Happy Birthday, World Wide Web.

Twenty-five years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee (now Sir Berners-Lee) wrote a paper describing an information-management system that we would later know as the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee released the code to make his system real on Christmas Day, 1990.

The rest, as they say, is history. To mark the Web’s 25th birthday, the Pew Research Center has been conducting a series of research projects to better understand impact of the Web and to try to predict and prepare for its future. In collaboration with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Project, Pew asked 2,558 handpicked experts--folks such as Hal Varian, danah boyd, Vint Cerf, and Marc Rotenberg--to describe what the Web will look like, and how we’ll be interacting with it, in 2025. Pew then grouped those answers into "theses," some more positive than others.

Here are nine of the report's predictions for 2025:

1. There will be added awareness of our world and our own behavior.

For this, we’ll have the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data to thank. This awareness won’t be limited to ourselves, though. We’ll have similar insights into other people as well. As Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, writes: "We’ll have a picture of how someone has spent their time, the depth of their commitment to their hobbies, causes, friends, and family. This will change how we think about people, how we establish trust, how we negotiate change, failure, and success."

2. Information sharing will be so enmeshed in our daily lives that we mostly won’t even notice it.

By 2025, the Internet will become akin to electrical service or another utility. Says Joe Touch, director at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute: "We won’t think about 'going online' or 'looking on the Internet' for something--we'll just be online, and just look."

3. Wearable devices will transform health care delivery.

Wearable devices will give us not just early detection of disease but early detection of the very risk for disease. That will help us make lifestyle changes not only day-to-day but hour-by-hour, "magnifying the effectiveness of an ever more understaffed medical delivery system," says Aron Roberts, a software developer at the University of California-Berkeley.

4. Governments may lose control.

The Internet enables more people in the developing world to become more aware of disparities in access to health care, education, water, and human rights, and for everyone to become more aware of the cost of manipulative governments. The result will be more peaceful changes but also more public uprisings such as the Arab Spring. "Nations" of those with shared interests will become increasingly difficult for formal governments to control--but we can expect them to try mightily, with new regulations and increased monitoring.

5. The Internet will become (more) fragmented.

In a line that sounds right out of a 1980s science-fiction novel, David Brin, an author and futurist, predicts: "There will be many Internets. Mesh networks will self-form and we’ll deputize sub-selves to dwell in many places." If you have a "work persona" on LinkedIn and use Facebook mostly to communicate with your relatives, you already know what Brin is talking about.

6. Education will be available to all.

A singularly sunny prediction about the effects of universal access to education is represented in the report by a quote from Hal Varian, now Google’s chief economist. "The smartest person in the world currently could well be stuck behind a plow in India or China. Enabling that person--and the millions like him or her--will have a profound impact on the development of the human race."

7. Gaps between the haves and the have-nots may expand, leading to violence.

Oscar Gandy, an emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, predicts "growing inequality enabled and amplified by means of networked transactions that benefit smaller and smaller segments of the global population." Social media makes it easier for people to share their frustrations; it also makes it easier for people to challenge the status quo--not necessarily peaceably.

8. The bad guys will have new tools to make life miserable for everyone else.

Privacy and confidentiality will become things of the past (see below). As the world becomes less safe, terrorism and cyber-terrorism may become daily occurrences. Dirty tricks over social media may become more influential in political campaigns. As one antispam expert commented: "Abusers evolve and scale far more than regular Internet users."

9. Say good-bye to privacy.

By 2025, only the relatively well-educated and affluent will have the ability to maintain their privacy. Whether they will choose to do so remains to be seen.

The report closes on a positive note, sharing a reminder voiced by many of the experts who were consulted: The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Robert Cannon, an Internet law and policy expert, writes: "The good news is that the technology that promises to turn our world on its head is also the technology with which we can build our new world. If offers an unbridled ability to collaborate, share, and interact.... It is a very good time to start inventing the future."

Published on: Mar 12, 2014