Predicting the Future of Computer Networks and the Internet

Networking in the 22nd Century

Computer network
Sally Elford/Getty Images

Financial analysts, science fiction writers, and other technology professionals make predictions about the future as part of their jobs. Sometimes the predictions come true, but often they are wrong (and sometimes, very wrong). While foretelling the future might seem like just guesswork and a waste of time, it can generate discussion and debate that leads to good ideas (or at least provide some entertainment).

Predicting the Future of Networking – Evolution and Revolution

The future of computer networking has been especially difficult to predict for three reasons:

  1. Computer networking is technically complex, making it challenging for observers to understand challenges and see trends
  2. Computer networks and the Internet are well commercialized, subjecting them to the effects of the financial industry and large corporations
  3. Networks operates on a world-wide scale, meaning disruptive influences can arise from almost anywhere

Because network technology has been developed over several decades, it would be logical to assume that these technologies will continue to gradually evolve over the coming decades also.  On the other hand, history suggests that computer networking could someday be made obsolete by some revolutionary technical breakthrough, just as the telegraph and analog telephone networks were supplanted.

The Future of Networking – An Evolutionary View

If network technology continues to develop as rapidly as it has over the past twenty years, we should expect to see many changes in the next few decades as well. Here are a few examples:

  • IPv6 finally takes over:  Experts predicted the demise of IPv4 a long time ago as the Internet was expected to literally run out of address space. That never quite happened, but IPv6 seems poised now to finally displace IPv4 on networks around the world. (Just don’t bet it on happening too soon.)
  • Domain names become obsolete: Expect the price of dot-com domains to crash and for domains, plus the Domain Name System (DNS), to eventually disappear as Web browsers become capable of navigating to Web sites purely through voice recognition, eye movements and/or touch interfaces.
  • Broadband routers and other home gateways become obsolete: As people end up owning hundreds of wearable and mobile devices that need to communicate both inside in the home and away, installing fixed routers inside a home to manage traffic will no longer make sense: Devices will all communicate with each other and the Internet directly.

The Future of Networking – A Revolutionary View

Will the Internet still exist in the year 2100? It’s difficult to imagine a future without it. Very possibly, though, the Internet as we know it today will one day be destroyed, unable to withstand the increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks it faces even today.  Attempts to re-build the Internet will likely lead to international political battles due to the huge amount of electronic commerce at stake. In the best case, the Second Internet may be a gigantic improvement over its predecessor and lead to a new era of worldwide social connection.

In the worst case, it will serve purely oppressive purposes similar to George Orwell’s "1984."

With further technical breakthroughs in wireless electricity and communication, plus ongoing advances in the processing power of even tiny chips, one can also imagine that computer networks someday will no longer require fiber optic cables, or servers. Today’s Internet backbone and massive network data centers could be replaced with fully decentralized open-air and free-energy communications.