4. Empowering people | Pew Analysis Heart

A share of these expert respondents argued that a better digital sphere would empower individuals, granting them privacy and control over their data and improving their interactions with and access to government and health services, businesses and other entities. They also seek a world where the decisions people make about what information and which people to trust are enabled by newer kinds of tech tools like blockchain; localized mesh networks; digital passports; virtual and augmented reality; digital “credit unions” that facilitate online interactions; supportive AI and bots; privacy “nutrition labels” for online activities; encryption; data cooperatives; new kinds of customized filtering that will enable personalized health care and learning opportunities; algorithmic health care diagnoses; simple language translation interfaces and digital twins of humans that could help them be more productive.

They also hope different kinds of groups can be brought into being, including citizen juries to bring collective insights to legislative and rule-making processes – and even, eventually, make their own decisions outside of formal government processes.

Toby Shulruff, senior technology safety specialist at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, wrote, “In 2035, digital life will be even more deeply interwoven in people’s lives; the online experience will not intrude on the moment in physical space or social time. As I walk through a park, I will be able to note available traces of those who passed that way before, maybe even glimpses of their (freely shared) stories. I will also be able to connect my present moment experience to other data about the weather, the prevalence of songbirds, the seasonal blooming of flowers and the position of my specific location above the inner movements of the Earth and also see it extend relative the stars above. I will have available to me at any time meaningful, context-rich information, but I will not have it thrust upon me by notification dings, advertisements or nudges toward purchases or political leanings. Mostly, I will not be distracted by the technology, the information. I will be able to be present with those around me, if I choose, and also with the environment around me. In the moments I am online I will be able to choose how I am seen and experienced. No one will have more information about me than I myself have, no one will use data or my presence in a space to coerce me into a course of action they prefer. I can create, share and engage with other people.”

In the moments I am online I will be able to choose how I am seen and experienced. No one will have more information about me than I myself have, no one will use data or my presence in a space to coerce me into a course of action they prefer.

Toby Shulruff, senior technology safety specialist at the National Network to End Domestic Violence

Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, a leading advocate for trustworthy AI, digital privacy and the open internet, predicted, “By 2035, most of us will belong to a new kind of bank, trust or credit union, one that holds our data and represents our interests with the companies and government agencies we interact with online. Legally, this new kind of trust would be sworn to put our interests first. Practically, it may not only hold our data but also offer us ‘personal AI’ that can negotiate and manage automated decisions on our behalf. It could sort through obvious problems like scams and misinformation. And it could go much further in figuring out which products and services most match our desires and our interests, moving our data around and allowing it to be used/not used with the same power and grace that corporate AIs use our data against us today.”

The co-founder of a global association for digital analytics commented, “By 2035 cloud computing will have ceased to exist, replaced by low-level personal servers and mesh networking. Online surveillance and profiling will be replaced by individuals’ personal control of their own data, accessible to companies only through mediated broker services in which the consumer is paid directly for access to their personal profile. There will be widespread use of small-scale AI that is directly owned by and serves each individual to provide a defensive net around their data and personal control of social/civic services. Politicians will no longer vote to determine laws – there will be direct citizen voting on all laws via secure digital services (not that I think this ideal is likely to occur).”

William L. Schrader, board member and advisor to CEOs and previous co-founder of PSINet Inc., said, “Due to climate pressure, money pressure, virus pressure, etc., this evolution will not occur by 2035. We need better encryption globally that can be accessed on people’s platforms of choice by any individual who chooses to share their beliefs. If any of you still have hope, then wish for the educated to continue to educate their families, share their thoughts, exchange ideas peacefully and not filled with hate, and visit the world. Digital space will remain ungovernable. But nothing can stop the encryption teams around the world from building and deploying untouchable and unreadable digital spaces. Nothing. People will find a way to communicate, privately, with those with whom they wish to share ideas, no matter what any government wants.”

