Elon University

Survey X, 2018-2019

Reports Gather Experts’ Predictions About ‘The Next 50 Years of Digital Life’ and ‘AI and the Future of Humans’

Researchers at Elon University and the Pew Internet & 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.

In our tenth canvassing of experts since the early 2000s we asked participants to share their thoughts in answer to two series of questions. The first series probed their perspectives on “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans.” The second series asked them to consider the arc of human-plus-internet evolution since the first connection of the ARPANET in October of 1969 and the future impacts over “The Next 50 Years of Digital Life”; and in this same question set they weighed in on “Historians’ Verdict 50 Years from Now On the Impact of the Internet Today.” Respondents were asked all of these research questions the summer of 2018.  

Scroll down the page to find links to these three reports.

Report: “AI and the Future of Humans”  – Released December 10, 2018

Will the evolution of humans-plus-technology follow a mostly positive path? This report shares thousands of insightful replies to the following questions: By 2030, do you think it is most likely that advancing AI and related technology systems will enhance human capacities and empower them? That is, most of the time, will most people be better off than they are today? Or is it most likely that advancing AI and related technology systems will lessen human autonomy and agency to such an extent that most people will not be better off than the way things are today? Please explain why you chose the answer you did and sketch out a vision of how the human-machine/AI collaboration will function in 2030. Please consider giving an example of how a typical human-machine interaction will look and feel in a specific area, for instance, in the workplace, in family life, in a health care setting or in a learning environment. Why? What is your hope or fear? What actions might be taken to assure the best future?”  About 63% of these respondents, said most people will be mostly better off. About 37% said people will not be mostly better off.

Report: “The Next 50 Years of Digital Life” – Released October 28, 2019

What can we expect from the next 50 years of digital life? This report shares thousands of insightful replies to the following questions: The year 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first host-to-host internet connection. Please think about the next 50 years. Where will the internet and digital life be a half century from now? Please tell us how you think connected technology, platforms and applications will be integrated into people’s lives. You can tackle any dimension of this question that matters to you. You might consider focusing on questions like this: What changes do you expect to see in the digital world’s platform companies? What changes do you expect to see in the apps and features that will ride on the internet? How will digital tools be integrated into everyday life? What will be entirely new? What will evolve and be recognizable from today’s internet? What new rules, laws or innovations in its engineering over the intervening years will change the character of today’s internet? And, considering your expectations for the next 50 years, how will individuals’ lives be affected by the changes you foresee? Will there be significant change that’s mostly for the better for individuals’ lives, significant change that’s mostly for the worse for individuals’ lives or no significant change in individuals’ lives?

Respondents were also asked: What one thing has surprised or shocked you the most about the evolution and impact of the internet since 1969? Describe one major way people’s uses of the internet have changed things for the better in the past 50 years. Describe one major way people’s uses of the internet have changed things for the worse in the past 50 years. And they were asked about what historians might say about 2019 – a separate report with an analysis of the responses to that question is linked just below this item.

Report: “Historians’ Verdict 50 Years from Now On the Impact of the Internet Today” – Released October 28, 2019

How might human-tech evolution circa 2019 be judged by historians in 2069? This report, spun off from one of the questions asked in the “Next 50 Years of Digital Life” question set, shares hundreds of intriguing responses and observations prompted by the question: What will historians’ verdict be 50 years from now about the internet’s impact today on people’s social, economic and political lives? Among the themes in the responses were these: The network of networks helped humanity reduce risk, improved countless lives. It also ushered in a risks-ridden time resulting in overwhelming social concerns. It initiated a somewhat dystopian social decline along with its high-value social benefits. The internet could eventually lead to technology’s overthrow of humanity. The internet led to overwhelming advances for global good despite its down sides.

A sampling – anonymous respondents said historians 50 years from now might say the current age of the internet:

  • “Redefined civilization.”
  • “Enabled the rise of another social order.”
  • “Could be the most significant era of human history.”
  • “Led to the spread and dominion of Western values, economic power and political control.”
  • “Drastically sped up technological progress and led to the emergence of global society.”
  • “Led to dramatic changes in how people view the world, thus dramatically changed the pillars on which society is built.”
  • “Has accelerated capital, communication and connection.”
  • “Has simply updated and replicated legacy colonial hierarchies.”
  • “Led to data and information becoming a major asset and a ‘commodity.’”
  • “Was the era in which humans had to create systems to cope with large-scale continuous disruptions.”
  • “Served us in many ways, but failed us in ways that even now we are unaware of.”
  • “Was not as important as climate change and other elements of its time.”
  • Was the point of creation of  “a Jinn: a genie who grants the insidious and perverse inverse of any wish. In building a technology to bring the world together, we gave it the perfect tool to rip itself apart.”
  • “Economically has been a boon. Politically it created polarity. Socially, the verdict is still up in the air. The next 10 years will be important.”