What Happens Next
From propaganda researchers to emerging-technology producers, these five experts peer into the darkest corners of the virtual world. One thing they can all agree on? If we don’t act now, our digital future is looking bleak.
An Xiao MinaAuthor of "Memes to Movements"
Censorship could be just as common in an open internet as a closed one
Hany FaridProfessor, electrical engineering & computer science and the school of Information, University of California, Berkeley
The dystopian digital future of fake media
Boo WongGroup director of emerging technology at The Mill
VR and AR will expand the limits of human perception
Camille FrancoisResearch and analysis director at Graphika and former principal researcher at Google's Jigsaw
The old-school double-agent tactics governments will use to erode trust
Where We Thought We’d Be
Hindsight is always 20/20. Here are some predictions that got the future right—or spectacularly wrong.
Investigative journalism pioneer W. T. Stead thought journalists didn’t spend enough time talking to real people, such as Naval officers, soldiers, and “the bellman.” The effect of this, he posited, would be a loss of faith from readers, and an inability to accurately reflect the news.
Psychologist Hugo Münsterberg predicted that lie detectors would become “for the student of crime what the microscope is for the student of disease.” These early technologies often used stopwatch-style chronoscopes as a way to judge how long alleged criminals took to respond to questions. Facts could be winnowed out by biotechnology, the theory went, revealing “the hidden feeling” inside.
The evolution of empathy
Columbia Journalism School dean Carl Ackerman believed that journalism would help “stabilize the lives of men and women” by humanizing them to one another. This in turn would prevent riots, wars, and bloodshed. As people struggled to come to grips with the growing complexities of government and industry, he told his students it would be journalists who would explain this rapidly developing world to the masses.
Dial N for News
At a British science conference, novelist H. G. Wells foresaw a future in which newspapers and textbooks were relegated to the scrapheap. “The newspaper is as dead as mutton,” he said. Instead, he believed people would ring a news hotline to listen to “a summary of what has been happening in the last two or three hours.”
“You can’t always believe your own eyes,” said an editorial in tech magazine InfoWorld. High-tech editing software (such as the early edition of Adobe PhotoShop) had gone mainstream, and now anyone had the power to make their photo a little more dramatic, pleasing—or totally fake. They hoped users would pay close attention to whatever they were looking at, “otherwise, we may never be able to trust a photograph again.”
More from What Happens Next
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Future of College
While the internet has made online learning virtually free, the price of traditional teaching is still soaring. When the job market is transforming more quickly each year, how can we reinvent education to keep up?
Future of Water
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Future of Gaming
With revenues topping $100 billion a year, the video game industry is poised to be this century’s dominant form of entertainment. As games become more addictive and expensive to play, how will they transform our social relationships as well as our leisure time?
Future of Home
Technology is transforming homes all over the world. In some places, cheap devices are powering and connecting homes long left off the grid. In others, newly automated and networked machines are reinventing convenience—but at what cost to privacy and human connection?
Future of Work
If automation continues at its current pace, 400 million workers around the globe will be displaced by 2030. In spite of the vast economic effects these changes will bring, will we seize the opportunity to reconceive the very meaning of work?
Future of Food
As global climate change worsens and the population expands, humanity must produce more food in the next 50 years than it has in the past 10,000. Are lab-made meat and automation the key to farming in the future, or must we tend to the soil we already have?
Future of Cities
By 2050, nearly 10 billion people will share our planet. As mega-cities rise and technology reshapes the urban landscape, how will these changes affect the vast majority of the world’s poor?
Future of Money
Anarchy reigns supreme in the future of finance, decentralizing the power of banks and, in some cases, the state. But will cryptocurrencies and the blockchains that underlie them solve our financial woes, or only worsen existing inequalities?