Micah Altman, an MIT-based researcher in social science and informatics, observed, “Today’s digital world, however marvelous, is daunting to even the most technologically sophisticated. I imagine a world in which individuals have agency over and visibility into the information collected from them or about them; automated decisions and algorithms are more transparent and explainable, and digital platforms are more accountable to the societies in which they function. Imagine if every ‘app’ came with a privacy ‘nutrition’ label showing, in a straightforward way, what information was shared, and with whom; where you could obtain a meaningful explanation for any algorithmic decision that affected you.”

Alexander B. Howard, director of the Digital Democracy Project, predicted, “In 2035, I’ll be able to renew my passport at the State Department or my driver’s license online using a virtual call with a staffer, a faceprint, and a physical token to confirm my identity, instead of facing a months-long backlog and a physical trip to an office. In 2035, I’ll be able to securely access and update my medical records using my health band from wherever I am, without blocking and formatting issues, and choose personalized genomic therapies which mitigate the risks of diseases from environmental pollution or genetic predisposition. My vital signs will be monitored by sensors in my health band that a doctor can review but will be inaccessible to the insurers which wish to raise my premiums after a historic data protection law that banned dynamic pricing in health care in the crude ways that car insurers once did using remote monitoring of vehicles in 2021.”

A military leader specializing in understanding the impact of social information systems wrote, “In a democratic and free society, I can imagine a digital public sphere in which each of us possesses a certified/verified online identity whose metadata and data we control fully. Fake/alternate identities will be available, but they will be clearly marked as such and we will understand that whoever is using a fake/alt-ID is doing so for particular reasons. There will still be the ability to fake this new ‘Real ID’ of course, but it will be rare enough, and difficult enough that it will take a great deal of effort, time and money to do so. This will not necessarily be a good for refugees, because immigration will now involve being issued a Real ID, but so long as we don’t tie such ID to all forms of commerce, it might be tolerable. Such an infrastructure can only exist, of course, in a benevolent state with no interest in controlling its citizens. In such a scenario, we might escape some of the weirder/wilder problems of people saying things in the digital public sphere, but, honestly, the people shouting the loudest right now are real, identifiable people, and we can’t know if they actually mean the crazy stuff they say or if they are saying it for attention, power, money or due to some other motivation. This scenario won’t solve problems arising from the actions of such individuals, but it might tamp down the swirl of misinformation created by adversarial state and nonstate actors. As a folklorist, I don’t think misinformation is going to go away in such a scenario, because misinformation did just fine before any kind of digital public sphere, and it will continue to do just fine within one, but we might be able to return to something more like a pre-internet moment, in which we were not all seized by the latest bit of misinformation. To be clear, the ‘pre-internet moment’ was a historical oddity in which mass media dominated the American, and many other, information landscapes.”

Carolyn J. Heinrich, professor of public policy, education and economics at Vanderbilt University, said, “The practices across states are widely varying, with some exceptionally good and exceptionally bad. We could use this kind of information to make significant improvements across all states (e.g., identify best models nationally and share information on how to implement them). By 2035 we could look across states and localities to determine best practices/approaches to helping people get the information they need and access to services and resources. This could be done across a range of areas, e.g., access to public health insurance, school registration and so forth. For example, we are doing a study now to look at how people access information about the COVID-19 vaccines and get vaccinated.”

Christina J. Colclough, founder of the Why Not Lab, wrote, “I believe in a world where collective data rights have paved the way to the formation of data stewardship institutions. For workers, these ‘worker data collectives’ can act as a way to break the monopolisation of truth created by vast power asymmetries between those who hold data and those who don’t. For citizens many such stewardship arrangements can coexist, allowing citizens to pool their data into institutions that they chose. This all requires new governance structures and new enforcement, monitoring arrangements.”

Adam Nelson, software development manager at Amazon, said, “I would hope to see extra-national jurisdictions where information rights are protected without concern about where people are physically, nor through which jurisdictions the data flows to create digital spaces that connect us. The Westphalian system is propagating itself online and it requires constant pressure to keep it from consuming all of the available space.”

