Anyone not living under a rock for the past decade will be well aware that the Internet, the WWW, and endless apps on smart phones have become risky places. There is digital danger, but amid the strident headlines and warnings, there is a great deal of beneficial activity in these environments. It seems important to remind ourselves that a digitally connected world has brought enormous gain in many dimensions. Jobs and opportunities that never existed before have been created on the platforms so readily found in the Internet. New companies, new products, and new services abound. Old products and services are made new again. My purpose in this essay is not to ignore the safety hazards, but rather, to think about the social and economic benefits that have come from, and those that can come from investment in the infrastructure of the Internet and its applications.
The rapid shift from cash to smart phone money transfers, especially vivid in China, is one example. I can’t do any serious writing without access to the WWW and its content, thanks to search engines like Google, Bing, and others. The rise of Amazon and Alibaba has transformed shopping, as has the increasing use of rapid delivery services. We may anticipate that these will be augmented by drone delivery in the near term. Training videos abound on YouTube and other streaming video platforms. One remarkable aspect of that is the remarkable number of these videos that are created by users rather than professional film producers. I am finding myself frequently typing “How do I X” (for many values of X) into search engines and finding remarkable troves of worked examples, either in streaming video, or descriptive texts, or both.
Machine Learning and other Artificial Intelligence methods are combining with calendar information to remind me of deadlines and preferred traffic routes. I get book recommendations based on what I and fellow readers have previously chosen to read. I can search for restaurants, get directions, make a reservation and peruse menus and wine lists all in a brief period of time. I can learn how to make Chinese eggplant on any of 20+ videos turned up when asking “How do I make Chinese eggplant?”.
I can learn about quantum computing, gravity waves, and artificial life with simple searches. All of these benefits and many more are ours for the asking, but we must do the best we can to improve Internet safety and resilience and educate ourselves and our families and colleagues about best ways to use this flexible and adaptive medium.
PCI invites interested readers, creative thinkers, and visionaries to help imagine a positive future and the pathways needed to take us there.
Together we can fashion a digital future we can be grateful to inhabit.