Whether we like it or not, we are in the midst of the digital age. The mid-digital age, in fact, where technology has been so deeply ingrained into our psyche and way of life that we no longer question its presence. Where news articles about Apple’s CTO and Trump’s latest Tweet no longer seem irrelevant, and where Wi-Fi is expected – if not demanded – in most cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels. Where finding an affordable cable television and internet service provider is no longer a daunting task, and where much of our lives are centered around the use of technology – from socializing to working, living and all that comes between. The stats are telling: There are 1.35 million tech startups in the world today, and the global AI market is expected to reach $89.8 billion in coming years. By 2020, 50 billion smart devices will be collecting, analyzing and sharing data. Early this year, there were over 2 billion computers in the world, including servers, desktops and laptops. The millennium bug came and went, and we all survived. Companies, governments and organizations have evolved to embrace all that technology has to offer, and people even turn to computers and smartphones today to find relationships.
Technically, the digital age is defined as the present time, in which many things are done by computer and large amounts of information are available because of computer technology. Central to the computer economy, of course, is the internet. As of March this year, there are 4,383 million internet users, roughly 56.8 percent of the world’s population. Of those internet users, people spend roughly 6 hours and 42 minutes online daily. When it comes to mobile internet users, there are 3.9 billion active today. One would assume the internet has, therefore, reached its peak, especially with all the IPv4 rumors flying around. Are the ‘glory days’ of the internet behind us, people often wonder? Will the novelty soon wear off, with the advent of new and far more exciting technologies – such as AI, blockchain, and virtual reality (VR) – upending all that we have become familiar with in the modern digital economy?
Contrary to public opinion, the internet will only continue to grow in importance – while also continuing to evolve in new and never-before-imagined ways. The future of the internet will likely not be one thing alone, it will be many things. It will evolve in terms of speed, durability, security, intelligence, capacity (including data transmission, processing and storage) and in terms of human interfaces. By this last one, I refer to the growing value placed on augmented reality and VR technologies, such as Google Glass, Microsoft HoloLens, and Samsung’s Game VR, which offer a vastly different experience to those early days of computers, where hard-to-press keyboards and dark, difficult-to-read computer screens were the norm. In the future of the internet, we may be directing commands to human-like robots who will use intelligent processing to conduct a Google search and verbally give us responses. In less than two years we may be ‘Skyping’ Google on our computers with the click of a button and verbally asking it questions, rather than typing them out on a keyboard.
In terms of internet speed, Nielsen’s “Law of Internet Bandwidth” – which says that users’ bandwidth will grow by 50 percent per year – has truthfully described the rate of bandwidth growth until now. Can you imagine how fast computers will be by 2050? Consider also the internet’s pervasiveness, and you may be surprised to hear that, although many users are still discovering the internet for the first time, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt predicts virtually everyone will be connected – be it directly or indirectly – by 2020, through 7 billion-plus unique nodes of data collection and transmission. With this we will find ourselves in a new era, where, possibly for the first time in history, there is near-equality in access to a tool that can transform lives by providing education and employment opportunities to those who would otherwise not have access to such things. For the five billion people worldwide who currently lack Internet access, the implications of their attaining the internet will be profound.
“Mass adoption of the Internet is driving one of the most exciting social, cultural, and political transformations in history, and unlike earlier periods of change, this time the effects are fully global,” Schmidt and Jared Cohen, founder and CEO of Jigsaw at Alphabet Inc, write in their new book, The New Digital Age. They describe the rise of the internet as “one of the most transformative developments in human history, at least comparable in impact to the advent of the printing press and the telegraph”, and believe the internet’s disruptive impact has only just begun.
What they say is true. The world’s population is growing at an unprecedented pace, and with population growth comes a growing demand for personal devices such as computers, laptops and mobile phones, each typically requiring an internet connection. Furthermore, the changes we will see in the world as a result of the continued growth of the internet cannot even be imagined at this point in time.