It was 50 years ago, in 1969, when ARPANET – the precursor of the Internet – was established. Even though many things have changed since then, some have actually remained more or less the same. We still use communication protocols that were designed 30+ years ago without giving adequate focus on security or privacy considerations, since the main concern has always been to keep it as simple as possible. Even though we are constantly inventing new add-on solutions to address these issues, the foundation which everything is based on has remnants that are integral to the entire structure.
The Internet was not originally designed or meant to be used in the ways we are utilising it today, but, after the World Wide Web was released to the public domain in 1993, every single industry wanted a piece of it. Due to its ever-increasing popularity, every country (or union of countries) had to come up with new laws and regulations, in an attempt to formalise – and control – its usage. As we have witnessed numerous times already, all these rules and restrictions have a varied amount of success, occasionally hindering the true potential of what a global, interconnected, network such as the Internet can achieve and offer.
Because of all this lobby-driven overregulation in the name of commercial exploitation, the future of the Internet seems somewhat precarious, so attempting to predict the next 50 years can prove to be quite tricky. If nothing changes, it could soon become a borderline unusable, oversaturated, data exchange platform, inhabited by data givers/consumers and data brokers, where companies the size of small countries would control what you saw, and the price for this would be trusting them with access to every aspect of your life, even allowing them to make your decisions for you, based on algorithms calibrated for company profit instead of self-care.
However, I would like to think that there is still hope in preventing the Internet from becoming the backbone of such a dystopian, totalistic, massive control medium. There are active initiatives that aim to establish security and privacy as indispensable components of our networked experience, preventing data regarding our personal life from becoming products that one can buy or sell in an attempt to influence us into making uninformed decisions. Even if, one day, we are forced to carry a networked computer embedded inside our body (in the name of “convenience”), we should not give up our free will for the sake of “discount coupons” and “exclusive offers”, because, the moment this happens, the Internet is (as good as) dead.
Fear not, though; even if we ever reach this point, something else will take its place — when the time is right. It could be an advancement in clean energy, or a leap in quantum science, that will start a new chapter in the history of human evolution. Perhaps we will find that there is a better way of interconnecting everyone and everything together. Time will tell.
NB: Parts of this post were (mis)quoted in a New Scientist article, so I should clarify that there is no point for governments to come up with laws, regulations and guidelines for things that they do not understand or respect. Internet traffic filtering should not be used to repress freedom of speech. Information wants to be free.