The Internet’s Uncertain Future

The Internet’s Uncertain Future

Anyone who claims they can accurately predict the Internet’s future is at minimum wrong, definitively delusional and perhaps borderline psychotic. The Internet is influenced by many things, and any attempt to extrapolate outcomes from current trends in destined to failure. If that is true, then how does an organization plan for its future? The answer is scenario planning.

The scenario planning process starts with full disclosure of our inability to forecast the future of major forces buffeting a target, in this case, the Internet and its users. Scenario planning starts by naming and documenting uncertainties so that reasonable people can admit what they don’t know. This frees them to explore a range of possible outcomes rather than trying to pinpoint the right answer. It is the most honest way of forecasting in situations where major events can derail even the most seemingly stable of trends: like the always increasing price of California real estate—a trend that was pummeled, as was the price of oil, in this most recent recession.

The process for identifying uncertainties starts with reading and with interviews where the major issues, those items of influence, are brought to light. It is crucial that influences be broad and external, that they focus on those areas where influence is non-local (meaning that neither Internet vendors or users have direct control of the outcomes), even if it seems too far afield to matter in every day execution. A poor example of an uncertainty would be: Google’s next big innovation. This uncertainty, though critical, is too close to the question, and it is too dependent on the influence of a single firm. A better phrasing would be: What will be the character of new technologies that will disrupt current assumptions and models? This leaves the field open to multiple technologies as well as multiple sources. It forces people to scan the horizon broadly rather than look closely at one point while a potential black swan event side swipes them.

As an input to a project on the future of the Internet to be published later in the year, I have gathered and named the following uncertainties. They are stated here in question form.

  • What will be the nature of “personal” hardware?
  • What will be the character of new technologies that will disrupt current assumptions and models?
  • What is the lens through which we will view information on the Internet? Relationships?
  • Will innovative be disruptive or mostly incremental?
  • Will the access model by open will users need to navigate multiple walled-gardens?
  • Will the proprietors of the Internet still respect Net neutrality?
  • Will the security model be built to secure the perimeter or the data itself?
    How will the Internet be regulated?
  • Will the Internet be global or fractured by state or other organizing entity?
  • Will the source of power and control come from the users, the state or from commercial interests? If mixed, in what proportions?
  • What role will sovereign states play in the Internet?
  • Will the organization structure of international bodies by one of command-and-control or networks
  • How will standards bodies influence the Net? Who will influence standards bodies?
  • What is the next great connector (what comes after social media)?
  • How people will work?
  • How people will learn?
  • Will the semantic web come to fruition? If so, will it change the nature of information?
  • Will cloud computing be a reliable model (will some black swan event cast doubt over cloud-based services and their reliability)?
  • Where will people store their personal data?
  • What types of threats will the Internet face?
  • Will the Internet permit more direct forms of governance? Therefore more direct forms of regulation and regulation?
  • What mechanisms will be in place for people to make sense of all of the information?
  • Does the Net have a bandwidth limit? Does humankind?
  • What will privacy mean? How will it be implemented? How will it be monitored?
  • Will there still be space for non-commercial activity?
  • What will truth mean and how will it be verified?
  • How will individuals protect their online assets?
  • How will credibility be defined?
  • Will there be a dissolution of history?

What would you add to the list? What would you remove?

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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