Andrew Wyckoff, director of the OECD’s Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation, commented, “I’d like to see ubiquitous computing (the Internet of Things) augmented by edge computing and next-generation AI that results in data flows being overwhelmingly local as process and feedback occurs at the data source or in near proximity. This change will recast the debate over data flows as the bulk of data will not be personal but will be engineering data, and its localised state will return control of data to a micro level of individual people and businesses. The torrents of data will be analysed with homomorphic encryption that will preserve privacy and thwart surveillance while enabling system optimisation that will drastically reduce the environmental impact of humans, save lives and strengthen democracy at a very local level.”

Brock Hinzmann, co-chair of the Millennium Project’s Silicon Valley group and a 40-year veteran of SRI International, said, “Imagine a world in which we are able to see and feel the ‘emotional’ state of our social and natural environments just as we see the state of weather and road traffic today. City governments would be able to see and measure progress in the public’s satisfaction with government services, in environmental change, in sense of well-being and so forth in real time. Machines, animals and humans could all understand each other’s beliefs, desires and intentions more clearly than they can today, avoiding so much miscommunication of same.”

Imagine a world in which we are able to see and feel the ‘emotional’ state of our social and natural environments just as we see the state of weather and road traffic today.

Brock Hinzmann, co-chair of the Millennium Project’s Silicon Valley group

Liz Rykert, retired president and founder of Meta Strategies, noted, “There could be a universal digital passport that would track a person’s preferences about digital privacy, include their citizenship and vaccination status and be accessible to whomever they want to share it with.”

Peter Suber, director of the office for scholarly communications at Harvard University, commented, “I’d like to see decentralized social media that allow people to post, share and read messages in large online communities without any of us having to sign up for an account with or support large corporations. For this, we need small modular and interoperable social media tools, preferably open-source and following open standards. The platforms are notorious for surveilling us and violating our privacy, yet when we ‘volunteer’ information about ourselves in an attempt to fine-tune our content streams, they are very slow and ineffective learners. I want tools that are good at learning and that use the resulting information about me only for fine-tuning my stream, and not for any other purpose. I want much better tools to help me see more of what I want to read and less of what I don’t want to read. I realize that these tools will have to learn a lot about me. But if they work well, I’d be happy to load them up with personal information about my preferences. … When I choose to act on that information, I’d like tools to help me find bubble-breaking sources that I might have been overlooking (as opposed to boycotting on purpose).”

Rob Reich, associate director of the Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence initiative at Stanford University, said, “We need greater pluralism and decentralization in our digital spaces. I hope that we will champion more-decentralized technical infrastructures and (perhaps through antitrust) aim to create more competition and choice for users rather than a broader political economy and technical infrastructure that creates powerful dynamics for centralization and scaling platforms and products to billions of users.”

Kate Carruthers, chief data and insights officer, University of New South Wales-Sydney, wrote, “I would like to see the use of dark patterns outlawed and the digital advertising industry regulated to stop their egregious tracking of individuals. I would like to see governments implement legislation and regulations as code that would enable digital service delivery. I would like to see design thinking and service design underpin all digital services both private and government. I would like to see telehealth be an improved reality with AI/ML detection capabilities. I would like to see education to be a true hybrid model with seamless handoffs between on- and offline with AR and VR as mature technologies that are easy to use. I would like to see seamless connections between online and offline; work from anywhere. Retail could be all online, with online capabilities for perfect fit and measure of clothing and increased ability to buy custom-fitted clothing.”

David Eaves, a public policy entrepreneur and expert in information technology and government at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, predicted, “More technology will be regulated like utilities, with clear, universal rules so that users are not – for example – wrestling with understanding how their data might or might not be used.”

Steven Miller, professor emeritus of information systems at Singapore Management University, said, “I wish that I could make one declaration that I don’t want any provider of digital services or spaces to attempt to sell me anything unless I specifically ask for that type of input and across all the digital places I visit, the clutter of advertising junk disappears. I hope it gets easier for us to manage our plethora of passwords and login credentials, though in a way where digital identity theft becomes near impossible. This would be beneficial to all, and especially so for those who are already ages 60 and older. I hope that the day comes when customer service chatbots can actually answer most of my questions, especially questions that are not the simplest or most common things.”

