of ideas. From that situation as the base line, insights about possibilities arise. Actors that are already ‘invented’ will need to take action. Sadly, the celebration of digital progress as the solution and saviour seems to discourage those institutions from seeing their strengths as well as the responsibilities they have.”

A professor of computer science from New Zealand commented, “The only way to regulate technology is with technology. I believe governments should impose regulations on the big tech companies. I don’t think they have any real incentive to regulate themselves. I’m optimistic that government regulation will occur in the EU. I’m less optimistic it will occur in the U.S., where big businesses hold government more or less hostage. (Just look at how politicians’ campaigns are funded by tech philanthropists.)”

A professor of computer science from Spain wrote, “If we achieve net neutrality, everybody will have the chance to show good ideas, to discuss pros and cons and the best ones will be followed and chosen. Electric mobility will improve air quality. Health devices and apps will motivate more physical activity.”

A professor of computing sciences based in Italy commented, “Technology can have a positive impact on social innovation. I am not sure that it will. The idea is that egovernment should continue with the introduction of more and more advanced services to citizens. For instance, we have now the possibility to know, by accessing a specific egovernment site, when we can retire and how much we will have in our monthly pension. But, we should also be able to understand what will be the effect of the decision to retire, and what will happen if all the people like us (e.g. with the same age) will decide to retire, in terms of additional cost (taxes) and benefits (new jobs) for the society. So, increasing awareness of the effects of individual choices is an enormous benefit for enforcing good decisions. I expect to see better ways to match citizens’ ideas with political parties and representatives. I also believe that it is possible to better report on the activities of institutions and create a better feeling of being in the same group. Hence, we can mitigate the hate for diverse people and ideas that are now spreading the online world.”

A professor of criminal justice said, “Technology has continued to advance several fields of study including astronomy and genetics. As technology improves, these research efforts will become more valid and reliable and cheaper to conduct. Society will continue to debate and refine ethical approaches to this research.”

A professor of digital culture based in Nigeria said, “The impact of social and civic innovation is inevitable given the potential of society and regulators to respond swiftly to these developments. Artificial intelligence will experience significant growth, which will impact job loss. Civic engagement will trigger political reforms and effective governance. Citizens will be given more voice, which may also affect effective running of some social institutions as a result of possible abuse of new media technologies. In all these, social and civic innovation will provide possible solutions and creative approaches to handle the ‘techlash.’ On the other hand, reforms and improved regulations will be put in place by governments to control abuse of technology, and advocacy groups may press for more regulatory control of the use of technology. Technology is likely to trigger social and civic innovation that may be positive as well as negative. AI will grow, leading to loss of jobs. Citizens will have access to more information on health and wellness, which may help them to improve their health profile. On the other hand, the negative effect of the use of technology may continue to affect citizens negatively, especially young people that spend more time online.”

A professor of engineering based in Spain said, “It is very difficult to predict how the digital revolution will affect social and civic innovation. For sure new ways to get in contact, share opinions, interchange services and goods, etc., will emerge. New, more intrusive regulations from the states will arise. New ways to disseminate and impose the ‘official true’ will be set up. New ways to avoid the state intrusion will emerge. I do not see any positive tendency under the current power of states.”

A professor of information science based in North America said, “There are a lot of smart people working on these problems. While I have no idea what solutions they’ll come up with, I’m optimistic that new social and civic innovations are coming. I believe people will be successful at developing innovative solutions to a wide variety of problems; I’m not sure any of these will change their trust in democratic institutions, but it will give them ways to engage with these institutions.”

A professor of information systems wrote, “Bad things happen and some can be attributed to technology. On balance, substantial progress depends on technology. The progress curve is pointing upward.”

A professor of political science said, “It will have some beneficial effects but will also empower the crazies who want extremist information.”

A professor of political science working at a Silicon Valley-based university said, “There are so many interesting experiments going on, with blockchain, quadratic voting, crowdsourcing, service sharing, etc. I think some of them are using technology to create better communication, cooperation and collaboration at the community level but also worldwide.”

A professor of psychology from South Africa said, “New technologies have already shown how they can accelerate innovation, creativity – e.g. Twitter and social protest. But they have to be more carefully managed – we have a better shot at this with technological innovation than central and legislative control. Monitoring and measurement at an individual level for health issues will become typical, perhaps even part of regular smartphones. Algorithms will allow idiographic processing of results. Mental health interventions are less clear. This needs to be better funded.”

A regional technology evangelist for the world’s oldest continuously functioning international institution said, “In my humble opinion, the human person is more a driver of innovation than technology. In general I expect that neither people nor technology will improve dramatically in the next 10 years, but I’m hopeful that technological advances will empower people to improve matters rather than impede them.”

A research fellow at a technology law and policy clinic said, “Companies are likely to adopt new technologies to manage harassment and abuse on their own platforms, and we may see a shift in their enforcement policies further away from permitting any speech that would be protected under the First Amendment. And online harassment and abuse are likely to be the targets of legal interventions, whether those are new legal rules (like criminalizing deepfakes, as Virginia did recently) or amending old ones (like amending Section 230).”

A research leader for a U.S. federal agency said, “I answer in the way I hope things will go. At this point in time, I don’t know how we will reduce the spread of misinformation (unknowing/individual-level) and disinformation (nefarious/group-level), but I hope that we can. I don’t think physical health will improve at all – we are not moving in that direction. I don’t think mental/emotional health will improve much – but hopefully the steep decline will level off. I hope algorithms get better at identifying mis- and disinformation. I do see improvements in privacy protection in my current job, so I do think that area will improve.”

A research scientist and co-author of a study on intelligent future internet infrastructure said, “Technology provides multiple tools for engaging citizens among them and to create new communities for virtually every possible objective, from sharing hobbies to attaining objectives that lead to an improvement in the welfare of different communities. Besides that, technology and expert groups continuously attempt to attract users to their field so they can contribute or become interested in topics where typically citizenship does not excel (as in the legal or technologic fields of knowledge). Thus, it is highly likely that such trend will continue. I would expect mild-to-no improvements from some informed groups that may be pushing further to inform society on the importance of their private data. I would expect some positive improvements on the physical health of citizens, but the contrary on the mental health, as possibly the feeling of loneliness and entitlement will keep on growing. There are some issues that the use of technology alone cannot mitigate or improve, but sometimes only accentuate or even contribute to get worse.”

A research scientist expert in public economics said, “The ability for anonymous individuals to engage and organize digitally can have a profound impact, like Arab Spring.”

A research scientist focused on fairness, transparency and accountability in artificial intelligence said, “There will be a proliferation of tech tools to try to address the negative effects of technology. As people increasingly identify the negative effects technology is having on their lives, our capitalist system will supply purported solutions to these problems. That said, I don’t think these solutions will necessarily be effective. Will we likely require longer-term reforms to laws and culture to truly address these problems, but I don’t think these will happen by 2030. Social and civic innovation can eventually help alleviate some of these issues but that significant change is unlikely to happen between now and 2030. In the U.S. in particular, we do not have regulatory structures set up to achieve substantial reforms by then.”

A research scientist for a major technology company whose expertise is technology design said, “We have already begun to see increased protections around personal privacy. At present, it is less clear how we might avoid the deliberate misuse of news or news-like content to manipulate political opinions or outcomes, but this does not seem impossible. The trick will be avoiding government censorship and maintaining a rich, vigorous exchange of opinions. I think we’re likely to see clarification around fair use of personal data, much of which is invisible today to end users of digital platforms. I think we may also see paths forward that make deliberate misuse of news or news-like content more difficult. I’m not sure that we can take steps to get people to step away from digital devices that may be contributing to poor mental health outcomes. This strikes me as a matter of public health policy more generally, not of digital platform management.”

