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Friday, July 8, 2011

How will the Internet look like in 2020?

How is the Internet going to look in 2020 and how can we get there? There is a general consensus that the Internet will be the backbone for communications, of people, objects, and machines. This backbone uses, as physical infrastructure, a variety of communications links, both wireline and wireless. This variety will probably be hidden to most users in most places. When that becomes the case, no limits to connectivity will be perceived by the user. If that represents a general consensus, more debate exists on the way people will communicate. My personal view is that communications will mimic closely natural communications; hence it will be rooted in the specific environment where it is taking place. 
As in everyday communications, most of it will be a mixture of visual and aural exchange of information. Terminals will serve the purpose of annihilating distance, nothing more. Communications may take advantage of high - definition screens and projectors, where feasible 3D visualization will replace 2D and ambient hifi sound will replace mono low - quality sound. Screens will be on many objects. We will have a number of them on our person (cell phone, watch, media player, social walk - window, glasses). EyeRes will be common. With that I mean a resolution that compares to the one of our eyes and therefore can trick us into believing it is the real thing. In some cases, additional information exchange will be required, such as swapping of text. As happens in everyday life, when this is required, we use an additional channel. We take a piece of paper and jot notes. Similarly, we will be using the most appropriate means to swap information. It might be a nearby television screen that will be able to scan a piece of paper with the associated camera and display it on a similar screen in our correspondent living room. The use of different channels will look completely seamless to the user, as it is today picking up a piece of paper to write down a diagram, and, exactly as it happens today when we have to ask for a piece of paper or a pencil. We might have to ask for an additional communication means in the ambient.

However, a word of caution is required. We will still have the communications of today, limited to aural interaction, a cell phone between our ear and our shoulder as we look at something else and our hands are doing other one thing is to say that in the 2020s we will have the possibility of a more natural communications another is to say that such a communications will have displaced what we have today. If there is going to be both, does it mean that people will be paying a premium for the extra quality delivered? My opinion is “ NO.” They may pay more in setting up an environment that can provide this kind of natural communications, like better screens and loudspeakers, but my bet is they won’ t be willing to pay anything more for the enhanced connectivity that is required. That, unfortunately, will be taken for granted. The Internet will provide enterprises with tools to produce their goods, more effectively, often making use of components produced by other parties. In the future, we might see an evolution of production systems to include clients and users. This may take a while and may come to pass only in certain areas. Services, typically, lend themselves well to this kind of production.

Social networks are already thriving on today’s Internet and will be even more important in the future. They will continue to be a marketplace and their weight on the society will tend to grow to the point that government will have to take them into serious account. It is unlikely to see social network replacing government as a new form of democracy, but they will surely affect government agendas. It might be likely though, that some political party will be created through a social network and will be able to gain election completely by campaigning on the Web. The Internet, by 2020, has become the world infrastructure for production of many types of goods. Most enterprises, in fact, will use the Internet, not just for support to the production (orders, purchasing, inventory, relations with partners) but for creating and assembling the various product parts. Goods will most likely be embedding software, will be customized at the point of sale, and will operate part of their functions through the Internet. Additionally, we are likely to see part of the functionalities being created on the Internet by communities of users and these functionalities will be embedded in subsequent releases of the product. Enterprises will have the opportunity of monitoring the usage of their products by the clients and will be able to tweak functionalities and evolve the product based on actual usage. This evolution will most likely apply to new released products as well as to products already sold that will be updated via the Internet, in some cases, and in others will just fi nd themselves operating differently since operation occurs by accessing various components on the Internet that are dynamically updated over time.

The Internet in 2020 will be the enabling fabric for social networks, allowing communications among members and the delivery of information and services that in turn characterize that social network. It is diffi cult to imagine a social aggregation happening outside of the Internet at that time. Even families will use the Internet as glue for their relationships. Enterprises will exploit social networks for knowledge sharing, for knowledge management, for production, for relation with customers, and for finding marketplaces and creating them.

As social networks grow in members and in numbers, there will be fragmentation of cultures and markets. On the Internet, however, fragmentation may go along with aggregation since they are not mutually exclusive. Each political/cultural area needs to pay attention to these phenomena to make sure that one is not prevailing over the other (aggregation may lead to the destruction of cultural diversity and this in general is not a good thing).

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