Back to the Future — What’s next for the Internet?
The third wave of the internet is upon us. Consider it a revolutionary moment which involves a paradigm shift from the preceding two waves. Here’s how.
This first involved adoptance and learning. By necessity it had to involve creation as it was the birth of the internet in the public realm. These first companies were forced to deal with the regulatory burdens of having to negotiate permission to the infrastructure required for access to the internet which proved problematic and burdensome.
As such government involvement was necessary. It included heavy negotiations with telecoms companies who were initially reluctant to grant access to the infrastructure. Creating the internet was the biggest challenge of the first wave. Getting online was the first problem.
The second problem was that once you were online what was there to do? It may be hard to imagine now but initially, the internet was blank. Everything we see now came after that point of creation. Like the big bang, what preceded it was nothing. What came after was rapid expansion and development of services and industries. The first wave witnessed the birth of e-commerce companies and became a Frankenstein amalgamation of the real word and the web. It was a confused place trying to find its place and meaning. It lacked the subtleties we experience now and was constantly fraught with danger or disaster.
Everyone who lived through it remembers that distinct noise of dial-up and the despair that passed through your body when the phone rang and our parents became executioners to our connection. Having waited minutes for a web page to load our hopes and dreams could be ended at any moment.
While the initial days of the internet involved laying the groundwork, the “second wave,” started in 2000, as defined by the applications and software — like Google, Facebook, Snapchat — involved things been built on top of the internet. The second wave witnessed maturity and coherence. The internet came of age.
Platforms and network effects became prevalent and the age of multi-billion £ internet behemoths, built seemingly overnight, was born. Companies like Facebook grew out of a dorm room in the States to dwarf the valuation of old media companies founded a hundred of years ago. The second wave was the point where adoption of the internet had reached critical mass and a lack of participation effectively meant exclusion. It marked the beginning of social and sharing and revolutionised industries as diverse as music, shopping, travel and everything else you can imagine.
The second wave was marked by individual triumphs and developments. Messaging platforms like WhatsApp conquered the messaging world where skype monopolised video communication and international calls. These standalone successes benefited from the first wave but were detached from the much of the arduous process of legislation compliance. They were inventing the future and creating a new world reality without asking for permission.
Now the third wave is upon us.
It will be similar to the previous two while remaining distinctly unique. It seems to me that much of the low-hanging fruits of the internet have been picked in relation to the digital world. We are now seeing repetition and iterative development instead of tremendous leaps forward in terms of progress.
It brings me to water taps. We have used them for a century and we still find new designs but they all achieve the same job. Why waste energy redesigning something that is already fit for purpose? Human energy should be spent on new problems now retracing steps. Without the third wave, this is what will become of technology.
With that being the case where will the next development come from? I propose is is a combination of two things, connectivity and analysis.
I reference connectivity, not in the way the previous two waves have become synonymous with connecting online. Rather I refer to the inter-connectivity of everything. Your phone talking to your car, telling it that you are on your way to it, which is talking to your home, telling it you are on your way home so turn on the heating, talking to the light-bulb in your bedroom which Is out and needs to be replaced so it orders a replacement autonomously.
The third wave is going to involve the combination of all human learning with regards the internet. The internet of things will become realised and our lives will be simplified by a magnitude of 10, or even 100. The arduous repetitive tasks we hold in such disdain will be undertaken by computers which instantly analyse changes in the conditions of the things we own. Imagine never having to go shopping again as your cupboard possess sensors that know when stocks of specific items are low and order new ones when they fall below a certain threshold.
What about the ability to acquire free kitchen appliances if we approve of them coming with digital advertisements or an agreement to only purchase specific brands? The previous waves of the internet have been about mass adoptions and catered to the crowd. The third wave will be marked by almost unimaginable personalisation to you. It will know everything through all the data collected and respond accordingly.
That doesn’t come without tremendous potential for abuse by marketing companies or individuals looking to steal your data. If you think identity theft is bad just now imagine when people are able to steal all your health data for the period of your entire life, the routes you travel, the food you eat, the list goes on and on…
And that is where I believe the third wave is going to differ hugely from the second wave. The third wave is going to require massive government regulation, legislation and approval. Third wave companies can’t do what second wave companies did because the sectors that will be disrupted require permission. In fact, a lack of permission disables participation.
They will have to approve every development due to the privacy issues, the detailed data that will be afforded and the impact it will have on the lives of every single person on earth. This will mean that we must negotiate with the government. Where second wave companies were free from the burden of compliance, every move will be watched in the third.
The second way in which the third wave will differ from the second is partnerships, more specifically the necessity for them. The second wave gave rise to massive companies but they were born in a vacuum devoid of the need to cooperate. The third wave companies will not be afforded this luxury.
The developments in the third wave will come in education, government, healthcare, financial services, insurance, transport, energy, insurance agriculture, manufacturing, basically think of every sector which has remained stagnant for the last fifty years. The only thing they all have in common is government regulation.
The impending revolution of data afforded from being connected to the internet of things will afford massive advances in each of them. Think about education which can become more tailored to individuals specific needs while understanding what has been effective for millions of pupils. Or healthcare, where the effects of drugs can be measured and aggregated instantaneously across continents instead of single hospitals. Being able to understand and operate alongside the government will not just be a requirement, it will be a prerequisite and the essential necessity which allows you to operate, survive and grow.
And partnerships will allow that. How do companies with no industry experience convince a government to let them operate within these highly confidential, controlled and critically important spheres? How does am incumbent who lacks the technological knowledge to implement any ideas progress? The answer is they have to form partnerships and work together. They must share their individual experience and combine it to provide a new service; this will be true across every sector. Companies already operating in the sphere are effectively blind to the power of data and technology companies have the tools but lack the platform to implement them. One will provide the network, connections and reputation and the other will provide the tools. Imagine this across hundreds of sectors between multiple companies. Think of it as a democratisation of expertise for the collective advancement of society as a whole. Your individual data is aggregated with everyone else’s to allow everyone to profit accordingly.
The third wave will also begin the deterioration of corporate greed as third wave companies survival is contingent on our participation. We are beginning to expect more of companies, impact and purpose not just profit. We will expect these corporations to enrich our lives not just steal our money.
And that is before we view the developments that are to come in artificial technology, autonomous vehicles and virtual reality.
It’s easy to fear the future.
The fact of the matter is that technology is already far better than us at many things. Repetitive tasks can be undertaken in a fraction of a second which would take us hundreds of years. This frees us to focus on things which matter most.
We need to stop viewing technology as an existential threat and embrace it in partnership. Technology isn’t our biggest threat, our biggest threat is not embracing it to invent the future. We are what we are because of our ingenuity unto this point it would be incredibly stupid to resort to simply making things smaller and faster.
The future is whatever we want it to be but we must create it. progress is only constrained by a lack of imagination. So take action and be fearless. If you fall down get back up. To topple an empire you have to play the game.
So find friends and conquer: Alone we can do little. Together we can do so much.
The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stone. It ended because we invented something better.