A research scientist for a U.S. federal agency wrote, “These are cyclic social and economic processes, and technology and new and strengthened civic institutions will be a tool used to resist weakened democratic norms and institutions. There may well be social and economic reforms that are aimed at corporate monopolies and that seek to weaken corporate ownership and profit from private data. I think that privacy and information ownership are most likely to be solved legislatively and in the courts. However, technological and social bias are most likely to be solved by social innovation; socialization of young people to more balanced privacy is more likely to occur through civic and educational innovation. I think we will see that technological innovation will lead to shifting education and vocational training.”

A researcher and teacher of digital literacies and technologies said, “We’re already seeing the ways that social and civic innovations are occurring. In the U.S., we see the rise of groups like Indivisible coalescing around human rights issues and creating large online and in-person feedback loops. These types of groups are using technology to reach larger portions of society than they were able to prior to social media. This is happening along every axis of the political spectrum, so it cannot be seen as a one-sided, nor one-size-fits-all prospect. But it does show how technology can be used to move specific ideas forward and work toward societal change. However, what we must remember is that this is only targeting those people who 1) use the technology, 2) engage with the technology/groups and 3) want to be involved. There is a lot of discussion about de-platforming these days. However, one of the issues with that is it’s almost always more polarizing. So we need to find ways to make technology more accessible to more people, to make it more usable and to make it easier for people to share their ideas without being diminished by the loudest voices. These are not black and white issues. Significant changes in innovation MAY be able to do those things, but only if we move toward change in a responsible way. We HOPE they would provide benefits, but right now the ways the laws and regulations work around technological innovations is like the Wild West. We’re just not sure what is coming next and how to plan for it. In the U.S., our government is not talking about artificial intelligence or augmented reality/virtual reality because they don’t understand these things. But these are spaces that tech companies are moving toward and fast. If we’re not thinking about them at a regulatory level, then we’re already behind the game – and we can’t guarantee that significant social/civic change will occur.”

A researcher based in North America commented, “Between email and phones, I think we’re close to peak screen time, a waste of time, and it’s ruining our eyes. Just as we have forsaken our landlines, stopped writing letters, don’t answer our cell phones, a concept of an average daily digital budget will develop, just as we have a concept of average daily caloric intake. We’ll have warning labels that rate content against recommended daily allowances of different types of content that have been tested to be good for our mental health and socialization, moderately good, bad and awful – the bacon of digital media. And people who engage too much will be in rehab, denied child custody and unemployable. I think communities, residences and vacation areas will promote digital-free, mindfulness zones – just as they have quiet cars on the train. Statistically selected citizen panels with voting rights; children’s complete right to privacy to age 25; complete transparency of political funding; virtual citizen juries of peer mediators who protect defendants from overcrowded justice systems, unnecessary jail time, lazy or biased judges, and unfair, unaffordable bail; citizen online training to be certified to participate in juries, community committees; certified volunteer hours in lieu of taxes; special court and mediation panels for all ages of the public.”

A researcher based in Norway said, “There is strong incentive to ‘fix’ how we use and perceive the internet as a tool for democracy. It is not that tools and technologies are not possible – we have not tried to construct them! The internet emerged – we are reacting to it. Collaborative research between computer scientists and social scientists is the first step.”

A researcher for a futures research center based in Europe said, “Humanity has always used the tools we have had at hand to produce social and civic innovations. Such positive innovations can be supported by targeting grant money and other resources to groups aiming to produce positive social and civic innovations with technology. Startups could also be included, as successful startups scale up and cross national boundaries. This will need to be done in a ‘portfolio’ style, however. Rather than supporting a patchwork of actors to address some large issue such as foreign actors influencing public votes by distributing false story lines on social media – comprehensive bands of long-term investments must be applied to address whole situations (in this case, all free democracies need an umbrella set of efforts to fend off negative actors). This means that we now need significant resources applied to the key challenges we face socially and civically in our online habitats. The Sustainable Development Goals could be used as source of thematic directions in which to apply such efforts. The key factor to my previous guesses as to the probabilities of various outcomes from social and civic innovation is the balance of power. Large tech companies have vast, concentrated resources with which they can move quickly at scale, while nonprofits and civic and social organizations are increasingly starved of resources or only given resources on a project-by-project basis. Without significant changes in how civic and social endeavors are funded and supported for the long-term, there can be little movement toward outcomes that are not already emphasized by big tech. I also made my guesses within the framing of this questionnaire, which is neglecting (so far) the role of governments and governance to set policy conditions around technological development to ensure positive outcomes.”

A researcher for one of the top five global technology companies commented, “Technological innovation is very likely, especially the application of machine learning and data mining techniques to promote social innovation.”

A researcher into complex systems, evolutionary ethics and network evolution wrote, “Nothing can stop innovation. The tech will innovate very fast, as it has in the recent past. The necessity to regulate, monitor, deal with the tech will spur social and civic innovation in response. However, it’s unlikely to keep pace with the challenges thrown up by tech innovation. There are tech innovations/solutions to some of the problems. E.g., I would strongly expect new social media platforms to develop that help engage citizens in political dialogue and that are more trustworthy than Facebook (a very low bar). However, that won’t prevent others inciting each other on an 8chan or other media. Russia, and most everyone else, will still be able to engage in influential disinformation campaigns, unless there’s an international campaign to put an end to it, which would be a problematic option itself in many ways.”

A researcher of digital social innovation based in Spain said, “Grassroots initiatives have historically taken advantage of technologies to promote change.”

A researcher working with a major U.S. technological universities internet policy project said, “That was a badly framed question. I think there will be significant impact of technology that will contribute to and enable social and civic innovation – but that will include both bad and good changes. There will be a battle and I do not think the outcome is pre-ordained. I checked the more optimistic answer only because it was better than the other two. I am pessimistic that the opportunities for good innovations will be realized, and think it more likely that further damage is likely. The comparisons of populism to the rise of Nazism in Weimar Germany are apt and that was certainly a civic and social innovation. I think this is a badly framed survey. I checked 6 for all of the Likert scale questions. The rise of artificial intelligence and increased interconnectedness of the internet are profound changes for our economy and society. They will provoke substantial civic and social innovations but those need not be good. The conflation of this with concerns over increased concentration of economic power seems to inappropriately mix threads that are clearly related. What this survey does is foster the simplicity of social media-based discourse. There will be a result that will say something like ‘70% of people think tech will make things worse’ or its exact opposite – that will be headline worthy, but will not really tell us anything.”

A security expert for a major Web infrastructure services company wrote, “Technology contributes to social and civic innovation by unlocking new capabilities in communication and knowledge processing. There is no indication that this will slow down.”

A senior fellow at an institute that promotes global cooperation wrote, “We can develop better tools and responsible state and private actors can create protective solutions for individuals and better screening for corrupt content. However, there is a risk that state actors will continue to mandate that certain privacy protections, both hidden and obvious, will be reduced to increase state intrusion and power. My hope is that the technologies will help surface these abuses and make it more obvious to citizens what the state and firms are doing so that individuals can begin to assert more control and have their voices heard. The technology is a double-edged weapon and can do some good, but it depends on who wields the weapon. Also the technology is one of the main causes of environmental degradation and that is harming all of us. Too much power generation for data centers, too much radiation from mobile devices, etc.”

A senior lecturer in computer science at a major university based in California wrote, “‘Success in social and civic innovation’ is such a broad term that it’s almost inconceivable that no such success will occur in the next decade. Nobody can predict the future of social and civic innovation. Even the titans of today’s political or tech worlds are mostly just spectators in this arena. That being said, my guesses are reasonable projections from the past decade or two. See this recent review: Saldivar J, Parra C, ALcaraz M, Arteta R, Cemuzzi L. Civic technology for social innovation. CSCW. 2019;28(1-2):169-207. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10606-018-9311-7”

A senior research program manager investigating information science for a major think tank said, “I expect there to be a backlash about technology as it becomes more pervasive and the harms of connecting and using data about citizens becomes more apparent and understood. This is likely to result in limits on how information can be collected and used. From a U.S. perspective, I expect this regulation to be sector-based (e.g., insurance), and aimed at addressing the perceived harms technology introduces. I’d like to think that technology can improve civic engagement and mitigate the adverse affects of technology, but, in the end, it too is technology, not policy. The technology needs to encode and enforce the policies that are defined by social processes, not coders. I think the backlash will encourage this to happen.”

