Paths to Our Digital Future
The future of the Internet is ours to shape for the next generation. Humanity must be at the centre of tomorrow’s Internet.
We cannot take the Internet for granted. The path to our digital future rests in our hands. We can start today by taking actions that will preserve the underlying values of the Internet and keep it on course to remain open, globally connected and secure.
The Internet has profoundly shaped our world and has changed our lives in both big and small ways. The technology change around us has happened both quickly and imperceptibly. The very first connections between computers nearly fifty years ago have been transformed into a wave of connectivity that covers the planet. New devices and innovations have given us more ways to harness the power of connectivity wherever we go and have given us functionality we could never have imagined.
We shouldn’t underestimate the fundamental changes that faster, more affordable access to the Internet has already brought and will continue to bring to humanity. The question is whether we are ready for what’s coming next.
Now is a big moment for the Internet. As we engaged with our community in the development of this report, it became clear that people are anxious about the future of the Internet. Some see a frightening future that awaits us in a technology-driven world. There are conflicting views around whether the Internet is a positive or a negative influence and while it becomes more and more central to our modern lives, we find that some are beginning to reject the globalised world view that it has fostered. On the other hand, communities just coming online see the Internet as “life”, as their connection to opportunity and freedom and they want a chance to influence its future.
This report serves to remind us that humans are at the very heart of the Internet. It reminds us that every one of us has a stake. Recognising this responsibility, the report suggests that we need to begin to think differently to acclimatise to the changes we are seeing. Just as the Internet is a mirror to society, we must better understand that it will reflect both the good and the bad that exists in the world. Most importantly though, this report reasserts our belief that the Internet belongs to everyone and that, as its custodians today, we all have a duty to shape its future.
Our hope is that the insights and recommendations put forward in this report will play a role in helping us all to set the Internet on the path that best serves the needs of an evolving society in the years to come.
In 2016, the Internet Society launched a project to better understand the forces of change that will shape the Internet over the next five to seven years. We engaged with a broad community of Members, Internet Society Chapters, experts and partners. We conducted three global surveys and two regional surveys that generated more than 3,000 responses from 160 countries. We also interviewed more than 130 Internet experts and users, and hosted more than 10 roundtables.
Through these surveys and interviews, the community identified six key forces – or ‘Drivers of Change’ – that will have a profound impact on the future of the Internet in the years to come:
- The Internet & the Physical World
- Artificial Intelligence
- Cyber Threats
- The Internet Economy
- Networks, Standards & Interoperability
- The Role of Government
The Drivers encompass technological, economic, regulatory, security and network-related challenges for the Internet of the future. In all cases, each force of change is inextricably tied to the other Drivers – for example, we fully expect to see an expansion of the role of government in Internet decision-making as a consequence of growing and ever more serious cyber threats. Or, we can see that standards and interoperability are crucial to the future of the Internet of Things. In the hyperconnected world of tomorrow, these drivers of change will be increasingly interwoven, presenting ever more complicated social, economic and policy challenges for society to grapple with.
While these six Drivers of Change are interesting and important, what was clear from the outreach conducted was that the global Internet community is looking at these Drivers through the lens of three areas of impact. These are:
These Areas of Impact are consistent with the Internet Society’s mission to put the user at the centre of the equation when considering the future of the Internet. The ability for a user to connect, speak and share, as well as to innovate, choose the services and information they want to access, and trust the network, will all be impacted by the Drivers of Change.
For example, while the Internet of Things (IoT) will certainly influence the future Internet landscape, our community was focused on the implications of IoT for security or privacy (Personal Freedoms and Rights). And just as all sectors of the global economy will be transformed by the Internet, the question for us is whether this transformation will bring about global benefits or whether some parts of the world will fall further behind (Digital Divides).
Both the Drivers of Change and the Areas of Impact highlight the challenges and opportunities that users, communities and societies will face in the immediate future. And as the Drivers of Change and Areas of Impact were further discussed, and the breadth of the challenges and opportunities considered, some overarching themes were identified:
- There is a sense of both optimism and disillusionment about the future promise of the Internet.
- The rise of nationalism is challenging our basic notions of global interconnectedness and threatens to fragment the global Internet.
- Civil Society is seen as more important than ever, but support for it is seen to be declining.
- The Internet must remain user centric for it to be trusted and for its future potential to be realised.
- Addressing cyber threats should be the priority – it is critical for individual safety and for the future Internet economy.
- New thinking, new approaches and new models are needed across the board, from Internet policy to addressing digital divides, from security approaches to economic regulation.
- Multistakeholder approaches to Internet policy will become ever more relevant in a world in which the physical and the digital worlds converge and as the cross-border nature of Internet challenges becomes clear.
- Ethics will grow in importance as technical innovation accelerates and impacts people’s lives.
- We are seeing what it means for the global Internet to reflect society; we should not be surprised that bad behaviours from the offline world are seeping into the online world.
- The core values and technical properties of the Internet remain as important as ever.