Randall Mayes, instructor at Duke OLLI, futurist and author, predicted, “I envision an advanced version of blockchain or Etherium which will store genomic data and electronic health records, smart contracts and provide micropayments for individuals’ data and reduce cybercrime.”

An entrepreneur based in the American South commented, “A better world online for me is a world that has an army of protection for its users that is determined by its users. Each platform creator is responsible for what they allow their platforms to become over time. Each platform leader/creator has to solve for questions such as whether or not the platform they have created can be a safe haven for children, people with mental health issues, the elderly and/or others with expressed interest to have more privacy and or visibility into how their data is used. It’s a world of inspiration, design, creativity and hope. Each individual has their unique voice in this space and can heard in constructive ways. These platforms enable users the ability to easily navigate their unique digital life experience with fewer concerns. It is a world where individuals can learn more about themselves, if they choose. It is a world where the mind is valued and nurtured, a career or passion can emerge or grow, healing can take place, therapy can be administered, business can flourish, exploration happens and access to resources is abundant. It is a world that allows individuals to filter through some of the harmful digital experiences with more ease.”

Meredith P. Goins, a group manager connecting researchers to research and opportunities at U.S. laboratories, wrote, “I hope by 2035 there will be an improved wealth redistribution online in which people are paid by platforms for uses of their likeness, their writing and their personal content instead of the internet billionaires profiting from them. There should be better infrastructure, so all individuals have high-speed access, and internet access should be price-regulated – we shouldn’t have to pay $150-plus per month. Platforms should ask individuals if I want to be tracked (my answer is no), they should ask if they can use people’s data (my answer is no). People should have a right to maintain their privacy instead of the government and big business taking it away. The internet should be more secure. Cybercrimes are exposing far too many data breaches, and none of our information is secure. Why do we bother putting our data on the internet if others can steal it and use it inappropriately? This isn’t the Wild West of the early internet anymore. We have had this tool for over 50 years. Why are we acting like it is new? Firm data-sharing rules and regulations should be made that must be followed by all.”

Frank Kaufmann, president of the Twelve Gates Foundation, said, “I expect the improvement in coming years to arise from the social environment in which the digital realm is situated. When digital life, blends and integrates more fully into the infinite sphere of love and purpose found in family life, the ‘digital realm’ will begin to yield wonders we have not even begun to imagine. Rooted in what social reality does digital life happen?”

Jeff Johnson, longtime Silicon Valley tech veteran now working as a professor of computer science at the University of San Francisco, commented, “See my scenarios from 1996, some of which have been realized and some of which have not: http://cpsr.org/prevsite/publications/newsletters/issues/1994/Fall1994/johnson2.html.”

Politics and governments can be improved by 2035  

Many of these experts share the hope that politics and governments will finally get the digital upgrades many have been hoping for and predicting since the early days of the internet.

Beth Simone Noveck, director of the Governance Lab (GovLab) and its MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance, said, “Fifteen-plus years ago I wrote this potential-future scenario that is yet to be realized: Imagine a world in which, not only are citizen juries mushrooming all across the country to harness the collective imagination to the legislative and rule-making processes, but juries and groups of all kinds increasingly make their own decisions about issues in economic and civic as well as political life.

Imagine a world in which, not only are citizen juries mushrooming all across the country to harness the collective imagination to the legislative and rule-making processes, but juries and groups of all kinds increasingly make their own decisions about issues in economic and civic as well as political life

Beth Simone Noveck, director of the Governance Lab (GovLab) and its MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance

“In the same way that the State defers to the ‘self-regulatory’ decisions of associational bodies – such as journalists, physicians and lawyers, or Congress enacts legislation made by the consensual agreement of industry and public interest groups, or federal agencies defer to negotiated rulemaking through technology – it is possible to imagine that groups will have power not only to consult with existing political structures, but also to make their own laws to which the state can defer. For every bill proposed in Congress (or state legislatures, for that matter) and for every regulation proposed on the regulatory agenda of federal agencies, an online citizen jury would be convened to serve for a short period in shepherding the proposal to its resolution.

