The Internet in 2020 – What the Experts Predict

Most experts agree that Google won’t make us stupid. Indeed, 76% of technology stakeholders and critics interviewed by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University believe that the Internet and search engines will enhance human intelligence by 2020. For this new report, the Pew Research Center conducted in-depth interviews with over 800 experts about what they think the Internet will look like in 2020.

Here are some of the key quotes from the report:

Will Google Make us Stupid?

Just the Stats

76% By 2020, people’s use of the Internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information, they become smarter and make better choices. Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google).

21% By 2020, people’s use of the Internet has not enhanced human intelligence and it could even be lowering the IQs of most people who use it a lot. Nicholas Carr was right: Google makes us stupid.

4% Did not respond

“I feel compelled to agree with myself. But I would add that the Net’s effect on our intellectual lives will not be measured simply by average IQ scores. What the Net does is shift the emphasis of our intelligence, away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence. The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking.”- Nicholas Carr

Google will make us more informed. The smartest person in the world could well be behind a plow in China or India. Providing universal access to information will allow such people to realize their full potential, providing benefits to the entire world.” – Hal Varian, Google, chief economist

It’s a mistake to treat intelligence as an undifferentiated whole. No doubt we will become worse at doing some things (‘more stupid’) requiring rote memory of information that is now available though Google. But with this capacity freed, we may (and probably will) be capable of more advanced integration and evaluation of information (‘more intelligent’).” – Stephen Downes, National Research Council, Canada

The problem isn’t Google; it’s what Google helps us find. For some, Google will let them find useless content that does not challenge their minds. But for others, Google will lead them to expect answers to questions, to explore the world, to see and think for themselves.” – Esther Dyson, longtime Internet expert and investor

People are already using Google as an adjunct to their own memory. For example, I have a hunch about something, need facts to support, and Google comes through for me. Sometimes, I see I’m wrong, and I appreciate finding that out before I open my mouth.” – Craig Newmark, founder Craig’s List

“The Internet has facilitated orders of magnitude improvements in access to information. People now answer questions in a few moments that a couple of decades back they would not have bothered to ask, since getting the answer would have been impossibly difficult.” – John Pike, Director, globalsecurity.org

Will The Internet Enhance and Improve Writing, Reading and the Rendering of Knowledge?

Just the Stats

65% By 2020, it will be clear that the Internet has enhanced and improved reading, writing, and the rendering of knowledge.

32% By 2020, it will be clear that the Internet has diminished and endangered reading, writing, and the intelligent rendering of knowledge.

3% Did not respond

Most writing online is devolving toward SMS and tweets that involve quick, throwaway notes with abbreviations and threaded references. This is not a form of lasting communication. In 2020 there is unlikely to be a list of classic tweets and blog posts that every student and educated citizen should have read.” – Gene Spafford, Purdue University CERIAS, Association for Computing Machinery U.S. Public Policy Council

“This is a distinction without a metric. I think long?form expressive fiction will suffer (though this suffering has been more or less constant since the invention of radio) while all numeric and graphic forms of rendering knowledge, from the creation and use of databases to all forms of visual display of data will be in a golden age, with ordinary non?fiction writing getting a modest boost. So, English majors lose, engineering wins, and what looks like an Up or Down question says more about the demographic of the answerer than any prediction of the future.” – Clay Shirky, professor, Interactive Telecommunications Program, New York University

When I was a boy, homework consisted of writing a paragraph. Now, youth writing paragraphs in a blink of an eye. They are mastering language only to reinvent it. They are using it in new forms. Tags. Labels. Acronyms. And the game becomes a written game of who can use written word most effectively. Reading, writing, and communicating will become much more fluid as youth are more engaged in the practice of these skills, and have a greater motivation to practice their skills.” – Robert Cannon, senior counsel for internet law at Federal Communications Commission

When writing itself appeared, philosophers feared that it would weaken memory and degrade intelligence. But it allowed for a great, albeit externalized memory and an enlarged, albeit shared intelligence. […] The Internet will have similar effects, with some losses but, on balance, more gains.” – Mark U. Edwards, senior advisor to the Dean, Harvard University Divinity School

More people are reading and writing, and in more ways, for more readers and other writers, than ever before, and the sum of all of it goes up every day.” – Doc Searls, co? author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto”

Will Online Anonymity Have Gone the Way of the Dodo by 2020?

Just the Stats

41% By 2020, the identification ID systems used online are tighter and more formal – fingerprints or DNA?scans or retina scans. The use of these systems is the gateway to most of the Internet?enabled activity that users are able to perform such as shopping, communicating, creating content, and browsing. Anonymous online activity is sharply curtailed.

55% By 2020, Internet users can do a lot of normal online activities anonymously even though the identification systems used on the Internet have been applied to a wider range of activities. It is still relatively easy for Internet users to create content, communicate, and browse without publicly disclosing who they are.

3% Did not respond

The privacy and civil liberties battles over the next decade will increasingly focus on the growing demands for identity credentials. New systems for authentication will bring new problems as more identity information will create new opportunities for criminals. Identity management companies will also go bankrupt and try to sell off their primary asset ?? the biometric identifiers of their customers.” – Marc Rotenberg, executive director, Electronic Privacy Information Center

Anonymity online will gradually become a lot like anonymity in the real world. When we encounter it, we’ll take a firm grip on our wallet and leave the neighborhood as soon as possible ?? unless we’re doing something we’re ashamed of.” – Stewart Baker,

“‘It will be an archipelago of named users, who get a lot of value from participating in that part of the ecosystem, but still set in an ocean of anonymity.” ?? Clay Shirky, professor, Interactive Telecommunications Program, New York University

Anonymity will continue to have its place; that is the architecture of the web and it will be difficult to change that. Nonetheless, I believe that verified identity will come to be seen as an added value in transactions (including conversations) and as a way to recognize more value (reward in financial or ego terms).” ?? Jeff Jarvis, prominent blogger, professor, City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism

You can find the full report with almost 50 pages of quotes about a number of additional topics on the Pew Center’s website.

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