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Connecting the World 30 June 2014

Where Does the Internet Go Next?

The growth of human society has been driven by the development of three key technologies: writing, printing and now the Internet.

From the early scribblings of animals and rituals on the cave walls to the printing press to create replicas of the written word to the Internet which today gives a perfect replica of whatever that is created, the ability of human societies to reach out across families, towns and the globe is very well underway today.

In the grand scheme of things, the Internet is a very recent innovation, having only begun even in initial form just 45 years ago.  But in that time, the Internet has become a very compelling and enabling platform that today connects up almost 3 billion people. And this connection now actually extends into space, with links to the International Space Station and even on to Mars.

No other human invention has reached this wide usage in as short a period as the Internet.  And this is only the tip of the iceberg. 

So with this in mind, it is very appropriate and perhaps very useful to take stock of what has been achieved since the start of Internet era, and who better to do this than the Internet Society. Their recently-released “Internet Society Global Internet Report 2014” makes for quite compelling reading, as it lays out the present and future opportunities and challenges of the Internet.

It was only in 2005 – a mere 9 years ago – that we reached 1 billion Internet users. By 2015, this number will triple to 3 billion, which, while stunning, means that we still are seeing less than half of the world’s population on the Internet. What do we need to do to bring the others online as well? 

Part of that effort will be keeping the Internet open to everyone. The Internet is built on open standards – for communication, for software for it to work, and for hardware to allow interoperability – and these need to be maintained if we are to continue to see rapid growth and development not just in new users, but in new services, tools and capabilities.

Much more will be happening in the years to come, and this is an amazing opportunity to encourage and engage with as many people as possible to build a better world for all. It has always been my belief that smart people are evenly distributed around the world, but opportunities for some of those people in more remote or disadvantaged areas were limited.

That is, until the emergence of the Internet. As one example in the report recounts, a person in Togo was able to develop a way to use discarded e-waste to make a 3D printer. The Internet allowed him do it by helping him get support via crowd-funding services.  That is a brilliant example of what can and will happen.

We are just starting.

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