A senior research scientist with a center for international security studies wrote, “Where there is freedom, innovation will happen. A lot of it will be to the good. Nothing about this is new.”

A sociology scholar wrote, “Informing people of the negative uses of technology and how it affects the average person, educating them on how to become aware of dangers and mobilizing them into social action could all help. It will happen if political parties are reorganized and revitalized and political movements are mobilized. I see a world going through revolutionary change on a scale unseen since the Industrial Revolution. Those countries with firmly based political institutions have the greatest potential for handling upheaval and providing the leadership needed to encourage full citizen participation and to find agreement on shared goals. That is, the answer lies as much in politics as it does in technology.”

A technologist for a top-five global technology company said, “The EU is the biggest social experiment in the world, where sovereign nations agree to pool some sovereignty to benefit the larger group collectively. Despite the negative impact of Brexit, some expansion of the EU is again being discussed. There are some worrying signs of bad behavior by some existing members including Poland and Hungary, but I still believe in the potential for the emergence of a stable democratically-based EU that remains strong in the world. Technology can help in many ways, and has already done so. Estonia is an example of a single innovative EU country that can now be used by entrepreneurs as an EU base, with all services exercised securely electronically. There is a lot to be optimistic about. Even today, in the U.S. and Europe technology has largely been positive. In the rest of the world the economic progress enabled by bringing countries into the global economic system has seen the biggest positive change in terms of health and poverty in the world’s history. So I hope these positive trends will continue.”

A technology consultant and futurist commented, “The question is based on a U.S.-centric view of history and social justice. But it is also the case that the Industrial Revolution did not introduce civic injustice: it just allowed existing injustices to manifest in new ways. And the laws and mechanisms that you list were not developed to address the injustices of the Industrial Revolution, but simply occurred at a time that post-dated the Industrial Revolution. It is true, however, that many of the things you list were only possible as advances in a post-industrial revolution world. Thus, you should be looking at what social and civic changes that are already desired will be enabled by the internet, and which will be unstoppable because of the internet. It is curious to frame these questions in terms of ‘social and civic innovation’ but place them in the context of the internet. It is almost as though you assume social and civic innovation cannot take place as a function of people. In answering the questions, I have considered how people are and how are societies are built. That paints a far gloomier picture of likely changes since from that perspective, the internet only offers a possible mechanism to effect change, not a driver for such changes.”

A technology developer active in IETF commented, “I *hope* that mechanisms will evolve to exploit the advantages of new tech and mitigate the problems. I want to be optimistic, but I am far from confident.”

A technology developer and administrator expert in learning technologies said, “The recent appearance of data indicating the degree to which the society and culture have been adversely impacted by unintended consequences of technology adoption have triggered both legislative and commercial responses (Congressional hearings about tech tools, firms emphasizing their interest in consumer privacy, investigative reporting by commercial and public news organizations, etc.), and it’s because of this new level of oversight and enlightened self-interest on the part of vendors that I think we’ll see a net improvement of tech’s role in social and civic innovation. Our current experiences of grievous public health problems due to hidden influences (deceptive opiate sales techniques, big food industry lobbying impacts on the government expressions of a healthy diet) won’t survive increased visibility, courtesy of investigative reporting and alternative platforms to publish and promote true and accurate information. Of course, one of the prerequisites for this to be the case is the emergence of viable business models for minimally-biased news media environment.”

A United Kingdom-based researcher seeking to better understand the conditions under which citizens learn and improve political discourse said, “Regulation (both self-regulation and governmental regulation) will catch up to the big tech companies, and they will address ways in which they are perceived as problematic. This answer holds for democratic countries. I have no idea what effect or consequences technology will have in authoritarian or autocratic contexts. On average, I assume it makes contestation easier rather than harder.”

A vice dean for research at the public policy institute of a technological university based in Southern Europe said, “Technology will foster social and civic innovations by creating new ways for more convenient voting, new ways to provide public services and enhance direct democracy.”

A vice president for a global health care technology company responded, “New technology will bring in new ideas, new thinking process and then new mindsets. These will resolve some current problems. But it may generate new problems too.”

A writer and editor who covers technology and the internet commented, “We’re most likely to see the expansion of legal remedies to fight harmful disinformation. Gawker was already wiped out by a libel suit; we should expect to see someone put Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to the legal test as well. If a huge punitive judgment comes down against a platform, you’ll see these companies take real action to curb abuses. Media companies still operate under the psychology of advertising media working as small-market monopolies. Tech companies have eaten their lunch. Frankly, having really pushed for innovation in media companies since the 1990s, it’s hard to shed a tear over the regressive actions of news organizations, considering how badly they treated innovators in the beginning. The privacy issue is unlikely to be resolved, because too many companies are making too much money collecting data on consumers. I’m looking for a big libel case that holds Facebook or Twitter responsible for publishing harmful speech, with the imposition of punitive damages large enough to get these companies to clean up their acts.”

An advocate and activist based in Europe wrote, “I don’t expect significant effective innovation before 2030. I do think there will be attempts that will not be effective. Sometime after 2030 there may be legislation and tools that support it that will mitigate the problems. The major technology companies behind social media, search technology and surveillance tools are unlikely to allow these valuable assets to be eroded. Big data is likely to improve policy decisions on physical infrastructure. The impact on workers will be greatest on lower-skill workers. Skilled workers and managers will ensure that they are still employed to monitor the results of technology. Technology could improve medical practice through science and BIG DATA but large sectors of the population will still have unhealthy lifestyles and suffer from stress. Social media will continue to feed angry outbursts, lynch mobs and bullying.”

An anonymous civil society leader who works in the Global South commented, “We developed a program on digital democracy in Peru and one of our main activities is The National Digital Democracy Award. We have four categories: citizen, civil society, public sector, private sector. Since year 2014 more than 300 digital initiatives have participated with very innovative ideas to make positive changes in society, at a local or regional level in different areas, such as: governance and politics, society issues, education, health, cultural affairs. You can learn more on our website: https://www.democraciadigital.pe/premio”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I am now retired, but still maintain connections to an amazing group of scholars at my School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering. Many of the scholars conducting research at that school are dedicated to designing and implementing the tools that will be used in social and civic innovation. But they are not the only ones. I also see this happening in the social sciences and in the humanities. Perhaps if they all work together, we can see that positive change. But with Trump-like characters at the helm in this world, I am skeptical about the impact of the innovators. I particularly see advances in the contributions that technological advances can have for improvements in health (both physical and mental). That has been occurring steadily over the years and some pretty amazing advances have been made. But wherever politics and power control advances I have less hope that we will see any changes. Dictators around the world have been able to control uses of some of the technology we thought would be able to be bypassed by users in those countries. Sadly, I believe that will continue.”

An anonymous respondent from North America said, “I actually disagree with all three options. The first two options seem to give technology too much agency; the third option seems to give it too little. It’s a bit more complicated than that. Technology is not neutral; it does have its own inertia, but they are also not immutable. I think it’s more likely that technology will REQUIRE social and civic innovation (which might be the intended meaning here). In that sense, I do think new understanding of technology and its impact will become more important. Change is likely between 2020 and 2030 but probably not ‘substantial’ (at least not in the way I would think so). These kind of changes on the societal level tend to be slow and, to some extent, generational. For example, we (society) often fret about technology use and youths but it’s the older generation who are more vulnerable to and more likely to spread fake news. I also have the problem with ‘technology’ in general, since there are dynamics within it, for example, between the rhetorical fights over privacy between Apple and Google/Facebook. And that’s just one area. Just as some company may approach algorithms and artificial intelligence in careful, ethical ways, others may use it purely for profit, or even intentionally nefarious reasons. For that reason, I think we will always be pulled in several directions at once, until we as a society figure out the consequences and decide what is important.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The problem is that the populations affected by these different applications are often unique, with some benefiting and others left behind. Layered on top of all these innovations is the continued presence of hacking, spamming and fraud that significantly reduces the chance for these technologies to reach their full potential. I believe the extent that these nefarious elements can be controlled will determine the ultimate benefit and positive or negative impact of technology in the next decade.”

