On March 12, 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee hand-delivered a memo to his boss at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. It was a proposal to organize and share information with a democratic "web of notes with links (like references) between them." His supervisor wrote on the paper, "vague, but exciting."
Today, we know the idea as the World Wide Web.
Twenty-five years later, Sir Berners-Lee told The Guardian that the world now needs an online Magna Carta — "a global constitution — a bill of rights." It is essential if humanity is to have "open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture." Otherwise, he fears corporations and governments will wield far too much power in a post-Edward Snowden world.
Pew Research Internet Project has collected predictions from 1,500 experts to commemorate the anniversary of the Web, and some share Berners-Lee’s concerns.
As humanity shifts "rapidly towards ubiquitous connectivity that will further change how and where people associate, gather and share information, and consume media," Pew summarizes, "mobile, wearable, and embedded computing" is coming, and will enable "people and their surroundings to tap into artificial intelligence-enhanced cloud-based information and sharing."
"The compilation of imaginings" collected by Pew focus on the next 10 years and coalesce around key themes:
- "A global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment built through the continued proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases, and massive data centers in a world-spanning information fabric known as the Internet of Things.
- “ ‘Augmented reality' enhancements to the real-world input that people perceive through the use of portable, wearable and implantable technologies.
- "Disruption of business models established in the 20th century (most notably impacting finance, entertainment, publishers and education).
"Tagging, databasing and intelligent analytical mapping of the physical and social realms."
It may not all come to be. CNN Money lists five "dead wrong" predictions about the future of the Web. Among them, Newsweek reported that the Web could never replace newspapers, and Bill Gates said years ago that spam would be a thing of the past. Ramifications of the present and future "extreme connectivity" are both positive and negative, notes Elon University professor Janna Anderson, co-author of the Pew report.
The report says that the most hopeful 2025 scenarios involve seamless information sharing "flowing like electricity." Advancing inter-societal harmony. Multiple Internets spawning public uprisings, the diminishing of borders, and the creation of "nations" of individuals with shared interests that have power surpassing the ability of nation-state suppression.
Inequality is also likely to expand, according to Pew's summary of expert imaginations. Abuse will "evolve and scale," corporations and governments will continue to assert power, and privacy will become obsolete except among the most powerful of social groups.
In 1995, Peter Huber wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, "Orwell’s world, the world of computer and communications monopolies, will not be seen again in our lifetime." In CNN’s words, "The Web means the end of big brother."
Berners-Lee told the Guardian that the public seems to lack appreciation of what the Snowden leaks reveal about mass surveillance and the concentration of global power by elite corporations and governments. The new Magna Carta, he insists, will prioritize principles of privacy, free speech and responsible anonymity, and will usher in the "web we want."