The Web in 2050: anticipation and alarm bells

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How do you feel the Web is developing - and what concerns do you have? That was the question put to five industry panelists at a recent event, ‘A Vision for the Web in 2050’, organised in the run-up to this year’s

IP EXPO Europe

.

The question - answered by senior executives from Brocade, HP, McAfee and VMware, along with futurologist Tom Cheesewright - was prompted by remarks made by World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who will present the

opening keynote

at this year’s show.

In a recent interview with

Wired

magazine, Sir Tim said that, over the next few years, millions of sensors, appliances and other devices will be coming online, building out the Internet of Things and taking the web to new places.

“The potential excites and concerns me at the same time - and that makes the web worth our ongoing stewardship,” he told Wired. “We must build and defend it now, so that those who come to it later will be able to create things that we cannot ourselves imagine.”

It’s an exciting prospect for futurologist Tom Cheesewright, author of the ‘

Book of the Future

’ blog. “In the future,” he told attendees, “there’ll be no clear boundary between us and the technology we use - or at the very least, the lines will be blurred.”

“I’ve already outsourced my sense of direction and memory to a smartphone and the Cloud,” he joked, explaining how he used his phone to reach the event. “The barrier between me and those digital tools is still quite explicit, in that I have to reach into my pocket and take out my smartphone, but with wearables and haptic technologies, that barrier will slowly disappear.”

Across the board, however, our #web2050 participants agreed with Sir Tim’s reservations about how the web is developing. The idea of an open web doesn’t mean that rules regarding privacy, freedom of expression don’t apply and our panellists see challenges ahead, particularly around privacy.

“I see real generational differences at play here,” said David Chalmers, chief technologist within the EMEA enterprise group at IT giant HP. “My first question when I look at the digital world is, ‘Why would I want to do that?’. For my children, it’s ‘Why wouldn’t I want to do that?’ As a generation, they’re conditioned to share. This is my personal concern with the way the web is developing: where do the boundaries of personal privacy, if you’ve already given your privacy away?"

Not only that, but we’re increasingly prepared to give our privacy away for “practically next to nothing”, at the same time that the companies to whom we hand it over attribute it with more and more value, said Raj Samani, chief technology officer at security company McAfee.

If you look at recent M&A deals between social networking companies through the lens of cost-per-user, he pointed out, Google paid around $20 per user for YouTube back in 2006, while Facebook paid $30 per user for Instagram in 2012 and $42 per user for WhatsApp earlier this year. “There’s a very profound disconnect emerging between how we value our own data and how companies value it - and where that might go in future is alarming to me,” he said.

For Marcus Jewell, vice president of EMEA at networking specialist Brocade, meanwhile, there’s a concern over segmentation: as the scale of the Internet becomes even more vast, he forsees it becoming a more divided world, segmented largely along socio-economic class lines. “The ‘dark net’ represents a first segmentation of the Internet, but I think that trend will continue in a more noticeable way,” he told attendees. “As human beings, we like to know who we’re dealing with - what ‘type’ of person they are - and I think that trait could start to shape the Internet in the years ahead.”

Finally, when it comes to IT security, new approaches will be needed, said Brian Gammage, chief market technologist at VMware. “Boundaries are useful - we need boundaries, because we can audit what travels across them,” he said. “In future, auditing will matter more than security, because it’s better to have insight into what’s crossing than it is to build high walls around everything. In any case, that high walls approach will be impossible in a heavily interconnected world.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee will share his vision for successful business on the web - from predicted challenges and the technologies that businesses will use to overcome them, through to the key innovations that will drive future success, improve customer experience and create new markets - at 10am on 8 October 2014 at

IP EXPO Europe

.

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