An anonymous respondent said, “We are on the edge of change – much as people were at the beginning of the Industrial Age. It will take a period of time to sort out how people, the press, polling, democratic institutions and algorithms will all support each other.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I do think that ultimately innovation will occur – but I’m not convinced significant changes will occur by 2030. Right now it feels like opinions have become more polarized, which is preventing compromise. Political parties try to ‘win’ an issue rather than trying to find a solution that will work for people. Technology has made it easier for people to come together and discuss solutions and options. It’s easier to collect and publish data that might help people understand the issues we are facing. Eventually this should help positive change to occur, but it might get a little worse before it gets better.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Overall, the internet has developed ways for people with good ideas to get funding and recognition. I believe this will continue. Digital use is negatively affecting everyone. As technology becomes more prevalent, I believe these problems will persist and grow.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Technological opportunities create tools. They may be incredibly useful tools, like the internet itself. How well and to what end people use those tools is always the issue. The abuses we see are abuses by people, not by the technology. New technology can’t fix that problem. A return to civil discourse, an acceptance the reasonable people can differ, and an openness of dialog would make a difference. The opinions we see in the U.S. media appear highly divided because drama sells. The majority of Americans are not so divided. There are already emerging communities for reasoned discourse where issues are explored and debated, they are just not widely known.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I think social and civic innovation is essential to humanity’s survival, frankly. It’s not a question of ‘likely’ but a question of necessity to me. What kinds of innovations are possible? New technological tools that counteract the hegemony of existing tools. A return to or renewed emphasis on face-to-face social presence and events. Inter-generational activities and learning.”

An anonymous respondent said, “This question is so meta. Of course the answer is both! The use of digital surveys to ask questions in such a way that the answer is grossly insufficient proves the point. ;) There will be countless innovations led by technology. There will also be practically insurmountable problems created by these very same technologies and others. Again, the people and ethical underpinnings of society will be more impacting than the technological capabilities. The ways that technologies are used to unite (or separate) us as *storytelling* mechanisms may be the most important attribute. The fact that information can be more easily manipulated, forged and spread is concerning, especially because it erodes trust. Trust will likely become one of the most important currencies of the future. There will likely be authenticated hubs of trustworthy information.”

An anonymous respondent said, “If nothing else, technology is facilitating information-sharing among people living across the globe. In this way, ideas, strategies, solutions, evaluations can be shared, studies replicated, evaluations evaluated. However, the challenge in this sphere is institutional leadership. As long as organizations seek to maintain the status quo, social and civic innovation – and social and economic change – will be limited. With the recent analyses done on nudges, I think we are a long way away from solutions related to mass use of technology to improve health, etc. While there is, thankfully, interest in mental health, social cohesion, privacy, etc., so much of change comes down to individual behavior. I’m sure tech will lead to change, but not substantial change in most areas. This will rely on 1) improved economic equality across the board and 2) innovation in behavior change with people whose lot in life (at least their economic one) has improved.”

An anonymous respondent said, “As technology improves it should add to social and civic innovation. Technology is leading to isolation and the inability for people to interact in person. I don’t know how that will be counteracted.”

An anonymous respondent said, “This is a maybe since it depends on economic, energy, health and food security crises not overwhelming societal attention. And on enlightened leadership by our government – local, state and national (especially). Digital technology could make health care more efficient and available via remote sensing wearable tech, superior hearing aids, superior pacemakers, blood glucose monitoring, monitoring of organ functions, fitness and nutrition monitors, etc. Nearly boundless ways digital tech and miniaturization will innovate. Secure voting systems, identity theft protections, home energy conservation, water management, new educational tools, transportation logistics, air quality and water quality monitoring systems – all ways to make society function better for everyone. Google and Apple News and Facebook, for example, could easily filter news based on indicators of credibility and newsgathering and reporting standards – making it harder for disinformation to masquerade as real. Digital tech will continue to enable virtual communities and support groups and institutional collaborations – graduate-level research seminars routinely offered among networks of institutions. This could revolutionize higher education, especially at the graduate and professional school levels. Other than blind faith, we have no evidence that any powerful actors in society now control or have the ability to lead the social and civic innovations that would/could make for a healthier society, more personal protections and new resource savings/protecting systems/approaches. It is equally possible that digital monitors in our lives will become assets for insurers, employers, lenders and marketers in ways that do more harm than good for many in society. Local ownership of news media is nearly gone – and with it a commitment to the community beyond market potential. When a daily newspaper in Ohio closes down because there are no interested buyers we know our communities are not well served unless they’re rich. We have more and more information deserts in communities where small papers once thrived and were part of the fabric. Disaggregation of news removes context, source credibility and continuity. And television network news is increasingly thin soup. The digital divide will become even greater along with income and educational and health inequalities – certainly the direction we’re headed. Bleak.”

An anonymous respondent said, “It is my hope that technology will improve transparency and increase civic engagement. You can’t make a law to make people smart or educated. Regulating speech makes it less free and the regulators aren’t to be trusted.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “If technology replaced humans, then the Constitution will be stripped and civil rights will be seen as unnecessary.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “It won’t be enough to counter the forces focused on using technology to undermine democracy. Artificial intelligence is advancing for both good and ill. The net effect is negative.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Tech is here to stay. The way to counter techlash is more and better tech for good.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Tech tools to mitigate the negative impacts of technology, and the new social/civic phenomena based on these tools, are being developed, but their takeup will be severely affected by the digital gaps (by income, by urbanicity, etc. – what makes sense in Bay Area with dense, educated, well-off population may not make sense in rural Idaho or even urban Alabama (if there is such thing)).”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Your analogy of the changes that occurred as a result of the Industrial Revolution is apt. There is no reason to suppose that the Digital Revolution will be any different. The pace of change and innovation will increase. Of that I am sure. Social change will be concomitant to the role that IT plays in the workplace, the production cycle and the dematerialisation process already in progress. Individuals will have to re-evaluate their lives and their prospects. Whether the responses to change are successful or not depends on multiple factors, such as the current sophistication of societies, the perceived place of a shared morality and the level of education and awareness. The risk is the emergence of a dispossessed and disenchanted digital proletariat whose response to change will be violent rather than reasoned. Although I am generally in favour of technical innovation, I believe its implementation should be encadré in order to prevent the emergence of a Chinese-style society of total surveillance. As technology advances, its use will inevitably be subject to a techlash. We see this already. This dialectical process will, I hope, eventually lead to a healthy middle way. The advance of knowledge cannot be stopped and Jack cannot be put back in the box. Public argument will lead to the emergence of acceptable standards of implementation and conduct. (I hope.) But there is no other way.”

An anonymous technology consultant wrote, “Part of the problem in responding to the question regarding future ‘significant change’ is that significant means different things to different people. That said, I doubt if anything as significant as passage of the Food and Drug Act (1906) or the creation of labor unions will happen in the next 11 years. I can imagine various small innovations that depend on information technology to observe behaviors or monitor for the flow of specific types of information. Change is hard. Innovations are difficult to develop and usually diffuse slowly. Innovations that will have a substantial impact by 2030 must either exist now or be created in the next few years. Amazon has had a significant impact on retailing and urban real estate. It was founded in 1994 and had sales of about $7 billion in 2004. That’s a lot of books but it’s not a significant fraction of a multi-trillion-dollar economy. Today Amazon’s sales are more that 1/4 trillion dollars per year.”

An area director with the Internet Engineering Task Force said, “We have already seen decentralization and delocalization of affinity groups due to internet-based communication. I think we will see that increase, and groups start to experiment more with social services subscriptions based on group affiliations.”

