The internet: what next?

On the web’s 25th anniversary, the Institution of Engineering and Technology calls for worldwide debate about its future

To mark the ‘silver jubilee’ of the web, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is drawing attention to the huge contribution the internet has made to society and is calling for a global debate about how we develop the web and improve digital skills to ensure it continues to create opportunities and enhance people’s lives over the next 25 years.

The IET’s Dr Mike Short, CBE, said: “In a recent US survey, 76 percent of people believed the web has been a positive force for society. This is encouraging and, given that we have really only scratched the surface with what the web can do, the potential for it to further improve our daily lives is still considerable.

“But we now need an agreed vision for the web for the next decade, including how we will address critical challenges such as security, capacity and capability. We must also do more to create the necessary digital skills to enable the Web to achieve its full potential. Currently, the UK is facing a well-documented shortage of these technological skills.”

The IET’s wish list for the internet over the next few years includes:

  • A wider range of content in a greater number of languages
  • Trusted e-learning resources
  • Greater inclusion of, and accessibility for, groups currently not engaged with the internet – such as large parts of the developing world, the older generation and those with visual and auditory impairments
  • Further innovation in web technologies such as language and format conversion
  • New thinking about how we operate commercially in a digital world, with a broader choice of ecommerce and payment options
  • Global governance and standards for data privacy and security, including techniques such as human factors and user-based design to improve user confidence and adoption.

The internet has revolutionised business practices and created all sorts of new opportunities for communication and interaction – first with email and more recently with social media. Now the IET expects to see social media transcending individual platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to bring together contacts across all platforms in the ongoing bid to create web technologies that allow people to communicate more widely, more easily and more often.

It won’t only be people who benefit from searching the web for information, the IET believes. It expects that computers will be able to analyse the web to find data from a range of sources, linking data and identifying patterns. This would mean that, in the future, a faulty product or a health scare could be addressed by machines scanning the web to find all available data to better prevent and prepare for future incidents.

The IET believes that improved usability depends on an infrastructure that allows us to connect to the web on demand – any time, any place – without having to worry about how the connection is made. It says that to overhaul the existing infrastructure is prohibitively expensive, suggesting that availability could be achieved by bringing together technical standards, embedding greater intelligence in the network architecture, and introducing more proactive and innovative regulation to allow individual devices or appliances to find connectivity on demand.