Predicting the future, regardless of the volume of caveats inserted by the purported sage, is a dangerous game:
“I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”—Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and inventor of Ethernet, writing in a 1995 InfoWorld column. (Pogue)
Needless to say, a brief such as this, ‘The future of the World Wide Web’, has all the potential for regret and embarrassment as a painful teenage fashion phase combined with an unsatisfiable urge to publish nonstop selfies (perhaps this is the future of the web, as it certainly appears to be the present).
Of course we are not, here at least, trying to predict what the next selfie or cat video type phenomenon will look like. What we are trying to do is predict and even propose how the best and most effective Web of the future would work and behave. What conceptual shape will it take? What type of behaviour, interaction and function will it allow and precipitate?
As we have seen in the previous blogpost in this series, here, the frequently named ‘father of the Web’, Tim Berners-Lee, has put his considerable support behind the notions, methods and standards surrounding the concept of a semantic Web of linked, open data.
Linked data is a way of organising data which mimics more closely how humans understand and process facts and meaning (Weller). It uses labels or predicates to describe the relationship that exists between data. This, combined with a Web of open data, where further meaning and context can be correlated through reuse and reference, can allow for greater machine interpretation. This will be necessary (is necessary) as the sheer volume of data becomes too great for practical human interpretation and correlation. The people at Thompson Reuters’ Open Data Institute have called this data identity; a condition where data will include metadata about itself and its wider context. This is a powerful notion, especially when we consider the implications for machine learning and artificial intelligence.
The common mode for prognostic discussion of technology and the Web is one of superlative. Things will inevitably get faster and more powerful. For the Web (and its economy), which is driven, now, by data, this will mean a greater stream and volume of data. For example, The Internet of Things, an area of development which is more inevitable (and ongoing) than simply conceivable now, will mean that such data flow (and Web access) will be more analogous to electricity than to, say, television or telephony. It will have a ubiquity that will leave the term “go online” obsolete: when one’s home, clothes, car and fridge are communicating with you and each other one’s world is in a permanent state of connectedness (Anderson & Rainie).
This world, where data is constantly being generated and exchanged on an vast scale, will demand some form of standardisation and protocol beyond what has been exploited thus far. Whether this is Berners-Lee’s image of a Semantic Web or some other enhanced knowledge structure, if economic potential is adopted as a motivating metric, then progress and unlocked potential is inevitable. The McKinsey Global Institute (Manyika) suggests a conservative figure for the economic potential of open data at $3 trillion a year. If Corporations and Institutions can be motivated to free their data from their nodal silos, and furthermore, to structure their data in a coherent and connected way, then the potential of such conditions is unknowable.
Pogue, D. “Use it better: The worst tech predictions of all time.” Scientific American, January 18 (2012).