The Next 50 Years of the Internet: Unlocking Bigger Shifts in How We Exist as Humanity

The Internet has been arguably one of the most disruptive technological innovations in our world today, and in many ways, the ripple effect is just starting.  

By John Roese, President and Chief Technology Officer, Dell

The Internet has been arguably one of the most disruptive technological innovations in our world today, and in many ways, the ripple effect is just starting.

The early pioneers 50 years ago had many of the same goals that rest in the hands of technologists today, including moving human progress forward by connecting the world more efficiently. They had no idea that in 50 years’ time, not only have people been connected to each other, but they have now been connected to information and “things” – their cars, applications, and even their refrigerators.  We continue to evolve with 5G, ubiquitous connectivity, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), all sitting on the foundation of what they built:  a foundation of connectivity, communications and data.

As I think about what I see coming in the next 50 years, my first reaction is to hope that we might have achieved or at least progressed far enough along to feel like we are past the prototyping phases of these three foundational elements.  From here, we can unlock even bigger shifts on how we exist as humanity.

I believe that we will have created ubiquitous connectivity. This won’t just be about better channel efficiency or scale, but we will also have cracked the operational code of making the capacity we have abundant, autonomous and transparent. What will define the future is the intelligence within the connection systems that make it operate and react to people, devices, code, AIs, etc. Our networks will understand that they are not islands or a separate system. We will be far beyond having to “consider the network” to accomplish tasks because the network will “consider us”. I predict that the work in cellular beyond 5G will include capacity innovations but given the size and complexity of the connected world we are creating, the big efforts will start to shift to automation, machine intelligences, and new ways to make the network invisible not just to the users but to the people operating them.

Second, I believe that we will interact with not just each other globally, but with technology (AI’s, machine intelligences etc.) in ways as natural as human to human local interaction and better. Our audio streams will be spatial and contextual, our visual streams will have depth and peripheral vision, our experiences will be four dimensional (3D plus emotional context), and finally our awareness will be augmented with data, visualizations and artifacts that fill in the cognitive gaps that slow interaction. We are seeing this journey begin already with AR/VR/HUDs, social graphs, and emotional reaction technologies.  And as they progress, combine, and become invisible, we will be able to see emotions and see around corners because of the technology becoming natural and systematic.

Third, as we progress to the 50 year out mark, we will keep ahead of data persistence by innovations in materials (organic storage, nano material base media, holography evolved); we will keep ahead of compute by innovations in architecture (diverse accelerators, re-incorporating the analog domain into compute, rethinking digital with quantum and beyond, etc.); and we will keep ahead of the software and algorithm ecosystems by handing the majority of the work of creating software and algorithms to the software and algorithms…code creating code. We are already seeing this shift begin as we move out of our homogeneous compute era into heterogeneous compute, as we move from solid state storage to diverse multi-layer memory centric architectures, as we move into shifting test into automation and code deployment and even maintenance into DevOps and Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery. This part of the journey will result in a progressively evolving line between human and machine that started with shifting the mechanical work to technology and now is bringing an aggressive shift of sharing the thinking tasks of humanity with machines and technology. Today, every business process in the world is on a path to change not just to better enable people to make decisions, but to take over many of those decisions for the people. 

Finally, what happens when these journeys make sufficient progress to create ubiquitous, transparent, and predictive connectivity? When we have ample technology to not just replicate the experience of human to human deep-connected communications, but to exceed it? And when we can create, process, persist and make actionable the data to represent the real world in real time digitally? At that point things get interesting and bigger changes occur.

While today people are intrigued by Interconnected Vehicles and smart mobility, the larger path of this work goes beyond self-driving cars and can challenge the human notion of what is fixed and what is mobile in our world.

Imagine that the technology isn’t applied to just a car or bus or truck but to a doctor’s office, a store, any service…imagine that these things that used to be permanently placed now leverage electrified mobility platforms controlled by machine intelligences, instructed by data models of the real world in real time, to suddenly become mobile.  Imagine that the human condition changes from “we must go to our services’ to our world reconfigures itself constantly to put the producer and consumer close to each other … the healthcare system adapts to the predicated demand so the concept of going to a doctor as a complex and lengthy adventure disappears and is always waiting for you nearby.

To achieve this and many other core changes in assumption on mobility, ownership of thinking tasks, value of effort, etc., I go back to the three foundational elements. We will need an automated, pervasive and invisibly-connected world; we will need technology experience to be as good and better than human interaction; and we will need our data infrastructure to scale to be able to model the real world and more in real time at the scale of our existence.   I’m pretty sure something like this will happen, and I am certain that in 50 years connectivity, communications and data will be so far progressed that we will look back at 2019 as an alpha test period.