A businessman and entrepreneur said, “Innovation in learning (e.g., online courses, some for free) is already happening. This will provide life-long opportunities for those willing to challenge themselves on their own, or displaced workers in need of retooling. Ethical behavior will become expected – people want to be treated with dignity and not abused. As we continue to process what has happened since 2015-16, we will continue to learn as a society what to expect abusers will attempt, and take steps using technology (or not) to avoid it. Self regulation of technical (and data) service providers will prove insufficient, and a global General Data Protection Regulation-like mandate will emerge.”

An engineer who works for a major global networking company based in the U.S. said, “Technology can always be used to mitigate problems. However, the bad actors too will continue to innovate and cause their own disruption. This is the nature of human society. I don’t believe technology is the magic elixir of life. Life keeps moving. New threats and opportunities will continue to emerge. While I work for internet privacy, it’s a religion or practice rather than science. It’s about human nature.”

An entrepreneur based in Southeast Asia said, “Legal protections and regulations will be implemented in technology tools so technology prioritizes or rewards responsible social content and at the same time technology does not give importance to sensational/revenue generating content. Legal protections aka laws, regulations, reports of compliance with new laws and regulations submitted to government appointed regulator for scrutiny and audit, reports of compliance made public by the regulator.”

An expert in digital culture based in the United Kingdom responded, “More regulation will be introduced; however, implementation and coverage will be imperfect and challenges will persist.”

An expert in human-computer design wrote, “Technology use will both accelerate and prevent cultural value change. Already there exists a remarkable diversification of attitudes and practices. If enough new platforms arise to make the present moment look almost as monocultural as Reagan-era television, then there is reason for optimism. The problem remains the pull the other way, toward ever bigger and fewer, toward ‘Googlezon.’ I really dislike the series of ranking questions. Too much precision in predictions too based on comfortable assumptions. History tends to be more mind-blowing than all that. The kinds of informational ethics necessary to the challenge are difficult to anticipate as workings of existing institutions, nor without enormous sociocultural shifts in dwelling, parenting, education, etc. Nowhere near enough people have enough perspective on the unintended consequences of habitual information overconsumption.”

An expert in international business and communications based in Europe responded, “Technology will both enhance and proscribe social and civic innovation. We will use technological interventions along with regulations including self regulation to fight abuses online. So questions about technology being a social good or menace will not be polemical one. But one which will be socially, culturally and ethically shaped over time, and too nuanced to be one thing or the other.”

An expert in social informatics based in Denmark wrote, “People will increasing use secure communication to protect their privacy. Smart contracts and other cryptographic mechanisms will replace institutions in coordination of social relationships. Trust in institutions will be replaced by interpersonal trust due to disintermediation. This will make it possible for individuals to escape a news system that maintains the power of tiny elite over all aspects of social life. The now accepted forms of marriage and the family, which often force persons to remain in unsatisfactory relationships, will lose credibility and cease to provide a useful function.”

An international policy adviser on the internet and development based in Africa said, “DCA Trust: Technology is creating and will continue to evolve and increase the impact of social and civic innovation. With technology we will see new accountability tools and platforms to raise voices to counter the societal ills be it in leadership, business and other faculties. We must, however, be careful so that these innovations themselves are not used to negatively impact end users; such issues like privacy and use of data must be in a way that users a protected and not exposed to cybercrime and data breaches that so often occur now.”

An Internet Engineering Task Force participant wrote, “I already see a yearning for civic engagement of greater depth and nuance, and a growing fatigue with the atmosphere of contempt that permeates social media. I suspect the extremism growing over the past two decades is within a decade of prompting a backlash among the silent majority of conservatives, liberals and moderates who just want institutions and policies that work, along with measured, gradual experimentation at the margins rather than vain attempts at revolutionary progress.”

An internet pioneer active in IETF who’s now working to develop edge computing said, “There will be major work done both on a technological level and a human level (e.g., regulation) to address the problems of technological overload. Sometimes these interact: technology may be able to better detect and flag hate speech, but it will take humans to define what that means.”

An internet pioneer based in North America responded, “There is more to this than technology. We WILL find ways to combat abuse. We must find ways to expose perpetrators of harm regardless of their location. We will need to establish international cooperation across all sectors including governments, civil society, the private sector and the technical/academic sector. Some abuse may be inhibited through use of technology. Some successes will arise from cooperative enforcement and a better educated public. Some will be the result of broad adoption of norms. Anonymity cannot be absolute. It must be possible to pierce the veil of anonymity at need and under the right conditions (e.g. proper court orders). We need a better educated public that knows how to observe good cyber-hygiene and online safety practices. Naivete must be replaced with healthy skepticism and critical thinking. Makers of cyber-products must be held accountable for safety and security. I am cautiously optimistic about improvements along the lines suggested but not so sanguine about health especially to the extent that people tend not to make the best choices regarding lifestyle, diet, exercise – and I don’t really see technology reversing that. I think it possible that social norms will have a positive effect on the way in which digital technology is used.”

The chair of an Internet Engineering Task Force infrastructure group wrote, “Already more improvements have been made to normal society due to the advances in technology. This will continue in the future, perhaps even gaining momentum along the way.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Technologies of the future will lead to significant innovations in numerous sectors. This will be the result of having more highly trained and tech-talented persons in the workplace. While there will be increased opportunities for individuals to test the limits of the developed systems, there will be those equally motivated to develop counter-balancing protective or mitigating algorithms. Digital technologies are already leading to significant social decline in terms of personal communication. The focus is on devices rather than engaging each other in meaningful face-to-face conversation. Many are choosing to stay indoors, working from home, telemedicine and resorting to digital means for shopping, etc., thereby limiting social interactions. This could lead to potential major health related issues, including vitamin D deficiency, etc.”

The founder of a data ethics organization wrote, “It all depends on current policy, technology and cultural developments.”

The co-founder of a group looking to transform communities for global good said, “It all comes back to acknowledging who is your neighbor, and who is the frightening ‘other’ It all turns on affection. Think Wendell Berry.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Shared ideas are a catalyst for innovation. Digital technologies make the exchange of ideas free and easy.”

Will significant social and civic innovation occur between 2020 and 2030, and can it help solve emerging issues?

The following respondents wrote these qualitative remarks after choosing as their quantitative response that “technology use will have no effect on social and civic innovation.”

A chief operating officer with a 20-year tech industry career, expert in the cybersecurity, DNS and internet infrastructure, commented, “There is a need for at least a three-pronged approach: 1- Policy and regulatory: There is a dire need for civic (policy, regulatory and governance principles) innovation regarding the use and abuse of technology. Our social media platforms are run by an increasingly smaller set of tech behemoths intent on building followers (and addiction) incentivized by advertising dollars, with little to no guardrails and no consequences when things go awfully wrong (think Facebook and Cambridge Analytica). However, our regulators need to have the sense and the will to at least set up and reinforce guardrails and consequences, in case of gross misconduct. 2- We also need to reinforce true journalism and distinguish it from the opinion journalism that clogs our airwaves and to be steadfast in calling out false information no matter what the source. In the beginning of this administration, reporters would report what Trump said without also factchecking it at the same time. It is better now, but not as pervasive as it needs to be. 3- Return of the age of reason. Carl Sagan warned of this era in his book, ‘Science as a candle in the dark.’ With the erosion of critical thinking skills, polls are manipulated, scientists are seen as elitists and scientific facts and observations derived from them are disregarded if not politically convenient – and technology can very easily help spread false information and opinion paraded as facts. Just witness the ongoing debate on climate change, which is akin to debating gravity whilst standing at the edge of a precipice. Innovation always happens to make things better, faster and cheaper. It is up to us to ensure common sense and reason prevail and that the potential misuses are if not anticipated then at least quickly curbed. Whilst social and civic innovation is certainly possible and whilst there is no lack of proposals to consider, what is lacking is the will (on the part of our elected and judicial parties) to enact this. Case in point – no one can credibly dispute Russian meddling with the 2016 elections. Yet almost three years from that date, no significant action has taken to exact consequences, not to substantially ensure future elections will not be tampered with. We have the technology, we know what was done and what could possibly be done by the adversary, yet our president and notably the GOP lawmakers have taken little to no action. The will is lacking and without it, there will be no guardrails nor consequences. The outcome cannot be positive.”