“This does not necessitate creating a deliberative fourth chamber or a centralized deliberative process but, rather, introducing distributed and decentralized input into political decision making. The elected legislature will continue to make the final decision to ensure that lawmaking does not become so decentralized and fragmented so as to be ad hoc, but a new mechanism of collective accountability will be introduced to give citizens greater input in setting the agenda for lawmaking and produce greater accountability to a wider constituency. In this vision, ordinary people join citizen juries and serve for varying lengths of time depending on the jury to which one is assigned. Participation is an alternative to traditional jury service. In case requiring participation is not enough incentive to overcome personal impediments, participation might also earn a tax credit or trigger other financial incentives provided by government and industry. Imagine earning bonus points for civic participation.

“It can take place from the courthouse but also from home via the internet or in interstitial spaces, such as bus stops or subways platforms, using networked kiosks to join and visualize the jury, connect with other members, view information about an ongoing proposal and provide feedback: the so-called ‘deliberative bus stop.’ It is not deliberative in the sense of being a place for talking but, rather, a place for reasoned input via the computer screen. Reasoned input might take the form of working with visual diagrams, directing an avatar or other more efficient but equally critical forms of shaping opinions. The computer kiosk might output, for example, a card (like a subway ticket) that the user could insert with a PIN number to track the progress of an initiative and participate in the life of the group. …

“A small amount of demographic information would be collected from each public participant in order to create groups that are diverse and pluralistic. The staff members and other professionals working on a proposal (i.e., agency officials and congressional staffers) become part of and report to the group. They speak to and are accountable to everyone in the group, which acts as an oversight team. When questions arise, they are put to the group. The group can deliberate in real-time or asynchronously. They can also participate in research, work and drafting, taking advantage of the screen to share assignments effectively. Groups might appoint a reporter or rotate the role of reporter, blogging about the work of the group to a collective policy weblog. Groups might appoint a representative or rotate the role of representative, who collaborates with the other small groups assigned to that proposal. That representative might take the form of an avatar, for example, that is ‘played by’ different or all members of the group. …

“Currently, lawmakers make proposals too late in the game for input to be meaningful; citizens react viscerally and vociferously without the benefit of adequate information or channels to make a difference in policymaking. Yet politicians and public alike worry about how to exploit the internet to create meaningful public consultation. They worry even more about relinquishing power to the public to make its own decisions, organize its own discussion and build participatory groups of the kind we have seen emerging through such efforts as Meetup and MoveOn. If the state takes groups seriously, policy discussions – whether of congressional bills or agency rulemaking – might take place online, encouraging groups to engage in positive and proactive activities. This can take the form of officially sanctioned citizen consultation exercises organized both online and off. But, in addition, such citizen participation in lawmaking might be the result of decentralized and self-generating action taking place in the blogosphere and in groups of all kinds.

“This is a first step in the transition from consulting the public to engaging the public. There is much to flesh out if we are to develop a system of ‘deliberative bus stops’ to connect people using the networked screen to groups to create greater political accountability. The details require extensive planning, collective imagination and experimentation. But crucial is the suggestion that we have and will soon have the tools and the widespread access to them to enable people working in groups to participate effectively in governance. However, these socially engineered mechanisms for citizen consultation are not nearly as interesting, complex and potentially worthwhile as the emergent, self-organizing, diverse and fully voluntary groups we also want to promote.”

Michael H. Goldhaber, an author, consultant and theoretical physicist who wrote early explorations on the digital attention economy, wrote, “In the U.S., as well as in other countries that have some form of constitution supposedly allowing electoral democracy, the constitutions have not kept up with changes such as globalization, the rapid pace of technological change, intentional manipulation by antidemocratic forces, growing reliance on a technocratic elite, increasingly monopolized corporate hegemony, the state’s growing police powers and other problems. In addition to all those, the growth via the internet of what I originally termed ‘the attention economy’ has furthered a new kind of inequality. Democracy requires that everyone can somehow have a voice in the broad conversation as to what changes should take place. However, the details of many kinds of popular change can be quite hard to decide, since each little detail can lead to different overall outcomes for some fraction of the populace. This demands more involvement than most people might have patience or time for.

