The Internet undoubtedly plays an important role in our lives, whether we like it or not. It came into existence rather rapidly, and its future development is yet to be known. The keynote lecture “The Internet History, Development and Forecast”, held by Professor Leonard Kleinrock at the 2006 computer communications conference Infocom, sheds light on the main historical milestones of the Internet and provides a projection of its future development trajectory, based on its common features and trends.
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According to Kleinrock, the Internet has impacted virtually every sphere of everyday business: both private, such as attitudes and behavior, and public, such as politics, education, and business. Most of these changes have been positive in nature as they allowed for the creation of a more efficient and better-informed society. For instance, the Internet reduced many barriers – most certainly, physical, but also cultural, political, and social. Individuals have gained more power since now they can reach an increasingly large number of people at a reduced cost and increased speed of communication. At the same time, the Internet also helps individuals to connect and create new virtual and off-line communities.
The Internet also enhances transparency and thus facilitates accountability. Perhaps, most importantly, it provides an easy, convenient, and frequently free access to the world’s largest knowledge database. Recent discoveries and news also travel around the globe at an unprecedented speed. However, the rise of the Internet also has some significant drawbacks. While the Internet certainly increased the quantity of the information available, it also raised some important questions about its quality. Now virtually anybody can create and publish content, but it does not mean that it is reliable and credible. Moreover, because of the enhanced anonymity in the Internet space, it is more difficult to authenticate a source of information: for instance, anyone can claim to be an expert in the field or pretend to be another person (Kleinrock).
Having examined the impact of the Internet on human activity, Kleinrock proceeds to predict how the Internet will continue to evolve in the future. He outlines three main phases of the development of the Internet: the creation of an advanced network technology, construction of smart spaces, and enhanced nomadic computing. By advanced network technology Kleinrock means two things. Firstly, content, function, and services will continue to converge in most devices that are already multifunctional in nature: one such example is a modern phone that has a camera, a recording device, a flashlight, and so on.
Secondly, intelligent software agents will be used to mine data and consequently act on it – for instance, identify certain patterns of use and adapt to them. Embedded technology will prevail in the future and will help create entire smart spaces. Small intelligent devices will be built into many regular items, such as air conditioners and refrigerators, to enable advanced settings and remote use. Finally, computing will become ubiquitous to adapt to the increasingly nomadic lifestyle that many people lead. Internet service will be available not only from any device at any point in time, but it will also proliferate all over the world (Kleinrock). Essentially, Kleinrock envisages a massive interconnected network of advanced devices that collect, analyze, and transmit data seamlessly – similarly to the human nervous system.
While such a prospect may sound quite appealing, as it promises to simplify and improve human life in a wide variety of ways, people risk running into some unexpected challenges as this vision comes to reality. Kleinrock believes that people are creating something bigger than they can even comprehend, in the same way as the human nervous system is not fully understood. He calls this system of devices and networks an elephant since it is so large, complex, and organic.
Consequently, people may have difficulties maintaining control over a system that virtually takes on a life of its own. Its perplexing complexity may leave humans vulnerable to several dangers such as failures, attacks, and unforeseen behavior. For instance, overreliance on systems and networks may have devastating consequences if these systems fail, be it because of a technical flaw or external damage such as natural disasters.
Moreover, to comprehend the system, it is not enough to have an understanding of its components – rather, people need to strive to grasp the bigger picture, such as the system’s organizing principles and patterns of interaction since they are responsible for making it even more complex. It also remains highly vulnerable to coordinated hacker attacks (Kleinrock). Nevertheless, Kleinrock remains optimistic about the future since the Internet has proved to be rather resilient up to now.
Thus, even if we do not always realize it, the Internet has significantly reshaped the ways people communicate, interact, learn, and go about almost any other business. Its future sounds quite promising as advanced network technology, smart spaces, and nomadic computing will make the use of the Internet-based devices even more seamless, efficient, and helpful. Nevertheless, it is important to remember about the challenges and even dangers that such inventions present, so as to ensure that people can understand and control their creation.
Kleinrock, Leonard. “The Internet History, Development and Forecast.” IEEE INFOCOM 2006. Barcelona, Spain. 2006. Keynote Lecture. Web.