A professor of communication at an Ivy League university commented, “There is a big difference between starting settlement houses and passing antitrust laws to mitigate some effects of the Industrial Revolution on the one hand, and finding ways to mitigate the exploitation of social media to sow division and confusion in the service of certain politicians and ideologies. Trying to solve the latter problem bumps right up against the First Amendment. Also, there are too many politicians who might benefit from the evolving division and confusion.”

A professor of international security wrote, “In my view, the main obstacles to the kinds of ‘social and civic innovation’ you’ve asked about are not related to technology. At least within the United States, the obstacles stem far more from gerrymandering, campaign finance provisions, voter suppression and other dimensions of what can only be called public corruption (especially in the Republican Party). As a result, I expect such attempts at societal reform to be systematically stymied. The ascendance of a regressive coalition in the United States, and similar social dynamics in Russia, China and other major countries suggests that global level innovation and reform are also unlikely, because there are no powerful states championing such agendas.”

A senior partner in a market research organization commented, “Technology logs paradigm shifts of the past achieved very little mentioned in this series of questions. No reason to believe the next 10 to 20 years will be different and[AB1]  bless you’re young and lack historic perspective.”

A director of urban studies at an institute studying labor issues commented, “The question is whether there will be social movements around these issues, and I don’t see that happening. All these issues require sustained social movements; I’ve only witnessed significant organizing around algorithms.”

A lecturer on the social implications of computer technology who is based at a major Silicon Valley-area university said, “2030 is just around the corner. All those mitigations you mentioned for the Industrial Revolution took a lot longer than that. And the reforms we need aren’t fundamentally about technology. They’re about things like defining corporations as people. Used to be that corporations were a kind of bargain with society: We give you limitations on personal liability, and in return you are required to run your corporation in the interest of society – well, at least in the interest of society’s rulers. Now corporations have human rights, like fetuses. Meanwhile the rights of actual living human beings are worn away. I would love to be wrong about this. I would love for the General Data Protection Regulation to put Google and Facebook and Amazon out of business. (I’m having trouble imagining how it would work for the GDPR to achieve its privacy goals while still letting those companies derive their profit from something other than violating privacy.) But in the real world, legislators mostly seem to think that as long as the company posts a privacy policy that says how they’re violating your privacy, that’s good enough. Maybe Fitbits will encourage people to exercise, I don’t know. Mostly I think it encourages the people who already exercise, so I’m not super optimistic. The question about privacy versus safety is a wrong question. One of the biggest threats to public safety is governments armed with friend network data. That’s why, supposedly, they need warrants from a court to search our stuff – but now much of our ‘stuff’ is information in the hands of third parties. More privacy will increase, not decrease, our safety. Back when everyone was talking about the Arab Spring, they thought that Twitter was going to empower democratic forces. But it’s turned out, first, that we were just wrong about how important Twitter actually was, and second, that the alleged flowering of democracy didn’t last long.”

A longtime leader of a regional internet management organization commented, “The changes that have to be made are social and cultural. Technology is not as much a factor as the underlying human behaviors that have to be changed on a social and cultural level. As we either ignore history or erase it, there will continue to be a decay of cultural and social norms that have evolved over the entirety of human existence.”

A pioneering technology editor and reporter for one of the world’s foremost global news organizations wrote, “I don’t believe technology will be the driver for good or bad in social and civil innovation. It can be a catalyst because it has always been a strong factor in organizing people and resources, as we saw early on with ‘flash mobs’ and have seen used to deleterious effect in the disinformation operations of Russian agents that sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. I believe the social and civic innovation that can rein in excesses of surveillance capitalism, of Big Brother tech such as the abuse of facial recognition and other biometrics for social control can only come from moral leadership. Tech is a tool. Artificial intelligence and genetic engineering are technologies. How we choose to use these tools, the ethical choices we as human societies make along the way, will define us. Social and civil innovation that can make for healthier, less stressful lives and more civic engagement will be selective and restricted mostly to advanced industrial societies. I do not see the root causes of global migration diminishing in the meantime, with global warming – or climate crisis as it’s now being more frequently termed – a persisting and worsening problem. Unless global migration and the climate crisis are eased and we see more instances of enlightened government and less xenophobia and tribalism, I’m afraid there’s little that social and civil innovation can do to compensate for the distortions and misdirections of digital technology’s evolution.”

A professor of information science commented, “The problem with the question is the forced choice – whether tech will help, hinder or have no effect. Actually, a significant body of work in science and technology studies (and social informatics) shows that tech always has intended and unintended consequences, that it’s implementation creates winners and losers, and that helps and hinders social and cultural change. The same type of technology can help alleviate congestion in the delivery of government social services and be used for voter suppression. The important question, in my mind, is who will be in charge of designing, implementing and managing these technologies. The political aspects of new technologies will be important in determining the range of effects they will have. It is difficult to predict which innovations will be a part of the world in 2030 – there are tremendous advances in health care enabled by technology that could improve some people’s lives, but I fear many will be left behind. New social media platforms emerge continually, but the threats to privacy remain embedded in their design. The political system will be changed by the spread of online voting as will the threats that accompany the vulnerabilities of the machines used. Again, I think that what will be extremely important will be the leadership behind these various initiatives, and given what has been happening in the past five years, I am not optimistic that technology will lead to significant improvements in our lives at individual, group and societal levels. For example, I expect that technology will be instrumental in increasing income inequality and in preserving the power of elites.”

A research scientist based in California commented, “While there will be social changes such as legalization of marijuana and acceptance of LGBQT issues, I don’t see technology per se as impacting these social and civic issues.”

A researcher based in New Zealand said, “Why this fixation on major changes? I do think that social and civic innovation will occur but it will be incremental and certainly not what people start out intending to do. Any big plans always fail or turn out totally differently. Giving everyone the ability to make small changes will make the world a better place as people are generally willing to make minor trade-offs. If it’s big then people have more invested and it also takes on the idea of power to tell others what to do. I am based in Christchurch, New Zealand, and since the 2011 earthquake I have seen that big plans and ideas are rubbish but the many little incremental things – some successful, some not – have made the difference in a better way. As an IT colleague of mine that designs good user systems says, ‘We can upgrade the hardware and the software, but the wetware is still the archaic beta version.’ In other words, people are still pretty much thinking and working through life the same way as they have for many years.”

A senior consultant based in Australia commented, “Inequality. The main problem with the questions is that the unequal divide not at all addressed. While the greedy rich control the wealth, they control everything.”

A senior policy analyst for a multinational economic policy group said, “There should have been an option like this: ‘Technology use will contribute to social and civic innovation that significantly *exacerbates* problems of the digital age.’ In other words, yes, there will be social and civic innovation but overall it probably won’t be positive; it will be harmful. Consider the growing degree to which people are subjected to surveillance. In some countries, governments have rolled out sophisticated uses of technology to preserve their power and control society. China, for example, has its ‘Social Credit Score’ system for controlling citizens’ behavior and ideology. Facial recognition technologies are proliferating. In the Western world, private corporations have built an extremely large storehouse of granular data about users and they are always becoming better at figuring out how to use it to predict and capitalize on user behavior. Politicians are becoming more adept at using social media to influence and in some cases manipulate citizens, even to set policies in some cases. Again, unless and until there is a change in business models, the problems we have seen so far are unlikely to go away. Yes, innovation will continue, but it might not be the kind of innovation that solves those problems – it could make them worse.”

