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Driver of Change: Internet and the Physical World

The increasing connectedness between the Internet and our physical environment is inevitable. It is becoming economically and technically feasible to connect almost anything to the Internet.

From self-driving cars, to automated homes, and even bio-connected humans, many that provided input believe the Internet and world around it is set to fundamentally change through the Internet of Things and the growing convergence between the Internet and physical world. 

Some speculate that the Internet will become so pervasive it will simply “fade into the background.”  Others believe we will need to fundamentally re-think what it means to be “on the Internet,” as the dominant means of Internet use transforms from one of active engagement with content to a passive interaction with Internet-connected objects.

Many participants believe new technical innovations will bring a wealth of opportunity, innovation and potential for human advancement.  However, many also see this paradigm shift to a “hyperconnected world” as raising key questions and uncertainties for the future. 

In a world where the Internet controls physical objects and infrastructure, cyberattacks and malfunctioning devices could put at risk the loss of real assets and human life.  The potential for new forms of surveillance, erosion of privacy, and the potential for new forms of cyber-threat, were commonly raised as future concerns. 

In addition to a possible social backlash against an “always on” world, some indicated that this new paradigm will raises the stakes for government Internet involvement in the future. “There will be more pressure for governments act when the Internet interfaces with the real world,” indicated one respondent.

Overall, the convergence of the Internet and physical world and Internet of Things were highly sited as a key force of change that will drive the future of the Internet.  And a one that promises to bring game changing shifts to the Internet, how the Internet is used, and the world around it at large.  Similarly, however, respondents were highly uncertain as to how the benefits and risks of a hyperconnected world will be managed into the future.

Key Challenges and Uncertainties Raised by our Community 

  • Shift from the Internet as a vehicle for content delivery to one that is interconnected with and controls the physical world.
  • Internet and interconnected world will impact real property, assets, and life, not just data and content.
  • Increased potential for surveillance, privacy intrusion, and discrimination.
  • Increase in cyber-security vulnerabilities and types of targets vulnerable to attack.
  • Greater pressure to control, monitor, and mange Internet end points.
  • Potential shifts in Internet and network management techniques.
  • Potential social backlash of living in an “always on” world, including in the physical environment.
  • Raising the stakes for government involvement in the Internet.
  • Uneven distribution of benefits of the Internet of Things between developed and developing regions.

Questions From our Community:

  • What happens when the Internet transforms from a platform characterized by content and the World Wide Web, to one that fundamentally controls the physical world and environment around us?
  • How will the Internet of Things and data-driven services, fed by a growing number of sensors and connected devices around us, change the lives of global citizens?
  • What impact will an always-on, “hyperconnected world” have on the future of privacy, security, and the potential for surveillance?