“With practically everyone connected via the internet, the solution may be tens or hundreds of thousands of citizen groups each focusing narrowly on one slice of one issue, yet interacting also with other groups dealing with connected concerns. The necessary learning to participate usefully in each group would be developed within the group so that the ones with prior expertise or educational attainment would not dominate over those with less.”

Alexander B. Howard, director of the Digital Democracy Project, predicted, “In 2035, I’ll be able to sit virtually in the gallery of my city, state and national legislatures in a public metaverse, watching holograms of representatives in meatspace debate with the legislators physically present and participating in drafting bills or oversight hearings in collaborative workspaces that show the impact of proposed changes to codes and regulations, from cost to societal changes.”

Daniel S. Schiff, a Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy, where he is researching AI and the social implications of technology, shared this scenario, “In 2035, political life online has embraced innovations in digital and participatory democracy, recently coined as ‘Democracy 3.0.’ Given shifts in life owing to the pandemic of the 2020s, and the expansion of remote work, governments in the United States have increasingly relied on the digitization of citizen contact and engagement to solicit feedback and drive decision making.

“City councils in both large and small cities now connect regularly with the public via tele-town halls and policymaker Q&As, allowing citizens to directly engage with local political leaders. In state and federal policy, it is now common for thousands of citizens to join monthly meetings to discuss policy issues of the day, engage in participatory budgeting and vote on proposals for city councils and government agencies. Skilled facilitators work with online breakout groups to systematically explore issues, educate participants and gather citizen feedback, and political leaders have started to embrace and promote these developments.

“Through these platforms, citizens also elect Neighborhood Liaisons to represent them in more extensive discussions, aimed at tackling some of the most ‘wicked’ problems where individuals may hold divergent preferences and values. Volunteer moderators from participants’ local communities also assist with encouraging constructive dialogue and reaching out to individuals who are flagged by AI systems as engaging in hateful speech or misinformation, a strategy that has found some success.

“These new spaces represent creative public-private hybrids, as governments’ tentative use of platforms like SeeClickFix, NextDoor and FixMyStreet in the 2020s has expanded into full-blown partnerships. Now, citizens can indicate their concerns and preferences about local, state and federal policy for issues as small as fixing potholes to as large as submitting concerns about the environmental practices of giant technology companies. Scholars have noted that citizen attitudes about political life, social cohesion and government responsiveness are stronger than they have been for nearly a half century. Nearly 60% of adult citizens are members of these platforms, overwhelmingly using their true identities in their profiles, and non-citizens are also encouraged to participate, at least in some U.S. states. Moreover, federal and state coordinators have established programs to reach out to low-income, minority and vulnerable groups, and the participation gap in Democracy 3.0 platforms has closed considerably in the last four years. Citizens are now ‘bowling together’ again, well, over the internet at least.”

Direct democracy – voting for issues/solutions rather than delegating decisions to mediators (representatives) – is one great opportunity offered by the digital world.

Anna Andreenkova, professor of sociology at an institute for comparative social research

Anna Andreenkova, professor of sociology at an institute for comparative social research, noted, “Direct democracy – voting for issues/solutions rather than delegating decisions to mediators (representatives) – is one great opportunity offered by the digital world. Direct public influence in decisions will require that the public take on more responsibility. A second trend I see as possible is a movement away from people choosing to live in large cities, stopping the seemingly unlimited growth of urbanization. Cities’ roles in serving as community and cultural centers will be more developed. Just as the ancient Greeks did, we will come to our agoras, large public gathering spaces in which we meet, discuss, take a meal together and gain new cultural experiences. People will also travel in order to change their spaces and stay for a longer time in order to experience differences in life and culture rather than doing quick trips to the well-known tourist attractions highlighted in travel books. And maybe in 20 to 25 years all national borders will be open and barriers such as visas, government permissions and other forms of control over freedom will be forgotten.”