A vice president for research and economic development wrote, “This question is not very good; the problem is that technological innovations cause new problems. I picked ‘no effect’ but what I really mean is that the problems we see now are caused by technology, and any new technological fixes we create will inevitably cause NEW social and political problems. Attempts to police the web will cause freedom of speech conflicts, for example. Because of advantages of scale, it is impossible for a variety of competitors to emerge in social media. I am surprised at the degree to which Facebook, a proprietary system, has become a default platform for businesses, neighborhoods and many other organizations to organize and communicate. This is why I’m pessimistic about social media being reformed.”

A well-known scholar of public affairs and administration said, “It will both contribute and detract. There are many positives. But the potential for tech to contribute to a ‘post-truth’ polarized era with diminishing civility in public discourse impresses me above all.”

An activist attorney expert in free speech, privacy and security said, “Technology isn’t really an independent variable here. The dominant issue is enormous social inequity stemming from huge wealth disparities (see my previous long answer). In the U.S., and maybe in the world, elections have consequences. I’m sure there will be great work on social and civic innovation, but whether it gets traction is about our politics. We’ve had amazing struggles for human rights but we know there’s a real chance that this Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade. That wouldn’t happen if Hillary had won. But she didn’t. Trump did. And his conservative justices will be there for a long time. I won’t even mention political gerrymandering. If I wanted to be optimistic, I’d have to believe that Trump won’t be reelected, that Boris Johnson won’t be the next U.K. prime minister, that the Senate goes democratic, that dems keep the House. Trump himself might be an aberration, but Trumpism clearly isn’t (if the polling data about the significant percentage of voters who on balance vote for him and his ilk is to be believed). I hope I’m wrong, but to be optimistic I’d have to believe that young people and others who vote at very low rates change their behavior. And of course, voter suppression is omnipresent. I’m slightly more optimistic about progress on privacy because it’s been such a big deal since Cambridge Analytica. There’s more understanding that it is economics, business models that matter. People seem to more realize today that behaviorally targeted advertising is evil. Same for face recognition. On algorithms, I feel we might be early enough to make a difference in some arenas, like pretrial risk-assessment in criminal justice settings. But I don’t think any optimism here translates to anything else. The GOP hatred of Obamacare is indicative of the problem. Or the opioid epidemic – our politics doesn’t condemn it as Big Pharma greed (the Sacklers).”

An anonymous respondent based in Europe wrote, “The question was: ‘Will significant social and civic innovation occur between now and 2030?’ The option was then ‘Technology use will contribute to social and civic innovation that significantly mitigates problems of the digital age.’ These are not the same thing. I would agree – ‘Technology use will contribute to social and civic innovation.’ Of course there will be new technology. However, this innovation will not necessarily mitigate the problems of the digital age, but could indeed exacerbate the problems. Those in control of the technology may well not share the objectives of the consumers of the technology. Again, we see this as an issue at the moment and ‘innovation’ of itself will not solve the problems. Many of the questions assume an optimistic view of the future. ‘Social and civic innovation will do X or Y good thing.’ I do not feel optimistic. I see the control of technology remaining with large companies that are motivated to gain financial value from the spread of their technology and are mostly unconcerned with the social impact unless the backlash gains enough weight to impact the processes that create the financial value. I do not see social or civic agents as being able to extract themselves from this financial pressure.”

An anonymous respondent based in France said, “Social /civic innovation depends on people’s vision, commitment and perseverance. Technology might help in some aspects but cannot compensate for the lack of engagement and mass mobilization.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The factors involved in this area stretch far beyond technology itself that I do not think that it’s possible to quantify the impact of technology itself on this area. Society and culture seems to be fracturing and diverging much faster than any visible technology innovations for achieving common goals. Many of the perspectives and values that have provided much of the ‘glue’ that has held societies together have themselves been attacked as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ rather than being seen as ‘the glue that provides good society.’ Many of the previous questions appeared to have the assumption that technology would somehow provide the ‘glue’ for culture and society to ‘progress’ – I believe that this is a fundamental flaw with nearly all of the stated questions. Technology can facilitate reaching a commonly held value or goal but it cannot itself be the goal (and it’s certainly _not_ a value). With multiple, fracturing societies receiving greater exposure via the internet, the use technology to solve problems of fracturing societies will have to determine which fractures of which societies will benefit – and which will lose?”

An anonymous respondent said, “The question is framed as an either/or. It will both aid and undermine.”

An anonymous technology journalist commented, “Technology will both help and hinder social and civic innovation. After a period in which it looked like social media would be a new tool for challenging the powerful, as in the Arab Spring, the current perception focuses on the damage it’s doing. This damage is real, but the potential for new social innovation hasn’t disappeared either. This doesn’t necessarily mean the two sides are a wash, cancelling each other out entirely. It’s an arms race. The foundation for more ethical design of algorithms is being laid. There are smart people working on it, issues that were obscure have become much more widely-acknowledged and in at least some of the use cases that cause the most concern the incentives are in the right place. The application of ethical design is likely to be uneven, though, mostly due to the use cases where there remain significant incentives to ignore ethical issues.”

An anonymous writer said, “The U.S. is just too divided politically. Ultimately change has to be enacted into law and even if there is a democrat majority it won’t be by much, and republicans can cause enough trouble to block new laws from being effective. Plus there will still be many ‘blue states’ where progress at the national level won’t change lack of progressiveness – Kentucky for example. The only substantive advancement I envision is vastly improved health care because of telemedicine, artificial intelligence, electronic medical records and just better interaction between caseworkers and patients to manage chronic conditions.”

An artificial intelligence expert wrote, “That’s not a very intelligent question. It’s technological determinist: for example, whether or not the EU breaks up Big Tech has little to do with what technology they’re using. It would have been good to specify what country you are asking about. I’m not very hopeful for the U.S., because of the anti-regulatory zeal that’s so characteristic for U.S. political culture. And the hope that civil society actors can make up for the failure of the U.S. state is just naive, they can’t (no resources, to begin with). It seems that the U.S. has also forgotten what human rights are so I’m not optimistic. I’m more hopeful for Germany and the EU in terms of labor rights, unionization, antitrust innovations and voting rights protections and provisions. Though how much they can do about U.S. companies is another question.”

An associate dean of research for science and engineering commented, “My real answer is that technology will both contribute and retard such changes. Fundamentally, we still have a challenge of power disparities. It is easy to imagine solutions that would help here – fully-publicly-funded election campaigns, an ownership share in enterprises for labor, a universal basic income – pick your favorites. What’s hard is that each of these involves taking something away from people who have entrenched power, and in most cases an incentive to maintain that power. We can see this in these areas, in universal health care, carbon taxes – you name it. So technology (and social media, internet information distribution, etc.) will be a tool both of those trying to organize the less powerful and of those trying to preserve the power of the more powerful. If we weren’t living through it, it would be quite an adventure to watch.”

An associate professor of data science and computer science commented, “Tech *forces* the need for social and civic innovation.”

An expert on online trust and identity active in the multistakeholder organizations that build and maintain the internet said, “It’s not the technology. It’s the uses technology can be put to.”

An internet pioneer and technology developer and administrator said, “The misuse of technology has become the greatest threat to freedom in our times. More technology can’t make things better. What we need is a new regime of regulation (and I believe, taxation) that forces those whose businesses are driving the decline of democratic institutions to contribute to their renewal. I predict that the government will come down very hard on Facebook, not only with multi-billion-dollar fines, but also with a consent decree that will truly have ‘bite.’ The bad press and the prospect of a major trial has already crippled Facebook’s ability to recruit and slowed its ability to respond to competition. The result has been the rapid rise of competitors such as TikTok. My prediction is that within five years several new applications will have replaced Facebook’s Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp as the most popular mobile applications. This has the potential to help bring competition to what is today a monopoly.”

The editor of a journal focused on technological evolution wrote, “The three possibilities offered are not exhaustive of all the possibilities. I expect there will be a mix of outcomes, but that was not an option given. These answers do not take into account that the changes to take place might be negative in their effect, or at least a mixture of negative and positive. A 10-point scale from no change to occur to positive change will definitely occur is flawed. There might well be change that is wholly or partly for the worse. I expect we’ll see a mix of good and bad outcomes and I doubt that anyone is in a position to guess what the mix will be. I’m more hopeful about some areas than others, as shown by my answers.”

