After 25 years, 5 predictions on the future of the Internet

To recognise the 25th anniversary of the Internet, we highlight some thoughts and ideas on what life and the Internet might be like in 2025.

Tim Berners-Lee  The World Wide Web - Opportunity, Challenge, Responsibility (by Anna Schiller, flickr)

On 12 March 2014, the Internet celebrated its 25th anniversary. On that day in 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a paper proposing an “information management” system that conceptualized the World Wide Web. For those of us over 30 years old, we may remember a time before the Internet:

  • research was conducted via books (especially encyclopaedias), print media, and in libraries
  • communication could only be done in person, via the post, telephone, fax and telex
  • most banking transactions needed to be done in person, though, depending on the bank,  it may have been possible to telephone or fax initial instructions
  • purchases could only be done in person or via mail order, which may be expedited by telephone, fax or telex
  • 14.4 kbps dial-up modems would have been considered high-speed, and would have been costly to procure if they were commercially available
  • the computing devices available at that time were prohibitively expensive, which the average individual could not afford, and
  • websites did not exist: the first website was launched in 1991.

In the 25 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s paper, we might not be able to imagine our lives without the Internet. It is also driving our societies to become more information and digital based, and is directly affecting our economies. At the same time, the Internet is challenging traditional values and norms: from the rights to privacy and freedom of expression, to those associated with intellectual property.

Although it is useful to look back and appreciate how far we have come, the future of the Internet promises to be even more exciting. Routinely, futurists postulate on what the Internet and life on Earth will look like in the future. Most recently and to commemorate the Internet’s 25 year milestone, the Pew Research Center surveyed 2,558 experts and technology builders about what life will be like in 2025. Five predictions are highlighted.

Invisibility of the Internet

Currently there may still be some novelty associated with having access to the Internet, as relatively it is still an emerging technology that has undergone significant transformation in recent years. Into the future, it is likely to become even more integrated into our lives so that it becomes invisible. According to David Clark, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

The Internet (and computer-mediated communication in general) will become more pervasive but less explicit and visible. It will, to some extent, blend into the background of all we do…

{Source: Pew Research Center)

Internet of everything will be fully established

In the mainstream, we are generally guided by film and entertainment on terms such as artificial intelligence, big data, and even the Internet of Things. However, what will become increasingly evident is that there will be networks within networks, systems within systems, Internets within Internets, all of which are underpinned and connected by data, intelligence and seamless infrastructure. Essentially, the Internet of Everything, as defined by Cisco, will be realised:

…bringing together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before-turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals, and countries.

Data will have an even greater influence on attitudes and behaviour

Following from the wealth of data that currently is and will continue to be available into the future, the capability to process and manipulate that data will also develop and improve. More importantly, the results from all of that processing will become a critical input to shaping individual opinions and perceptions, and ultimately behaviour and decisions. Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future: What Happens In a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?, succinctly captured this anticipated occurrence:

When the cost of collecting information on virtually every interaction falls to zero, the insights that we gain from our activity, in the context of the activity of others, will fundamentally change the way we relate to one another, to institutions, and with the future itself. We will become far more knowledgeable about the consequences of our actions; we will edit our behavior more quickly and intelligently.

(Source: Pew Research Center)

The digital divide may widen

Although currently many countries worldwide are seeking to make the Internet more inclusive – by improving the accessibility and affordability of telecoms services, and through initiatives that improve the lives of persons at the bottom of the pyramid – a widening of the digital divide is still anticipated. However, to varying degrees, this widening may be relative. For example, within a society there might be an overall improvement in the standard of living, lifestyle and the access to and use of technology, but there will still be a relatively small minority (“the haves”) that will still have access to very sophisticated services and facilities. As a result, there could be greater conflict and sense of unjustness by the “have-nots” (Source: Pew Research Center).

Increased avenues for mischief

Finally, by 2025, the Internet will not be a panacea for today’s problems. They may actually be amplified, since human nature itself will not have changed considerably, if at all, in the next decade. Hence attitudes and behaviour such as “laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime”, are likely to evolve and scale Source: Pew Research Center). According to Llewellyn Kriel, CEO and editor in chief of TopEditor International Media Services:

Everything — every thing — will be available online with price tags attached. Cyber-terrorism will become commonplace. Privacy and confidentiality of any and all personal will become a thing of the past…

(Source: Pew Research Center)


Image credit: Anna Schiller (flickr)



  • At 25 I was still enjoying much of the first tastes of life and had not broached any major decisions other than choosing the professions I wanted to engage, hadn’t made decisions on who I’d marry, investing in a home of my own, which country I wanted to live in or whether I wanted to start family. These decisions finally forged my destiny. So i’d say the same for the internet maybe in the next five to ten years we will truly see the precipitation of the internet into it’s ultimate direction in terms of whether we have a public good or a tool for anarchy or an oracle for the future renaissance of civilisation. Our attitudes towards geopolitical issues, the climate and management of natural resources will obviously dictate how the internet will be used. Whether we will use it to revamp our governance and administrative processes or mainly for circumvention of worn our standards and practices. It’s about whether we decide to save our world or just let it slide that will determine the probabilities of the internet’s success as a supportive tool.

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