Elon University

Digital Life in 2026 – the 2016 survey

Researchers at Elon University and the Pew Internet, Science & Technology Project canvassed technology innovators, entrepreneurs, analysts, digital professionals, and the highly engaged public, asking them to assess today’s trends and imagine what may evolve. They share thousands of predictions in these reports, illuminating hopes and identifying challenges.

Scroll down the page to find details on FIVE reports being released early in 2017 based on a survey fielded from July 1 to August 12, 2016.

Report on Connected Infrastructure: The Internet of Things – Released June 6, 2017

Will connectivity extend despite issues? 1,201 respondents replied to the question: As billions more everyday objects are connected in the Internet of Things they are sending and receiving data that enhances local, national and global systems as well as individuals’ lives. But such connectedness also creates exploitable vulnerabilities. As automobiles, medical devices, smart TVs, manufacturing equipment and other tools and infrastructure are networked, is it likely that attacks, hacks, or ransomware concerns in the next decade will cause significant numbers of people to decide to disconnect, or will the trend towards greater connectivity of objects and people continue unabated? Which is most likely: 1) Yes, significant numbers will disconnect. 2) No, most people will move more deeply into connected life. Please elaborate on your answer.

Report About Online Training for Future Skills – Released May 3, 2017

Will new training prepare workers who are fit for the future and what should they know? 1,408 respondents replied to the question: In the next ten years, do you think we will see the emergence of new educational and training programs that can successfully train large numbers of workers in the skills they will need to perform the jobs of the future? Yes or No? Please elaborate on your answer.

Trolls, Anonymity, Fake News & the Future – Released March 29, 2017

Will uncivil and manipulative social discourse stay the same or worsen? 1,537 respondents replied to the following question about the course of discourse:  In the next decade, will public discourse online become more or less shaped by bad actors, harassment, trolls, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust? Which is most likely: 1) Online communication becomes more shaped by negative activities. 2)Online communication becomes less shaped by negative activities. 3) I expect no change in the tone of online interaction. Please elaborate on your answer. 42% said there will be no major change in discourse (and the vast majority of these were unhappy with much of the popular discourse in 2016); 39% said it will be “more shaped” by uncivil activities; only 19% said the future is likely to be “less shaped” by uncivil activities due to a variety of technical, regulatory and social solutions.

Code-Dependent: The Impacts of Algorithms – Released Feb. 8, 2017

Will the future impact of algorithms be positive, negative or about 50-50? 1,302 respondents replied to the following Algorithms question:  Algorithms will continue to have increasing influence over the next decade, shaping people’s work and personal lives and the ways they interact with information, institutions, and each other. The hope is that algorithms will help people quickly and fairly execute tasks and get the information, products, and services they want. The fear is that algorithms can purposely or inadvertently create discrimination, enable social engineering and have other harmful societal impacts. Will the net overall effect of algorithms be positive for individuals and society or negative for individuals and society? Which is most likely? 1) Positives will outweigh negatives. 2) Negatives will outweigh positives. 3) The overall impact will be about 50-50. Please elaborate on your answer. 38% said impacts will be mostly positive; 37% said the spread of algorithms will turn out to be mostly negative; 25% said they see the future impact of algorithms as 50-50, half positive/half negative.

Report About Trust and Online Interaction – Released August 10, 2017  

Will trust in global interactions strengthen? 1,233 respondents replied to the question: Billions of people use cell phones and the internet now and hundreds of millions more are expected to come online in the next decade. At the same time, more than half of those who use the internet and cell phones still do not use that connectivity for shopping, banking, other important transactions and key social interactions. As more people move online globally both opportunities and threats grow. Will people’s trust in their online interactions, their work, shopping, social connections, pursuit of knowledge and other activities, be strengthened or diminished over the next 10 years? Which is most likely: 1) Trust will be strengthened. 2) Trust will be diminished. 3) Trust will stay about the same. 48% chose the option that trust will be strengthened; 28% said trust will stay the same; and 24% said trust will be diminished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The digital divide will grow ever deeper.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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