The Pew Internet & American Life Project, in conjunction with Elon University,
surveyed an array of tech leaders, scholars, industry officials and analysts
about the future of the Internet.
Although the report covered many topics, some 66 percent of them agree on one prediction: “At least one
devastating attack will occur in the next 10 years on the U.S. networked
information infrastructure or the country’s power grid.”
The respondents also weighed in on the digital divide, as well as Big Brother, predicting
increased government and business surveillance
will occur over the next decade as computing devices proliferate and become
embedded in appliances, cars, phones and other devices.
“We were struck by the prescience of many experts at the dawning of the Web
era about the way the Internet would affect people and organizations,” Janna
Quitney Anderson, an Elon assistant professor and co-author of the report,
said in a statement. “It just made sense to us to go back to many of them
and ask what they foresee in the next decade. And they see dramatic change
in many realms — some of it good, some of it not-so-good.”
The survey draws upon an Elon database that contains many of the Internet
experts who contributed predictions about the impact of the Internet between
1990 and 1995, including Vincent Cerf, Esther Dyson, Bob Metcalf and Howard
“Nobody knows for sure what lies ahead — and the history of the Internet
has taught us to expect the unexpected — but this group of experts provides
the perspective of long experience,” Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Internet Project and
lead author of the report, said in the same statement.
“Half were online before the advent of the Web. Institutions that
resist change, like education and health care, come in for the sharpest
criticism among these information revolutionaries.”
Fox told internetnews.com what surprised her most about the survey
was that she thought the group would coalesce around a more positive theme
than a massive attack on the Internet or the power grid.
“We allowed [the respondents] to challenge our questions or wording, and
while they agreed on an Internet attack, some didn’t like the word
‘devastating,'” Fox said. “Most focused on the Internet and not the power
Fox added there was a general consensus that the “good guys will win out
over the bad guys” when it comes to network attacks.
The survey also asked the experts to describe what dimensions of online life
in the past decade have caught them by surprise. In addition, they were
asked about the changes they thought would occur in the last decade, but
have not really materialized.
According to the Pew results, the experts were in “awe” over the explosive
development of the Internet over the last 10 years and. In particular, they
were surprised by the growth of information sources on top of the basic transport background,
including online search capabilities, peer-to-peer networks and blogs.
Among the disappointments cited by the respondents were the growing digital
divide and the failure of the educational system to fully embrace the
possibilities of the Internet.
Other “stark disagreements” occurred over
whether Internet use would foster a rise in religious and political
extremist groups and whether it would usher in an era of more
Just 32 percent of the experts agreed that people would use the Internet to
support their political biases and filter out information that disagrees
with their views. Half the respondents disagreed with or disputed that
prediction. Only 32 percent agreed with a prediction that online voting
would be secure and widespread by 2014. Half of the respondents disagreed or
disputed that idea.
The survey was conducted online between Sept. 20, 2004 and Nov. 1, 2004.
Almost 1,300 Internet experts participated in the survey.