What tech will look like in 2039

By Rob Marvin

Andrew Lippman

Andrew Lippman is a senior research scientist at MIT. He serves as the head of Viral Communications and associate director of the MIT Media Lab. Lippman, also the co-director of MIT Communications Futures Program, has been a part of the MIT Media Lab since it was founded in 1985. His research topics include digital video, news and media, next-gen graphical interfaces, decentralized systems such as blockchains, and more. As head of the Viral Communications research group, he oversees projects that push the boundaries of scalable real-time communication systems.

Networks and Data Ownership

Fifty years ago, the most trusted man in America was Walter Cronkite. He ended his newscast by saying, '...and that's the way it is.' And people believed that. They trusted the institution that was giving them that news, and now that trust has migrated to networks. And so the challenge we face is to make those networks worthy of that trust and carriers of that trust.

Looking at things from the opposite point of view, we've also seen that there are large cases of centralization of the means of communications and the means of control of data. That centralization we've seen can be dangerous. It can be misused; it can be attacked.

Can we build systems that work in decentralized ways, that work in distributed ways, and where you retain the ownership of things like your data, networks, connections, and friends? Over the course of the next however-many years, I'm hoping that that pendulum will swing back and that we will place social and personal value on our networks and our own information, and see the benefits of a connected society without the cost of relinquishing ownership of your own connections.

News and Online Misinformation

When you start to talk about things like news… the picture becomes a little bit more complicated. And the reason is that we're also learning more about human psychology, and I think we've ignored a lot of that in the construction of our systems.

'Lies travel around the world before the truth gets its boots on.' Jonathan Swift said that in 1710. He also said the lie has done its damage before you've been able to correct it. So we've known that things that are shocking or sensational can take root and overwhelm a common vision of reality, a common vision of truth and accuracy. Nevertheless, we've built a set of systems that allows this to happen all too easily.

A lot of what we [researchers] have worked on is reducing friction in our communication systems, but maybe a little bit of friction is a good thing. A little bit of gumminess in the way things flow may be a good thing for allowing us to reflect a little before we react. I'm relatively optimistic and hopeful. I think people will do better if you give them a chance. I can't invent a future that's gonna say, 'Okay, I'm gonna slow the news down. You're only gonna get the news once a day.' That's not going to work.

So the question is, what do you add to it that prompts that reflection? Maybe in the future, we can do a better job of something as simple as the Like button. Turn it into a badge of trust that says, 'When I passed this onto you, I read it, and I analyzed it, and we can talk about it.' In other words, provide the option. Provide the way to insert a teachable moment into the things that we might otherwise just solely react to and then move on.

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