This is the fundamental question that we are posing through the report just launched today, our 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future.
The report is a window into the diverse views and perspectives of a global community that cares deeply about how the Internet will evolve and impact humanity over the next 5-7 years. We couldn’t know what we would find when we embarked on the journey to map what stakeholders believe could shape the future of the Internet, nor can we truly know what will happen to the Internet, but we do now have a sense of what we need to think about today to help shape the Internet of tomorrow. The report reflects the views and aspirations of our community as well as some of the most pressing challenges facing the future of this great innovation.
What have we learned? We’ve learned that our community remains confident that the core Internet values that gave rise to the Internet remain valid. We also heard very strong worries that the user-centric model of the Internet is under extraordinary pressure from governments, from technology giants, and even from the technology itself. There is a sense that there are forces beyond the users’ control that may define the Internet’s future. That the user may no longer be at the center of the Internet’s path.
It is, perhaps, trite to say that the world is more connected today than ever before. Indeed, we are only beginning to understand the implications of a hyperconnected society that is dependent on the generation, collection and movement of data in ways that many do not fully understand. The Internet of the future will most certainly enable a host of products and services that could revolutionize our daily lives. At the same time, our dependence on the technology raises a myriad of challenges that society may be ill equipped to address.
Clearly, the Internet is increasingly intertwined with a geopolitical environment that feels uncertain and even precarious. The Internet provides governments with both opportunities to better the lives of their people but also tools for surveillance and even control. This report highlights the serious choices we all must make about how to ensure that rights and freedoms prevail in the Internet of the future. The decisions we make will determine whether humanity remains in the drivers’ seat of technology or not.
In short, the decisions we make about the Internet can no longer be seen as “separate”, as “over there” – the implications of a globally interconnected world will be felt by all of us. And the decisions we make about the Internet will be felt far and wide. We are still just beginning to understand the implications of a globally connected society and what it will mean for individuals, business, government and society at large.
How we address the opportunities and challenges that today’s forces of change are creating for the future is paramount, but one thing above all others is certain – the choices are ours alone to make and the future we want is up to us to shape.