Future of the Net
When the World Wide Web began in 1990, few suspected how successful it would become. According to Internet Live Stat, as of October 2015 there were over 943 million websites, and that number is increasing every day. As little as a decade ago, most Internet users still connected using a dial-up modem; now the majority of Internet users have high-speed, broadband connections that are always active. Increased speed has ignited an explosion of electronic commerce, video on demand, telecommuting, collaborative scientific projects, video conferencing and virtual environments.
High-speed networks have made it possible for professionals to work in ways never before possible. For instance, scientists around the world can share specialized equipment like electron microscopes. NASA has developed a Virtual Collaborative Clinic that connects medical facilities around the U.S., allowing doctors to manipulate high-resolution, 3-D images of MRI scans and other medical imaging. Not only can doctors consult and diagnose, but they can simulate surgery by using a “CyberScalpel.” Virtual surgery gives surgeons an opportunity to practice before ever entering the operating room, reducing the time required for the actual procedure. Using this kind of virtual technology, local hospitals can access resources and skills only available at larger institutions. NASA plans to use the technology to provide remote health care to astronauts on extended space journeys.
And these innovations are just the beginning. As Internet speeds continue to increase, and more and more connected devices come online, soon our entire lives will be connected, no matter how far apart we are.
As more and more of our information gets uploaded to the cloud, it won’t be long before everything we do with an Internet-enabled device happens there. Google is already making major strides in the is direction with their chrome books, which include only enough storage to run its operating system and a handful of apps. Everything else, from saving files to running their office suite, happens in the cloud. At some point, expect device makers to remove even the minimal drive, and instead rely on virtual computing, in which even your operating system will exist in the cloud. Such a device would never need to be upgraded. Instead, your cloud provider would be responsible for improving performance or adding additional storage space on their end. The downside of such as device, of course, is that it would be useless without a stable Internet connection.
The other major development in cloud computing will likely be one that has already begun. While they are still struggling to make headway into the mobile Market, Microsoft is attempting to accomplish something that will forever change our expectations for Internet-enabled devices: they are promising an identical experience on your PC, laptop, tablet, and phone. No longer will you have to wonder if your favorite app is available for your desktop and your tablet, or struggle to remember how to change the picture on your phone, tablet, and PC. Instead, all devices will operate in the same way, they will run the same programs, and what you do on one device will carry over to them all. In fact, we are already starting to see devices communicate with each in a way that allows us to start a project on our computer and pick it up right where we left off on our phone.
The Internet of Things
While PCs were once the primary means of accessing the Internet, we're now seeing Internet-enabled devices such as netbooks, tablets and smartphones that send and receive e-mail and access the Web. As humans become more constantly connected, so too can the rest of our world. Soon, everything from your car to your refrigerator will be connected to the global network, communicating with each other wirelessly.
Wi-Fi enabled light fixtures already allow us to turn on and off our living room lights by talking to a speaker. We can adjust our thermostats from work. Our cars can even give us instant traffic updates as we drive and automatically re-route our GPS directions. It won’t be long before all of the items in our homes are fully integrated with each other. Our appliances will tell our computers when they have problems. Our refrigerator will tell us when we’re out of milk, and possibly even order more for us.
Seems far-fetched, but holographic technology is already being used by some big name companies and celebrities. CNN conducted a holographic interview with correspondent Jessica Yellin during the 2008 presidential elections. It was certainly no Princess Leia moment, but a Nevada company plans to use the technology to help Selena go back on tour in 2018, even though she died over 20 years ago.
While still relegated to big venues and flashy rating stunts, as this technology becomes more widely available and less expensive, we can expect to see businesses adopting it to bridge the growing geographical divide between regional offices or to allow more employees to work from home, while still maintaining a “physical” presence. Current video conferencing services will adopt as well, making it possible to talk with relatives as they are actually in the room with you. And, of course, video game designers will use the technology not only to bring games to life, but to allow friends to play side-by-side, no matter how far apart they are.
Increased Security Threats
As we connect more of our lives and rely on the cloud to store our personal information, we also open ourselves up to greater security risk. Hackers have found their way into private cloud-storage accounts and taken over personal cell phones. Foreign governments are increasingly using cyberattacks to steal intellectual property and threaten our security.
These types of threats will undoubtedly continue and grow worse in scale. Could someone be adjusting your thermostat without your knowledge? Or watching you through the video camera on your television? Is your tax information being viewed by an identity thief overseas?
As individual consumers, it will become critical to keep our devices up-to-date and protected using powerful software, such as home firewalls, to ensure we are the only ones with access. We will turn to security companies to monitor our homes, cars, and computing devices in much the same way we now rely on antivirus companies to keep our PCs safe. Our governments will need to put additional money and research into cyber security, as doing so will become one of the most important efforts they can take to ensuring personal and national security.
Faster, Closer, Better
Regardless of where technology takes us, one thing we can be certain of: In the future, the Internet will make the tools we use every day faster, more connected, and more functional than we could have ever imagined. While we can’t forget the risk, there’s no stopping the flood of innovation that is to come–and that’s a good thing!