The Moxie Sessions: The next 25 years of the internet: boon, bust or bore?

Hayden Glass
Dave Moskovitz
Jenene Crossan
Ross Young, the head of Public Policy for Google in New Zealand

Every month, The Moxie Sessions bring together a small group of Auckland business thinkers to discuss how New Zealand can take advantage of the Internet to boost its competitiveness. For more, see http://themoxiesessions.co.nz.  In July we were on the outskirts of NethuiInternet NZ’s annual gathering of the internet community, which was about the next 25 years of the Internet in New Zealand.

Remember 1989? In April that year Waikato University was hooked up to the US internet backbone and a new era began. Oh happy days! In my last year of secondary school I was writing nerdy computer programmes on our very first home computer, a PC with a powerful 8088 processor. Connecting computers together was done one at a time, with a serial cable and a lot of fiddling about.

This month we asked our three speakers to cast their minds and imaginations forward to the unlikely-sounding year of 2039 and to consider what life would be like then and whether the internet will be a force for good or for ill.

Dave Moskovitz, a self-described “professional geek,” a stalwart of the Wellington start-up scene and an Internet NZ councillor, is fundamentally a technology optimist.

He points out that the internet already means we have massively greater access to knowledge. He expects this to continue until everything publicly available is instantly knowable to everyone. Computing power has also undergone a substantial change since my parents’ expensive 8088. It is already very cheap and very powerful and in the future it will be nearly free.

Together, these two trends will change what we think, and also what we have to think about. We will expect more accurate predictions and speedy change from governments, businesses and each other in response to new information. Intelligent agents will be mediating most of our interactions, and we won’t necessarily know or care if they are computers, rather than people.

For Jenene Crossan, a reknowned digital marketer whose most recent venture is Flossie.com, said to be “like Uber but for beauty treatments,” one interesting thing about all this change is that it has not been frightening. It has crept up on us gradually. So Jenene’s child does all her homework on a computer, entertains herself with an iPad, and makes movies of everything to share with her friends, and thinks nothing of what is, when you think about it, an enormous change.

Taking this idea forward, Jenene reckons we will embrace digital enhancements to existing non-digital tasks like visits to the doctor or 3D-printed makeup, new products like earplugs that do simultaneous translation, and new computers that seem to have feelings (programmers have feelings, after all). Connected computers will coordinate between themselves to make our lives easier, an auto-nutritionist will advise us on what to eat or not, and driving will become a privilege but won’t be as much fun anyway in an automated car.

Speaking of automated cars, for Ross Young, the head of Public Policy for Google in New Zealand, the major trends that will shape the next 25 years are already in play. The internet will become an even bigger deal as connectivity spreads to more people, especially as smartphones and tablets continue to grow in popularity around the world. Big changes in population composition, with aging in the developed world and the continued rise of a (young) middle class in Asia will influence how the Internet develops for the next generation and beyond.

Wearing your computer has started out with fancy but mostly useless digital watches but wearable computing and improvements in user interfaces still have a long way to run. And the so-called internet of things will enable sensor networks throughout cities (like Christchurch) and might one day mean we always know what is in the fridge. With luck, it will at least make it easier to connect the television to the internet.

The way we use the Internet to retool the way we do all the other things is the biggest change of all. Technology-enabled learning is already starting to have an impact on the New Zealand education system. The 12 schools in the Manaiakalani cluster in east Auckland are a great example. As this trend spreads, and as students educated this way move into the workforce, it will change how companies work. The internet is already central to business operations but we have yet to really use it to change the way business is done.

This is not to say that the future is all sunshine and lollipops for our perky nation at the edge of the world. The increasingly widespread availability of knowledge has not yet resolved all human disputes. It still takes effort to find and verify information, and time is still scarce despite all the labour-saving devices of the modern age. What is possible technologically is not necessarily permissible from a legal point of view, profitable from a commercial angle, or in the interests of those entrusted to make decisions on our behalf.

Forced to predict, I am optimistic: as a world we will muddle through the thicket of difficult daily issues, looking up from time to time to figure out where we should go and what progress we are making. When my 66-year-old self calls the Moxie Session to order in 2039 and asks the speakers to look back on 50 years of the Internet, we will still be saying that its best is yet to come.

The Moxie Sessions is an internet economy discussion group held once a month in Auckland. Its purpose is to bring together a group of interesting folks from across the economy to talk about how New Zealand can take advantage of the internet to improve its economic performance.

Check out the standing invitation, the podcasts and the records of previous events at http://themoxiesessions.co.nz, and follow @moxiesessions on Twitter.

Hayden Glass is a consulting economist with the Sapere Research Group, and the Convenor of the Moxie Sessions.

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