Researchers at Elon University and the Pew Internet, Science & Technology Project canvassed technology innovators, entrepreneurs, analysts, digital professionals and the highly engaged public between July and August 2017, asking them to answer a series of questions about current trends and imagine what may evolve. Thousands of predictions were shared, illuminating hopes and identifying challenges.
Report on the Future of the Information Environment – Released October 19, 2017
What is the future of trusted, verified information online?
1,116 respondents replied between July and early August 2017 to the following prompt: The rise of “fake news” and the proliferation of doctored narratives that are spread by humans and bots online are challenging publishers and platforms. Those trying to stop the spread of false information are working to design technical and human systems that can weed it out and minimize the ways in which bots and other schemes spread lies and misinformation. The question: In the next 10 years, will trusted methods emerge to block false narratives and allow the most accurate information to prevail in the overall information ecosystem? Or will the quality and veracity of information online deteriorate due to the spread of unreliable, sometimes even dangerous, socially-destabilizing ideas?
Respondents also answered the following follow-up questions:
- Briefly explain why the information environment will improve/not improve.
- Is there a way to create reliable, trusted, unhackable verification systems? If not, why not, and if so what might they consist of?
- What are the consequences for society as a whole if it is not possible to prevent the coopting of public information by bad actors?
- If changes can be made to reduce fake and misleading information, can this be done in a way that preserves civil liberties? What rights might be curtailed?
- What do you think the penalities should be for those who are found to have created or knowingly spread false information with the intent of causing harmful effects? What role, if any, should government play in taking steps to prevent the distribution of false information?
- What do you think will happen to trust in information online by 2027?
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.”