The following document was written by Janna Anderson, Lee Rainie, and Emily Vogels. It was published by the Pew Research Center (PRC) on February 18, 2021.
In this article, the authors surveyed several experts for the Future of the Internet canvassing to get a sense of the direction of technology in the years to come. The authors want to stress that the results of the inquiry are merely a database of responses from experts. They are mainly opinions that can nonetheless guide decision- and policy-making.
In this year’s survey, the PRC found some important insights about the future after the pandemic. Here are some of those insights:
- There will be greater inequality, where those who are highly connected and tech-savvy can utilize digital tools to exploit marginalized populations. This technological change can eliminate some jobs [the loss of jobs as automation becomes more prevalent is no longer new, see xx].
- As the power of big tech firms are enhanced, they can exploit their market advantages in a way that erode privacy and autonomy users [this, too, has been a reality for years now, though it is only recently that people are beginning to take notice of the importance of protecting their data, see xx]
- Governments and commercial interests will utilize misinformation campaigns to pit citizens against each other. Experts worry about the “seemingly unstoppable manipulation of public perception, emotion, and action via online disinformation” which could bring about “significant damage to social stability and cohesion and the reduced likelihood of rational deliberation and evidence-based policymaking”. [The covid crisis is clear proof of this. Our world has been divided among those who believe the “credible sources” and the “conspiracy theorists”, the pro-vaccine group and the vaccine-hesitant, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated”.]
The research shows that 86% of experts think that the COVID crisis will bring about some kind of change in society, with most predicting that digital life will feature prominently in the future. 47% of all experts surveyed think that life will be mostly worse for people in 2025 than it was before the pandemic, while 39% said that it will be mostly better. Some 14% of experts think that life will not be much different from the way things would have been if there was no pandemic.
Those who think that life will be better in 2025 do so due to (1) expected reforms at racial justice and social equity, (2) the improvement in the quality of life for many families and workers as flexible work arrangements have already been implemented (and expected to continue moving forward), and (3) the potential for technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to enable people to live a more productive life.
The experts used words like “inflection point”, “punctuated equilibrium”, “exponential process”, “massive disruption”, and “unprecedented challenge” to describe the likely changes ahead.
This canvassing was completed in the summer of 2020, before the completion of the US elections and COVID vaccines were approved.
Editor’s Note: In 2019, Pew Research also conducted a canvassing of experts to get insights on the future of humans vis-a-vis AI [read AI AND THE FUTURE OF HUMANS]. With the rapid deployment of machine learning and AI technologies, we are seeing the issues they raised then playing out in our societies now. The forcing of digital health passports and QR codes for contact tracing has made data gathering and round-the-clock surveillance fairly easy. Facial recognition technology, despite its issues, has become mainstream. Freedoms have been suspended, jobs have been lost, all in the name of safety.
At the heels of the COVID crisis is an entire generation of children dependent on technology. The dumbing down of society has reached a new level. The post-pandemic world is perfect for digitalization. Will our children’s futures be a world where freedom is arbitrary, and where innate human skills are delegated to machines? When that happens, what purpose is left for human existence?
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