As the internet closes in on speeds of 1 Gigabit, or 1,000 Mb, per second, it is expected to unleash a new set of applications, significantly altering the online as well as the offline existence of individuals and companies, impacting education, health care and business. However, it could widen the digital divide.
According to research conducted by US-based think-tank Pew Research Center and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center, there will be changes across all aspects of life as internet connectivity advances by 2025. About 1,400 people, most of whom are technology experts in various fields, were asked for their thoughts on how they see the world changing in the mega-speed era.
Hyper-personalised interactions with information and surroundings are expected along with vivid telepresence and video, immersive virtual reality environments and a deepening dependence on machines. People are also expected to tap into vast stores of information as they navigate their lives, said most experts.
Gigabit connections are 50-100 times faster than the average fixed-line speed but are still quite limited in the US. Globally, cloud service provider Akamai reports, that the average global connection speed in quarter one of 2014 was 3.9 Mbps, with South Korea reporting the highest average connection speed, 23.6 Mbps and the US 10.5 Mbps. India, on the flip side, lags far behind not just in speed but also in terms of usage.
Marti Hearst, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, summarised the predictions of the Gigabit age by categorising these into different areas. "Entertainment: You play sports and music virtually, distributed across the globe. Co-living: You have virtual Thanksgiving dinner with the other side of the family. Work: Finally, we greatly reduce flying around for meetings because virtual conferencing feels real. Health care: Remote assessment, treatment, and surgery. More generally, more interaction will be done with others remotely. For example, your golf lesson could be done with a coach remotely, in real time, while he or she watches your swing at the tee and has you make corrections and adjust your grip."
In the past every major advance in bandwidth has brought new innovation that has led to new services and applications to digital life. "In the internet's early days, slow modems facilitated email; faster dial-up modems helped websites become usable; early broadband rollout allowed for quicker sharing of relatively big files such as the MP3 music files that were shared on the first peer-to-peer services like Napster; later broadband advances allowed for streaming activities that have given rise to services like YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Netflix," the report said.
With higher internet speeds, the connection between humans and technology will tighten as machines gather, assess, and display real-time personalised information in an "always-on" environment. This integration will affect many activities-including thinking, the documentation of life events ('life-logging'), and coordination of daily schedules.
Laurel Papworth, a social media educator, said the Lost Generation had to manually document their lives but we are looking at full video lifestreaming in the near future. "Lifestreaming from ultrasound to final illness (and beyond if we add intelligent bots to the life data) will be the killer app. The challenge going forward is to live a full life. No one will be able to sit around in their underwear watching TV if their lives are being streamed for current and future generations." He added that there is a small possibility that by 2025 behaviour will have normalised (back to passive - not caring of opinion of watchers) but more likely that will take more time.
However, Rex Troumbley, a graduate research assistant at the University of Hawaii at Manoa added a word of caution about the widening digital divide.
"We should not expect these bandwidth increases to be evenly distributed, and many who cannot afford access to increased bandwidth will be left with low-bandwidth options. We may see a new class divergence between those able to access immersive media, online telepathy, human consciousness uploads, and remote computing while the poor will be left with the low-bandwidth experiences we typically use today," he said.
Internet giant Google started a project to build its Google Fiber network running at 1 Gigabit per second and Kansas City was chosen among 1,100 communities that pitched to be part of the project. Google is now planning to build similar networks in Austin, Texas, and 34 more communities.
NEED FOR SPEED
Things possible when Gigabit connectivity (1,000 Mbps) becomes more popular
* Your interactions with doctors, educators, merchants, and others will consist not of emailed forms or pre-recorded messages but of instantaneous, life-like video interaction that require no set-up or configuration
* The past generation had to manually document their lives but we are looking at full video lifestreaming in the near future. Lifestreaming from ultrasound to final illness will be the killer app
* It will be much cheaper and more convenient to have that monitoring take place outside the hospital. We will be able to purchase health-monitoring systems just like we purchase home-security systems. Indeed, the home-security system will include health monitoring as a matter of course. Robotic and remote surgery will become commonplace
* Wearing clothes that are tailor-made, 3D-printed at home, will also become normal, with the previous day's clothes recycled efficiently; the school day will disaggregate into a number of learning sessions, some at home, some in the neighbourhood, some in pairs, some in larger groups, with different kinds of facilitators
* If there is a digital divide now, it will still exist in 2025. The divide's existence will be magnified by the new killer apps - who has access and who does not, beneficiaries and those left out