The Internet has had an enormous impact on people's lives around the world in the ten years since Google's founding. It has changed politics, entertainment, culture, business, health care, the environment and just about every other topic you can think of. Which got us to thinking, what's going to happen in the next ten years? How will this phenomenal technology evolve, how will we adapt, and (more importantly) how will it adapt to us? We asked ten of our top experts this very question, and during September (our 10th anniversary month) we are presenting their responses. As computer scientist Alan Kay has famously observed, the best way to predict the future is to invent it, so we will be doing our best to make good on our experts' words every day. - Karen Wickre and Alan Eagle, series editors
Historically, the Internet has been all about connectivity between computers and among people. The World Wide Web opened enormous opportunities and motivations for the injection of content into the Internet, and search engines, such as Google's, provided a way for people to find the right content for their interests. Of course, the Internet continues to develop: new devices will find their way onto the net and new ways to access it will evolve.
In the next decade, around 70% of the human population will have fixed or mobile access to the Internet at increasingly high speeds, up to gigabits per second. We can reliably expect that mobile devices will become a major component of the Internet, as will appliances and sensors of all kinds. Many of the things on the Internet, whether mobile or fixed, will know where they are, both geographically and logically. As you enter a hotel room, your mobile will be told its precise location including room number. When you turn your laptop on, it will learn this information as well--either from the mobile or from the room itself. It will be normal for devices, when activated, to discover what other devices are in the neighborhood, so your mobile will discover that it has a high resolution display available in what was once called a television set. If you wish, your mobile will remember where you have been and will keep track of RFID-labeled objects such as your briefcase, car keys and glasses. "Where are my glasses?" you will ask. "You were last within RFID reach of them while in the living room," your mobile or laptop will say.
The Internet will transform the video medium as well. From its largely programmed, scheduled and streamed delivery today, video will become an interactive medium in which the choice of content and advertising will be under consumer control. Product placement will become an opportunity for viewers to click on items of interest in the field of view to learn more about them including but not limited to commercial information. Hyperlinks will associate the racing scene in Star Wars I with the chariot race in Ben Hur. Conventional videoconferencing will be augmented by remotely controlled robots with an ability to move around, focus cameras and microphones, and perhaps even directly interact with the local environment under user control.
The Internet will also become more closely integrated with other parts of our daily lives, and it will change them accordingly. Power distribution grids, for example, will become a part of the Internet's information universe. We will be able to track and manage electrical power demand and our automobiles will participate in the generation as well as the consumption of electricity. By sharing information through the Internet about energy-consuming and energy-producing devices and systems, we will be able to make them more efficient.
A box of washing machine soap will become part of a service as Internet-enabled washing machines are managed by Web-based services that can configure and activate your washing machine. Scientific measurements and experimental results will be blogged and automatically entered into common data archives to facilitate the distribution, sharing and reproduction of experimental results. One might even imagine that scientific instruments could generate their own data blogs.
These are but a few examples of the way in which the Internet will continue to surround and serve us in the future. The flexibility we have seen in the Internet is a consequence of one simple observation: the Internet is essentially a software artifact. As we have learned in the past several decades, software is an endless frontier. There is no limit to what can be programmed. If we can imagine it, there's a good chance it can be programmed. The Internet of the future will be suffused with software, information, data archives, and populated with devices, appliances, and people who are interacting with and through this rich fabric.
And Google will be there, helping to make sense of it all, helping to organize and make everything accessible and useful.