Henning Schulzrinne, an Internet Hall of Fame member and former CTO for the Federal Communications Commission, said, “Better support for local communities would be helpful. For example, local communities should be able to easily set up systems to record and index community government meetings, from town councils to school boards to committees, and make it possible for citizen journalists to inform their community. Also, for local (municipal, county, state) candidates, there should be better ways to inform voters of their record and platform.”

Thomas Streeter, a professor of media, law, technology and culture at Western University, Ontario, Canada, wrote, “Routine access to legal institutions to resolve disputes, settle contracts, etc., is currently organized in a way that favors the wealthy and those with elite social connections. A legal system could be created that offers itself as a service available to ordinary people, where guidelines and procedures are available via easy-to-understand websites and online forms presented at a sixth-grade reading level, and judges could organize their courtrooms around the schedules of citizens rather than the other way around. Ponderous legal documents such as mortgage contracts that are hundreds of pages long and legislation too long for any legislator to read before voting on it, should become a thing of the past. Trying to digitally automate the law is not the way to do this; rather, the goal should be using digital technologies to foster easy access for everyone, from citizens to legal personnel. This is a huge communication problem, not necessarily one for AI to solve.”

A principal architect for one of the world’s leading technology companies predicted, “2035 could be revolutionary. The pandemic compressed a decade’s evolution of communication technology down into a few months in 2o20. Before it, streaming media and real-time communications were evolving independently, offering a choice of either large-scale or low latency. That changed as the technology distinctions blurred and applications emerged enabling both large-scale and low latency. This manifested itself in massive online courses and interactive meetings with over 100,000 participants as well as online events and streaming/real-time hybrids. The impact of this technology revolution made itself quickly felt. During the 2020 U.S. election season, we saw this technology harnessed by groups such as the Lincoln Project that were able to bring more people together in a single meeting (over 100,000) than the total margin of victory in the battleground states. By 2035 it seems quite likely that we will see interactive meetings with 1 million-plus viewers, turning ‘interactive podcasting’ into a viable alternative to today’s news media. In addition to the positives of this there are, of course, potential downsides – mass rallies will become much less expensive to put on and allow demagogues to get their messages out more easily.”

Amali De Silva-Mitchell, futurist and found/coordinator of the Internet Governance Forum’s Dynamic Coalition on Data-Driven Health Technologies, said, “In a perfect future 2035, there is tremendous opportunity for advances in affordable, universal eHealth and mHealth to support traditional health care service. An ideal would be to have person-specific health service delivery to an ultimate state of perfection. It will include:

  1. The use of lasers, holograms, nano technologies and other minimally invasive technologies (causing no pain) to diagnose medical conditions.
  2. Pharma care that is patient-specific, affordable and timely in development, to meet cures for new and existing health issues.
  3. Wearables and supports that identify and monitor personal health risk.
  4. Public health tools that allow for management of public health with no lapse in time.
  5. Data collection and use that is unbiased, risk-free, private and secure.”

John Lazzaro, retired professor of electrical engineering and computer science, wrote, “By 2035, medical care delivery in home settings will be the norm. A standardized hardware, software and communications platform will be manufactured at scale, and sent to patients as a tool for well-care. Costs will be comparable to mass-market consumer electronic products. Components of the platform will include clinical-grade vital signs monitoring, point-of-care diagnostic kits and a medicine cabinet of the most common generic medications. Each component will be under a digital ‘lock-and-key,’ dispensed only upon digital orders from a physician. I’m just old enough to remember primary care physicians who made house calls to patients too sick to visit an office. The pandemic led us to revisit the concept of medical care delivered in a home setting, this time via digital technology that was unthinkable in my youth of rotary phones and wringer washing machines. Since the pandemic came with no warning, there was no time to craft hardware and software tools customized to the remote medical care at scale.”

