In a long essay for cerebral Web magazine The Edge David Gelernter explores the future of the Internet, which he says is about to take on a far more significant role in human society. "No moment in technology history has ever been more exciting or dangerous than now," he writes. His predictions--and warnings--have set off a wider debate about what the Internet does and how we interact with it.
- The Cloud Will Take Over Gelernter sees cloud computing eclipsing personal machines. "Because your information will live in the Cloud and only make quick visits to your personal machines, all your machines will share the same information automatically; a new machine will be useful the instant you switch it on; a lost or stolen machine won't matter — the information it contains will evaporate instantly."
- Perfect Understand of 'Now' Gelernter writes, "if this is the information age, what do our children know that our parents didn't? The answer is 'now.' They know about now." He explains, "The Internet connects each of us to countless sites right now — to many different places at one moment in time," giving near-total information about the present moment. But that obsessive focus on "now" could "drown out" any understanding of past or future as a means of context.
- Will It Replace Religion? The American Scene's James Poulos worries that an all-knowing, all-containing Internet could be used to replace God in peoples' lives. "The attempt to escape the good judgment of God — both as a consequence of our being and its cause — leaves us with two choices: the judgment of particular humans and the judgment of the System," he writes. "[T]his realization has fueled secular unitarian universalist projects since Saint-Simon, Comte, and Hegel."
- Computers Get Bigger, Not Smaller In a shift away from tiny smart phones, Gelernter predicts giant screens hanging on your wall. "You will sit perhaps seven feet away from the screen, in a comfortable chair, with the keyboard and controls in your lap."
- Web Will Kill Colleges Gelernter says classes will be exclusively online, with no need for a physical campus. "Good news! — the Net will destroy the university as we know it (except for a few unusually prestigious or beautiful campuses)."
- Complete Loss Of Privacy It's a possibility, warns Gelernter, that the total integration of our lives into Twitter-like programs "will make it even easier than it is today for software to learn the details of your life and predict your future actions. The potential damage to privacy is too large and important a problem to discuss here. Briefly, the question is whether the crushing blows to privacy from many sources over the last few decades will make us crumple and surrender, or fight harder to protect what remains."
- Corporations as Public/Private Arbiters The Postmodern Conservative's James Poulos worries. "I would point out that the essentially erotic interest Americans seem to have in abandoning the public/private distinction is a lot different from the essentially monetary interest some American corporations have in getting as many of us to do that as possible," he writes. "The implications of a shift toward official/unofficial life, and away from public/private life, are profound."
- Fame Replaced By Micro-Fame The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti predicts, "I doubt the Oscars will exist in forty years. By then the nature of entertainment will change so quickly, fame will be distributed so randomly, film will be so globalized and so easy to make, that even this most self-congratulatory of industries will have trouble finding reasons to produce a three-and-a-half hour network television awards program."
- 'Lifestreams' Will Be Central Medium "Twitter, et al, are just glimpses of what is to come," writes Wired's Kevin Kelly. "In the borderless, edgeless, centerless, placeless mists of the Net, the only dimension that seems to remain true and absolute is time, and so it seems prudent and practical to organize data/things/events/stuff along this constant and coincidentally very personal and experiential dimension."
- Return to Pre-Modern 'Dream Logic' Gelernter concludes, "Pushing the multi-mega-ton jumbo jet of human thought-style backwards a few inches, back in the direction of dream logic, might be the Internet's greatest accomplishment. The best is yet to be."
- Will We Control It? Journalist Nicholas Carr doubts it. "There are times when human beings are able to correct the bias of a technology. There are other times when we make the bias of an instrument our own. Everything we've seen in the development of the Net over the past 20 years, and, indeed, in the development of mass media over the past 50 years, indicates that what we’re seeing today is an example of the latter phenomenon. We are choosing nowness over ripeness."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.