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How will we Interact with the Internet in the next Twenty Years?
Those of you who are old enough, please cast your minds back twenty years ago to when the fledgling Internet first emerged from the realms of “Academia” and onto the world stage. The year was 1994 and thanks to a revolutionary new piece of software known as a Web Browser it was now possible to access web pages without having to use cryptic command line instructions.
This new concept opened up endless possibilities as the Internet went from an exclusive toy enjoyed by the technologically elite to a powerful global communication resource of mainstream society.
The Dawn of a New Era
By simplifying navigation, browsers have played a pivotal role in the successful growth of the World Wide Web — without this ground breaking tool the web could not have evolved into the ubiquitous utility it has become today. This is true for any type of new technology regardless of how innovative or cutting edge it may be, if it’s not user friendly people won’t accept it. This point was dramatically demonstrated recently when Microsoft was forced to backtrack and rethink their Windows 8 interface following a slew of serious complaints from angry users.
Netscape Navigator, was the first commercial browser to gain worldwide acceptance — created by the Netscape Communication Corporation, its intuitive Graphical User Interface (GUI) made surfing the web a breeze, and quickly became the de facto standard for interacting with the web. Unfortunately its prominence as the market leader was short lived, when rival Microsoft introduced their own free solution in the form of Internet Explorer (IE) in 1995.
The initial version of IE was something of a joke though, since you could only access web pages by typing in a literal web address, hence this substandard product posed little threat to Netscape’s monopoly. However, subsequent versions culminated into vast improvements, and reached the point where people were no longer willing to pay for Netscape and thus IE became the dominant browser for accessing web content. In those first few years, early adopters of the Internet suffered cripplingly slow downloads and frequent page freezes as a result of inferior primitive modem connections and limiting hardware. Yet nobody really seemed to mind too much back then, rather they viewed themselves as the privileged pioneers in this brave new world of digital global communications.
If you had even a smattering of HTML knowledge at this time you could easily throw up a crude web page consisting of a few paragraphs of text, a couple of embedded images, and maybe one of those garish wallpaper backgrounds — add a few Hyperlinks and you were everybody’s professional “Web Designer”.
A New Form of Correspondence
Electronic Mail (Email) was the most utilized application at the time, as people started coming to terms with their ability to communicate with people anywhere in world for free. However, the initial downside to this form of virtual correspondence was your email account being tightly coupled to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Consequently it was only possible to access your email if you were logged on to your own ISP — fortunately this situation did not last for long, as the likes of Yahoo introduced free Web Based Email. This has now become the defacto standard for most email accounts, as it allows access to an individual’s email account from almost any Internet connection in the world.
Apart from reading emails and viewing static web pages, there were also the various “Newsgroups” or “Bulletin Board Systems” (BBS) such as Usenet. These early systems were the precursors to Internet Forums, and were essentially used to share emails containing subjects of interest to others; and were organized in a hierarchical format according to subject. Unlike the forums we are so familiar with today; “Newsgroup” postings could take several hours before showing up in a browser. This was due to the Store and Forward technique used at the time, which has now been replaced by a faster method of communication known as Packet Switching.
In the pioneering days of the Internet there was of course no Wifi, hence every Internet connection was hard wired (usually to a telephone landline). Even portable laptops were not so portable back then — sure you could easily move them around from one connection to another, but there was no recreational surfing from a hammock in the back garden on a hot summer’s day. For early adopters of the Internet it was hard back then to conceive just how the web would transition from a bank of unattractive badly designed HTML pages into the dynamic heterogeneous platform of online banking, e-commerce, multi media entertainment and online education it has evolved into today.
Where are we Headed Next?
As we continue to indulge in our pervasive Cybernetic (Cyber) world of Texting and Tweeting, whilst simultaneously streaming music on Spotify or Skyping across the ocean — let’s take some time out to try and predict the changes that will come in the next 20 years. Given the number of unresolved variables that will influence our relationship with the web over the next two decades it is impossible to know with any amount of certainty how these future changes will play out. Nonetheless, having already witnessed 20 years of Internet evolution we are in a better position to do this now than we were back in 1994.
