As society becomes ever more reliant on what the internet provides, are we thinking clearly enough about what the future holds?

The internet is changing, with factors like artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and cyber crime affecting users. With that change comes more opportunities for greater advancement as well as more threats.

As a result of the issues surrounding one of the world’s most important tools, the Internet Society has issued a report into its importance. Titled ‘Paths to our Digital Future’, the report examines the internet over the next few years and identifies the factors that are likely going to shape its future.

Factors affecting the internet

The Internet Society said factors like AI and the IoT, as well as the online economy and the increasingly prominent role of governments in regulating the internet are going to impact key areas, including digital divides, personal freedoms and rights, media and society.

Together, these forces will change the internet in dramatic ways over the coming years, said the report.

Artificial intelligence, the IoT and the internet

According to the Internet Society, advances in AI and machine learning will transform the world so fast, society will likely struggle to address crucial ethical considerations and economic consequences.

It found that within the coming five years, AI and machine learning is expected to become embedded in forms of technology incorporating data exchange and analysis. Among the opportunities this creates are new services and breakthroughs in science, as well as the augmentation of human intelligence and its convergence with the digital world.

Concerns over the role of AI

When it comes to uncertainties about AI, there are many. They include the delegation of decision-making to machines, a lack of transparency and whether technological change will outpace the development of governance and policy norms.

Automation is widely predicted to profoundly change industry in the next few years, which will affect employment. This means that governments and societies should be preparing now for its effects.

AI also raises serious considerations related to privacy, transparency and security. The Internet Society pointed to how AI-based technologies, such as facial recognition, can improve user experience over a social media platform, for example, but also highlighted that the same technologies can be used to improve surveillance and compromise anonymity.

Threats to cybersecurity

Security will not just be compromised by AI, said the report. The scope and severity of global cyber threats and how the world responds to them is expected to have lasting consequences for the future of the internet.

The Internet Society said that as our dependence on the internet increases, so will the scope and severity of security challenges and vulnerabilities. According to the society, cybersecurity is going to be the most significant challenge of the next decade.

Cyber attacks and cyber crime are likely going to shape the internet, as well as our relationship with it. Threats being inadequately managed will put users at greater risk, as well as undermine trust in the internet and risk its ability to act as a driver for economic and social innovation.

Mobile connectivity

Mobiles are already the primary way that huge numbers of people connect to the internet, and this trend is expected to continue as devices that move seamlessly from WiFi to other networks and technologies – including 5G – will be optimised for uses that emphasise connectivity regardless of where the user is located.

Connected systems and devices – such as actuators and sensors – that comprise the expanding IoT will increase the number of connections and demand for bandwidth. Simultaneously, bandwidth increases will drive the further deployment of HD and 4K video on mobile devices. The Internet Society predicted that these advancements will also lead to new uses that have not yet been imagined.

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