Karen Yesinkus, a digital services professional, presented this scenario: “Julie is 5 years old and is visiting on her own with her elderly grandmother, June, while her parents are away. June wears a wristband with her profile, history and health care records digitally recorded, encrypted and available in the event of a health crisis. A pendant around June’s neck records vitals and transmits to the wristband to include with her previous digital records. The wristband and pendant both have geo-tracking. Because the band and pendant constantly communicate and analyze incoming data with the digital records, etc., a determination is made if there is an impending condition that will cause a crisis or occurring emergency. Emergency, mental health or other professionals and services are notified based on the analysis. All contacts (POA of records, relatives, etc.) within the programming of these devices are notified through redundant means to ensure everyone is aware and on same page. In this scenario, if young Julie’s grandmother starts suffering the signs of a stroke, she or health care providers may be alerted in order for her to arrive at the hospital 36 hours in advance and be treated successfully. Her father and her mother would be notified via phone, email, text and a universal health care portal that securely transmits voice messages from professionals and doctors, and they can confer with each other. This scenario could be available to all citizens, but government, legislators, physical and mental health professionals, social services and law enforcement must coordinate for these types of best outcomes.”

Thomas Lenzo, a consultant and community trainer and volunteer in Pasadena, CA, predicted, “I hope for two improved digital realms. 1) Connected medical tech and records: The low-cost components we have today should be able to communicate with each other and to a central database that individuals control (and share as appropriate), and there should be just one electronic medical record about me. Right now, I have a digital watch, digital scale and a blood pressure cuff. They all track my data and store it on themselves. Meanwhile, my primary care physician, dentist, eye clinic and pharmacy each have their own online databases that I can access, but they cannot share with each other. 2) A universal translator: I’d like one that is lightweight, body-worn, long-life and works in real-time conversations. I have been a volunteer first responder for more than 20 years and I have been in many situations where victims did not speak English. I am in Southern California, where there are 200 different languages.”

Courtney C. Radsch, journalist, author and free-expression advocate, said, “In 2035, people who are ill are able to get excellent virtual health care, with all of their information readily accessible and aggregated for the health care. The provider will know if there are prohibitions on using any health or well-being information for any reason other than the voluntary provision of care, with safeguards in place to protect against misuse or data breaches. The digitization and learning made possible by these developments enables new types of treatment and proactive well-being approaches that serve a wide range of communities.”

Brooke Foucault Welles, an associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, commented, “In my 2035 fantasy, we build on the best of the COVID-19 year of hybrid and geographically-dislocated life to develop thriving hybrid communities where people can be physically and virtually co-present. People are freed from the constraints of physical space, yet they are still able to engage with them as they want. People are able to live where they are most physically, socially and emotionally fulfilled and study or work in the place that best meets their intellectual, financial or career needs. Physical spaces would be rendered more accessible by digital technology, but not rendered obsolete. Indeed, in this alternate-future we might get more diverse social networks and more diverse information ecosystems as work, school, family and friends are not so fully geographically co-dependent. A queer young person from a deeply conservative town might be able to attend public school in a more affirming district in another state. Or a young couple might be able to raise their kids down the street from grandparents while working for a company headquartered on the other side of the country.”

Monica Murero, associate professor and director of the E-Life International Institute at the University of Naples, wrote, “I imagine an improvement in the active techno-participation of seniors – those currently 55 years old – and the rise of technology assisting them with health, administration, house management and social life needs. I also expect to see significant changes in education and more home-centered, digitally-connected humans. I see this process interacting and merging with local (analogical) realities such as meeting people at the local store and in other socialization spaces, especially in online micro-realities (communities) that are more and more connected.”

Jessica Fjeld, assistant director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, said, “I hope that by 2035 there will be regulation of the techniques that are used to drive people’s addiction to their devices, so that people will be better able to take advantage of digital technologies while also disconnecting.”

Jerome Glenn, co-founder and CEO of The Millennium Project, predicted, “A duplicate cyber version of ourselves that has been generated from future full-body scanning can improve medical diagnosis and allow for the testing of various treatments to determine which is the best for our real, biological bodies. Thousands of tests could be done in a very short time to get the exact, unique treatment. Computer simulations of our bodies seem inevitable.”

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