A Question of Security
Concerning the serious breaches in “Personal Privacy” and “Security” which have recently emerged, we should realize that our willingness to relinquish more of our personal information to Social Network sites such as Facebook and Google+ has significantly contributed to this violation. Yet, at the same time we have become increasingly vocal over our criticism of Government spying activities (Starr, et al, 2013). In response to this offensive, we have seen a number of concerted efforts aimed at thwarting this unwelcome invasion into our personal lives, such as The Onion Router (TOR) project (Clark, 2014) — a collaboration aimed at creating anonymity on the web. Although such measures have proved effective in protecting the innocent, they are also unwittingly protecting cyber criminals such as drug cartels and pedophiles.
There is no easy solution to this dilemma, on the one hand we expect our Governments to protect us from “Criminals” and “Terrorists” — but, they are only able to do this by gaining access to accurate intelligence, which means we have to trust them to collect only relevant data in seeking an acceptable solution there has to be a compromise somewhere. Do we concede that we must trust the Government and yield to their intrusive tactics, or do we accept the unfortunate side effects of systems like the TOR Project in the name of our right to anonymity?
Regarding other areas of security concerns; the recent exposure of weaknesses in critical Encryption Protocols such as the Heartbleed bug has caused many to wonder if it’s even safe to continue with activities such as online banking and electronic bill payment. At the time of this writing concerns have escalated over allegations of subversive tactics used by the National Security Agency (NSA) in its quest to gather copious amounts of public data. A recent article in the “Washington Post” (Rich, et al, 2014) states that the NSA is seeking to build a quantum supercomputer capable of cracking most types of encryption.
As advances in Nanotechnology continue to drive down hardware costs it brings ever more powerful hardware within the reach of regular consumers whereby — ultimately we will reach a point when the average computer will be so powerful, that the current Encryption techniques in use today will no longer be effective. Inevitably there will emerge out of necessity a new standard of security measures that will surpass today’s Cryptographic Algorithms. In order to meet this future demand it will require a whole new generation of talented computer engineers who specialize in the area of computer security.
Will Typing Become Obsolete?
Voice activated input is becoming more accurate and efficient than before, with the introduction of competing Intelligent Personal Assistants such as Google’s Now, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana; it is reasonable to assume that this increases in audio input will subsequently cause a decline. in keyboard usage. We are already beginning to witness this manifestation through voice activated text messaging; in addition apps like Glide (Perez, 2013), have simplified the process of video texting.
Speech To Text (STT) programs for Word Processors have been around for over a decade now; however, the accuracy of the Voice Recognition technology used by these programs has left a lot to be desired, leaving many people frustrated. Notwithstanding, the most recent versions of leading speech to text software such as Dragonspeak have vastly improved both in accuracy and ease of use.
Hard Currency vs Virtual Currency
Some technologies take longer than others before they are embraced by society; in the case of Virtual Currency it is still in its infancy and prone to volatility; though we are now starting to witness prominent endorsement of this leading edge technology. At the time of writing Canada is in the process of reforming its payment system which will also incorporate virtual currencies. On June 14th 2014 the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) declared a formal definition of a virtual currency to be as follows:
“A digital representation of value that can be digitally traded and functions as (in) a medium of exchange and/or (ii) a unit of account and/or (iii) a store of value, but does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction”.
Bitcoin, is the leading virtual currency at the time of writing, and despite being fraught with many failures (Satrian 2013) it is now starting to become accepted as legal tender by companies such as Apple Inc. (who initially rejected the idea). Virtual currency can be viewed as an extension of the Currency Union concept, whereby two or more countries share a common currency such as the Euro which is utilized by numerous countries in the European Union (EU).
Like currency unions — virtual currencies offer all the benefits of a borderless currency but unlike the former, it is a global phenomenon and not restricted to a specific region of the world, In contrast to tangible currencies virtual currencies only exist online, and are not controlled by any central authority such as the Federal Reserve. Because there is no intermediary, large amounts of funds can easily be transferred in minutes, which would otherwise take days or even months using traditional banks. In addition to this, virtual currency transaction fees cost literally pennies compared to the extortionate transaction fees charged by conventional Banks.
Of course there are also some valid concerns pertaining to the use of virtual currencies; such as the possibility of cyber attacks against Currency Protocols like those of “Bitcoin”. Presently there is no way of replacing or restoring stolen funds to the victims of this type of online crime. Despite these and other concerns the numerous advantages of virtual currencies cannot be ignored — and although they have a long way to go before reaching their full potential we can reasonably assume that virtual currencies will become a ubiquitous part of society in the near future.
The Impact of Three Dimensional Printing
One of the most innovative disruptive technologies that is currently evolving, and one which will most certainly bring new direction to the way we interact with the web is Three Dimensional (3D) Printing — a technology which enables three dimensional solid objects to be manufactured from a digital file.
Imagine for example, where you may soon be able to customize your own furniture in terms of style, colour, material, and size via a 3D Printing website. As you swap out the various components, there is a popup window dynamically displaying the price changes and product life expectancy in relation to the manufacturing options you select.
After completing this first step you are then asked to choose one of the company’s 3D printing plants, perhaps the one nearest to your home from where will be most convenient for pick-up, or maybe an alternative plant which has all the materials in stock required for printing your requested product.
Moving to the final step you select a payment method along whilst supplying other pertinent billing details — you decide to pay from your virtual currency wallet. After payment is confirmed a live stream on your computer screen is displayed, allowing you to view your product being manufactured in real time, along with an explanation of each process and estimated time of completion. After approx two minutes you get a notification on your smart phone that the funds from your virtual wallet have been successfully transferred to the vendor. Whilst enjoying watching the manufacturing of your new table online you will receive another alert on your smart watch notifying you that it’s time to leave the house for your scheduled appointment. No worries, because 20 minutes later you receive a text informing you that your table is complete and will be ready for pick-up within the hour. Briefly glancing at the high definition image which has been sent to your phone, you then text it to your spouse and ask if they can pick it up from the location you selected
Interpreting Foreign Languages Will be a Breeze
Translation language programs such as Google Translate, which was launched in April 2006 are starting to revolutionize the way we interact with the International community. These translation programs which are based upon Artificial Intelligence (AI), can translate a single word or an entire web page. The accuracy of translation however is dependent upon the level of learning a computer has attained in a given language — it does this by seeking out and analyzing patterns of previously translated documents.
Since certain languages have been translated more than other’s it stands to reason that some language translations will be more accurate than others, This can be clearly evidenced by examining some of the work presented by students of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’), who have used language translators to present their completed work, from Chinese into English for example. On peer graded assessments students are strongly advised to take this into account when assigning grades, noting that the translation is often less than perfect. Nevertheless in the same way that speech recognition programs have vastly improved over the years, we can expect language translators to follow the same way; since they are based on the same principle of pattern analysis and the more patterns that are analyzed the smarter they will become.
On May 27th 2014 Skype demonstrated their new language translator tool (Gross, 2014), although still in its early stages of development the initial showcasing looks encouraging. The software tool works by providing instant voice and text translation between Skype users of disparate native languages. We can reasonably assume that Google will debut a similar product in the not too distant future. As these translation tools become more reliable and sophisticated, they will evolve into powerful tools for “International Business” amongst other things.
The transportation industry could be considered one of the most exciting and influential web technology evolutions to date. Companies such as Uber are revolutionizing the taxi industry by giving users the ability to reserve and track their taxi reservations from their smart phones. Uber does not own a fleet of physical vehicles itself, rather it acts as a middle layer to match drivers with potential customers in return for a cut of the fare. On their company website Uber boasts that fares are “Up to 20% cheaper than a taxi and even easier to book”.
Using your phone’s GPS capability Uber will pinpoint your exact location, matching it with the nearest available Uber registered driver. From the short time Uber has been in business, it has proven to be one of the most disruptive technologies out there, and has not escaped regulatory opposition from many countries (Chafkin, 2014). For example, in July 2014 taxi drivers in London, Paris, Madrid and Berlin staged open protests against Uber, maintaining this new concept threatened their livelihoods. Despite this however Uber continues to flourish, according to a recent report published by the BBC, the “Uber Taxi Business” is now valued at $40 billion, Last year the San Francisco based company had a presence in 60 cities spanning 21 countries, this year it has grown to 250 cities over 50 countries. The key to Uber’s success is efficiency, people would rather not spend 20 minutes trying to hail down a cab in the freezing cold when they can get a suitable match instantly by a single tap on their smartphone and get picked up in less than five minutes. In addition the concept of reduced fares through a shared ride option is an attractive one that conventional taxi services cannot compete with.
The concept of a driver-less car opens up a plethora of opportunities for people who otherwise might not be able to drive such as the elderly and disabled (Induct mag, 2014). Other additional benefits include the elimination of speeding tickets and the worry of finding a parking space, not to mention a drastic reduction in accidents. Google is seen as one of the main players with their established Google maps product and well funded research (CBS news/AP, 2014).
Although self driving cars face many obstacles before they become the ubiquitous commodity everybody is hoping for, there are early signs that this transition is beginning to happen right now. Many manufacturers are currently turning out so called Semi Autonomous Vehicles comprising several options, such as automated parallel parking and built in sensors that utilize GPS to calculate the shortest drive time.
In a recent BBC News Technology article it was revealed that four major cities in Britain have been selected to test out driver-less cars in 2015. According to a list of predictions posted by Driverless Car Market Watch, driver-less cars will be in showrooms by the year 2020.
Household appliances are becoming a whole lot smarter these days, in addition to acquiring their own computer chips we are now starting to see the additional power that can leveraged by bringing them online. By utilizing the web, we now have the ability to set modify and delete recordings on our DVR players, from almost anywhere in the world where we can find an Internet connection. Another growing area of online appliance is in the area of House Monitoring Systems through the use of wireless webcams and custom software apps.
Google’s acquisition of thermostat control company Nest Labs earlier this year is a strong indicator that household gadgets are going to become smarter. safer and more efficient (Tilley. 2014). We have also seen the launch of the Wifi enabled slow cooker from Crockpot earlier this year, other web enabled appliances we can expect to see in the future include stoves, refrigerators, furnaces, and washing machines/dryers etc…
Simplicity is Key
Historically whenever a technology matures we tend to witness the evolution of more simplistic interfaces. For example when Video Cassette Recorders (VCR) first came on the market there was a whole generation of users who could not master the complicated procedure of setting the timer to record a particular program. As VCR’s became more popular it became easier to program them using a screen menu on the TV screen instead of battling with the timer.
When video recording entered into the digital age, recording became even more simplistic with services like Xfinity and DirectTv where the user brings up a TV schedule on their TV screen, smartphone or tablet and navigates to their desired program and then simply clicks to record.
The Dark Side of the Net
Earlier in this article in our discussion of privacy violation and cyber-crime we hinted on a negative facet to the Internet. Although we have hitherto focused mainly on the positive aspects of the web we cannot ignore the presence of this more sinister side.
Since Cyber-terrorism is now treated as seriously as conventional warfare in military and political circles it would be naive to dismiss this as a superficial threat. There is no simple solution to this growing area of concern, since it is strongly tied to economic and political instability. The magnitude of potential devastation to the infrastructures of large regions from a cyber attack and the effect it would have on its citizens is terrifying, but nonetheless, such a possibility is a reality and one we must face up to. The spirit of the Internet has always been one of freedom and liberty, the concept of Net Neutrality is that everyone has an equal right to access of legal content in the absence of bias and favouritism from corporations and other third parties. However we are now starting to witness attempts to subvert that freedom, especially from Government intervention as discussed above. In particular social media has proved itself to be a potent force for rebels seeking an uprising against oppressive and dictatorial governments, in response these “Tyrannical Governments” have attempted to block sites such as Twitter and Facebook in order to maintain a tight control over of their citizens.
You Can’t Stop the Revolution
As we have seen, whenever disruptive technologies emerge, there is always strong opposition from certain stakeholders who believe the disruption will cause long term harm to their lives. However history has proven that in almost every case, progress is the ultimate winner. Consider how the Luddite movement failed to thwart the impending changes of an Industrialized society which started around the middle of the 16th century in Britain (Masnick, 2013).
A more recent example would be the “Internet Shopping Revolution” which began at the turn of the 21st century, initially many people eye-balled this new concept with suspicion, asserting that they would never purchase something that they could not first physically inspect for themselves. However according to a report published by CNBC (Holliday, 2013), Internet Shopping has becoming the preferred mode of purchasing and now surpasses brick and mortar retail stores. This is due in part to a combination of technologies — such as smartphones and tablets, fast and easy return methods implemented by the online merchants. and online transaction systems like Paypal, all of which contribute towards a more convenient and enjoyable purchasing experience.
The Internet is like a living organism that keeps on penetrating ever increasing dimensions of our lives in unpredictable ways, as it continues to evolve and grow, Whether we like it or not it has become an integral part of our daily lives, and will continue to influence and shape our future. The author has attempted to bring a realistic and balanced view of future predictions of the Internet (both good and bad), based upon an analysis of past and present trends.
It is hoped that the reader will continue in their pursuit of knowledge of this subject matter in order to keep abreast of the dynamic changes brought about by this perennial moving target. Resistance to the Information Age is futile, in order to benefit from these changes, we must learn to adapt and embrace the advancement of technology rather than fight it.
- Perez, Sarah, “Video Texting App Glide is Going Viral Now Ranked Just Ahead of Instagram in the App Store”, Techcrunch 07/24/2013, Web 06/24/2014: Video Texting App Goes Viral.
- Rich, Steven, Gellman, Barton “NSA seeks to build quantum computer that would crack most types of encryption”, “The Washington Post” 2014, Web 06/20/14: NASA seeks ways to crack encryption.
- Sabhkick, Raj “Heartbleed 2.0 Prepare for the Inevitable”, Forbes Magazine 2014, Web 06/20/14: Hearbleed 2.0 Prepare for the Inevitable.
- Masnick, Mike “The Luddites are Almost Always Wrong : Technology rarely Destroys jobs”, Innovation 10/02/13, Web 06/23/2014: Luddites are almost always wrong.
- Wilmoth, Josiah, “Apple Reverses Anti-Bitcoin App Policy and Allows Mobile Wallet Apps back in the App Store” Cryptocoins News 03/06/2014, Web 06/23/2014: Apple Reverses Anti Bitcoin App Policy.
- Satran, Richard, The Race to Create a Successful Virtual Currency” US News MONEY: Personal Finance 05/13/2013, Web 06/23/2014: The race to create a successful virtual currency.
- Moran, Andrew “Canada implements first official law regulating bitcoin, virtual currencies”, Hub:Personal Finance 06/23/2014, Web 06/23/2014: Canada Implements First VC Regulation Law.
- Gross, Doug “Skype to Break Language barrier with translation Tool”, CNN Tech 05/28/2014, Web 06/24/2014: Skype Breaks language barrier.
- Tilley, Aaron “Google Acquires Smart Thermostat Company Nest for 3.2 Billion” Forbes Tech 1/13/2014 Web 06/25/2014: Google Acquires Smart Thermostat Company Nest.
- Gonsalves, Antone, “Criminals on TOR is the Price of Global Liberty”” CSO 03/06/2014: Criminals on Tor is the price of Global Liberty.
- CBS News/AP, “Google Announces Next Generation of Driverless Vehicles” CBS News 05/28/2014, Web 06/24/2014: Google Announces Next Gen Driverless Cars.
- Mendoza, Martha, “Survey: Cybercrime is on the Rise”, Yahoo News 05/28/2014 Web 06/25/2014: Survey: Cybercrime on the rise.
- University of London “Increase in Cybercrime “ Coursera.org 04/29/2014, Web Facebook.com 06/25/2014: Malicious Software and its Underground economy.