Pew Center Report: Experts Optimistic About the Next 50 Years of Digital Life

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This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of “the first host-to-host internet connection,” an innovation that has impacted millions around the world since its 1969 creation. To mark this momentous event, the Pew Research Center and the Imaging the Internet Center at Elon University surveyed 530 experts, scholars, policymakers, and other technology innovators about what to expect from “the evolution of the internet over the next 50 years.”

Visions of the technological future from internet pioneers suggest “smart prosthetics” and driverless cars will be commonplace. Some also envision space travel “beyond Mars,” or brain-computer interfaces. Overall, respondents were optimistic, with 72 percent agreeing that things will improve. 

Image of the Pew Center Report abstract.

Image of the Pew Center Report abstract.

Some large takeaways from the report include:

  • One key point is the importance of responsible human decision-making in how digital life will progress. As digital technology expands, experts view growing regulation of the internet as a positive development. The role of policy and oversight in implementation of technology is vital to how that technology gets used.
  • Some respondents view internet-enabled tools as a path to improved length and quality of human life. As technology like Artificial Intelligence develops, we may see expanding leisure time. However, experts also warn that socioeconomic differences may be exacerbated by digital technologies. These tools can be used for combating inequality, but may also be controlled by elites interested in maintain the status-quo.
  • Growing community and social interconnectedness is one hopeful vision of the future. Other respondents are less optimistic and warn about “the end of privacy,” and a subsequently distrustful and substantively disconnected social life.

Big picture concerns center on the difficulty of balancing promise with application. While many experts cited amazing possibilities stemming from the growth of digital technology, it should not be viewed as an automatic cure-all for current social problems. Ensuring that technology will be used effectively and ethically to improve the lives of many relies not just on the development of new tools, but on their application. This underscores the importance of the human element in technological training.

Those interested in learning more about the research design, including questions asked a full list of respondents, should see the seventh page of the report.

The full eight-page report, with quotations from the various respondents organized according to theme, is available to read and download in PDF form on the Pew Research Center website.

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  • software
  • technology
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