The executive director and co-founder of a major digital activism organization said, “There is likely to be little or no relief by default – business models have become extractive and driven by efforts to limit competition/innovation. Government intervention – through breaking up large platforms, compelling structural separations and pro-social regulation – could lead to a substantial amount of social and civic innovation. My ranking of potential for social and civic innovation answers were all predicated on substantial government intervention through anti-monopoly efforts. If this happens it could compel substantial innovation in the tech space, compel competition among platforms along pro-social dimensions (such as privacy, or algorithms that are less terrible) and would itself be evidence that the platforms are being brought to heel and will be understood to be under democratic control moving forward. If this doesn’t happen then, while there will surely be some positive innovation on some dimensions, it will be less than it otherwise should be and will probably be overwhelmed by the anti-social profit-driven default impulses of the major tech platforms.”

The following anonymous respondents wrote these qualitative remarks after choosing to NOT select any of the three options they were offered when asked to predict the potential effectiveness of social and civic innovation between 2020 and 2030.

An expert in the law who previously worked for a U.S. government agency wrote, “Like the prior question, this one too is off-target. It asks the wrong questions and thus the answer to the question is yes and no; but there certainly will be impacts. We are seeing them already. States are enacting privacy laws. Local governments are telling their police departments that the use of emerging technologies – like face recognition – may not be used notwithstanding their potential to catch criminals. The Supreme Court in Carpenter pushed back on the third-party doctrine and recognized the strong privacy interests in one’s cell phone. On the other hand, we have moved to a surveillance economy that is becoming increasingly entrenched. The number of dominant firms in this space has been pared down so giants have monopoly power in their sector – Google for search, Facebook for social interaction, Amazon for retail marketing and cloud storage, Apple for platform products, Microsoft for software, etc. Monopolies are not per se illegal (unless unlawfully acquired) and exercise enormous and political power. There are increasing calls for scrutiny and laws to harness this power. All of this interaction is highly dynamic. There will be much civic innovation – we’re seeing the buds already – but there will be intense pushback from industry, which will rightly point out the value of bigness and the network effects that come with it. So yes, there will be innovation, and yes, there will be counterpunching. How the dynamic will play out is impossible to forecast today. I have no basis to answer the prior set of questions and I doubt that anyone has. I think that whatever answers you get from these questions will be simply guesses that in my view have little or no grounding. The forces at work here are highly dynamic and will be influenced by factors that are inherently interrelated. Answers depend on political and economic factors that are hard to anticipate and even harder to predict. So much rides on whether Trump is reelected, whether the predicted economic downturn takes place, whether predictions about economic dislocation from artificial intelligence and robotics takes place, and on and on. I can understand why you ask these questions; I can’t understand why anyone would take the answers seriously.”

A computing science professor emeritus from a top U.S. technological university wrote, “Social/civic innovation will occur but most likely lag well behind technological innovation. For example, face recognition technology will spread and be used by businesses at a faster pace than social and legal norms can develop to protect citizens from any negative effects of that technology. This technology will spread quickly, due to its various positives (increased efficiencies, conveniences and generation of profits in the marketplace) while its negatives will most likely not be countered effectively through thoughtful legislation. Past Supreme Court decisions (such as treating corporations as persons, WRT[AB1]  unlimited funding of political candidates, along with excessive privacy of PACs) have already undermined U.S. democracy. Current populist backlashes, against the corruption of the Trump government, may also undermine democracy, such as the proposed Elizabeth Warren tax, being not on profits, but upon passive wealth itself – a tax on non-revenue-producing illiquid assets (whose valuation is highly subjective), as in her statement to ‘tax the jewelry of the rich’ at 2% annually. Illiquid assets include great private libraries, great private collections of art, antiques, coins, etc. – constituting an assault on the private sector that, if successful, will weaken democracy by strengthening the confiscatory power of government. We could swing from current excesses of the right to future excesses of the left. I am an expert in artificial intelligence, not in future social/legal policy formation or enforcement. In any case, the problem with applying AI technology will not be with the technology but with the legislative sector. For example, in the area of health, the U.S. poor on food stamps (SNAP) are able to use their stamps to eat foods that lead to diabetes at ever earlier ages, but how can laws decide which of the many thousands of food products should be banned from SNAP, due to offering low-quality nutrition? The problem here is not about the use of technology – an AI machine learning algorithm could assign a quality score to various foods, based on data mining of health and food use outcomes – but who would decide what data gets mined and what criteria are used by such an algorithm? The makers of all those junk foods would lobby fiercely against any such laws.”

A consultant expert in human-compatible artificial intelligence responded, “I do not like the question (though in general I like Pew work). The issue is what sort of new difficulties and challenges will be created. What sorts of positive solutions will be found. Again, these sorts of dreamy – measure of whether one is going to despair or see a utopia – questions really are not very interesting.”

An anonymous conference organizer commented, “I didn’t answer the previous question because I believe that there will be substantial ‘social and civic innovation’ that will be discovered, developed and implemented top-down by government and corporate sources that will make people more compliant, more disempowered and quite possibly happier about their decreasingly autonomous lives. Such innovation will NOT ‘mitigate the negatives of the digital age.’ It will embody them. You ask about, ‘new technology tools, legal protections, social norms, new or reconfigured groups and communities, educational efforts and other strategies to address digital-age challenges.’ Yes, governments and corporations will employ all of these to enforce compliance, detect and liquidate dissent, motivate cooperation and otherwise ‘address digital age challenges.’ One of the reasons I have not found it possible to participate in your surveys over the past several years is that the epistemology of your questions gives me no viable ways to answer the questions. Same with most of your preceding questions. This is important. Are you running a push poll? You equate ‘substantial change’ with something good and ‘no change’ with something bad. I think there’s going to be LOTS of innovation and lots of change but, with very few exceptions, these innovations and SUBSTANTIAL changes largely will be implemented by forces inimical to democracy. The choice is not between big change and no change. The choice is between democratic power and power to big organizations. For example, when you ask about improved financial viability of news media, are you talking about the free press? Or simply that the ‘news media’ will find financial stability (as they’re funded based on behavior by big government and big companies)? Yes, that’ll be lots of change. Another example: ‘Social and civic innovation will substantially enable political activities that lead to progress in solving major policy problems.’ Yes. The political activities will be implemented by large anti-democratic institutions. The ‘progress’ will be substantial, but not democratic. And it’ll improve things for these institutions.”

An expert in communication behavior wrote, “I did not answer the previous question because I do not see mitigating, overcoming or no effect on social innovation. However, I would anticipate all social norms to continue to remodel and restructure and to morph into new norms. My lack of responses to the latter questions is because I cannot agree or disagree with the ethical and moral handicaps placed on the response level. I believe such changes are built into the concepts and operations of the systems, but I am only historically studied in all but a few small areas of these fields.”

A principal engineer for a major internet cloud data services company said, “Situation too uncertain to offer any predictions on.”

A professor of knowledge-based systems who works at a major European technological university said, “Too broad questions, as before.”

A professor of political science wrote, “I do not see any innovations on the horizon that will have these effects.”

A technology leader for a major U.S. telecommunications company wrote, “There may be social innovation, but technology will be trying to beat it (stay ahead). The result will be innovation that begins to erode the rights of the individual.”

A vice president for global public policy at one of the largest internet access providers in the U.S. said, “My pessimism stems from the fact that we have do not have a good track record of mitigating any of the harms to date, and concern that they will continue to grow faster than our social and civic innovation can keep up.”

A well-known futurist based in the South Pacific wrote, “As a person who has been trained and engaged in survey research I am appalled at the Trump-level sophistication of these questions and horrified that someone might take the published results seriously.”

To read the full report on the Future of Social and Civic Innovation between 2020 and 2030, click here:

To read the anonymous responses to the questions, click here: