Updated: Aug 15, 2020
The Internet is a pretty incredible thing, wouldn’t you say? As of June 2018 just over 55% of the world’s known population has access to the internet. That’s an increase of nearly 50% since 2010, showing 2015 below. While that’s pretty phenomenal, enabling mass global connectedness for billions of people, there is still an estimated 54.9% of the world’s population that does not yet have access. Given that in America alone the average time spent online in a week is 24hrs, according to an MIT review, it can be pretty hard to step back and imagine what it would be like to quite literally never be online. Being a digital native myself, I hadn’t really imagined this until recently. I was on a walk with my dog and witnessed, here in 2018, a flashback to 1995 (or so), when I saw a young person walking up the street, knocking on a door, and upon its opening saying ‘’Hi I’m here for Josh’’. In the 2018 I am familiar with, this Josh person would have already known and been waiting outside.
I then spent the rest of my walk fathoming a life completely without internet; what a mind warp that was. I would encourage you too to take a moment and envision a life without your smart phone, without your laptop or tablet, without your Netflix, Spotify, or digital news feed, without social media, without a digitally connected pulse… at all. A life where to call on someone, means to go over to their home and verbally use your mouth to communicate with them for something as simple as meeting later that day. A text away? Forget it. That’s not a reality for nearly half of the world’s population. A fairly impressive realization when you take a moment to truly visualize what that might be like.
Took a moment? Welcome back to the New Era
With the advent of 5G network connectivity and related technologies, it is estimated that in the next 5 years billions of people who previously did not have internet access, now will. Imagine that, billions of new minds with access to the truly exponential bodies of information available digitally. That’s billions more perspectives and voices added to the digital dialogue streaming through thousands of petabytes across social channels, websites, text messages and more. Peter Diamandis puts it quite nicely with his reflections on the implications for innovation and beyond, that this manifest access has:
“With 5G on the ground, balloons in the air and private satellites blanketing the Earth from space, we are on the verge of connecting every person on the planet with gigabit connection speeds at de minimis cost.’’ Let’s consider for a moment the implications all of this has for access to justice world wide. With such a mass number of new populations having access to the internet, we are opening the gateway to previously unheard populations to get heard, and to get the information they need to build their way out of many of the disparaging situations they are currently in. As a case in point, a 2016 report from UNHCR has stated that ‘’many refugees regard a connected device as being as vital to them as food, water or shelter’’. As a stark example in practice consider Joshua Bowder’s extension of his DoNotPay chatbot is now being used in refugee camps to assist refugees with legal claims, something that simply would not be feasible without the internet.
Not all that Rosy
There’s an interesting comparison worth drawing attention to. The World Justice Project recently issued a Global Insights on Access to Justice report. In that report there is the following dispersion map, indicating percentages of people who experienced a legal problem in 2017. You will notice that many countries are not yet polled and that there are only a couple with very low percentages of reported legal problems experienced.
Now review the map below which shows internet censorship and surveillance by country. Notice the countries that have high levels of “pervasive” and “substantial” digital censorship and surveillance. You will see that there are several countries that have fairly high levels of censorship, but relatively low levels of reported legal problems. Seem fishy? I thought so too.
While there are many (perhaps endless) variables in need of consideration here, it is worth noting this comparison and considering that there’s a good chance that the two could be correlated. After-all a non reported problem does not mean there is not a problem. At the very least, internet access clearly does not necessitate that these populations will have increased access to justice, especially where there are such heavy censorship and surveillance practices in place by those governments.
Ushering in a Promise of Access
Have you heard of the Web3, 5G, the Internet of Things, or Industry 4.0? Allow me to shed a little light. All of these technologies and concepts are deeply interconnected, and are all promising a radically different future of global connectedness. If we thought the dawn of the internet was a digital epoch, we’ve probably only just experienced the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s to come.
Now, we certainly need to be careful not to fall prey to the wild fantastical wieldings of block-chain fairies and cyber pixies, seducing us into thinking the promises of these technologies are guaranteed, as they are not. The implications are still largely theoretical. However, it is theory backed by rigorous research and industry experts.
Let’s take a quick look at the Decentralized Web. Currently when you think of the Internet, you think of Google if in North America or Baidu, Yandex, or otherwise if elsewhere, and often people conflate the two (search engines and the internet). However, Google and other engines are actually just mega databases that store much of what we do online. The internet is actually the interconnected networks (or pipes) that facilitate information and communication flow. Currently, these mega centralized databases effectively own all of the data running through the internet that is stored on their servers and they could in principle do whatever they wish with it. In effect there is vast volumes of legislation in place to regulate these organizations, however as we all know there’s a lot of work to do.
The decentralized internet, or Web3, is focused on the recreation and redefinition of the data architectures currently in place. Though it is still in its early days of development, it promises data democracy, where the data that flows through the internet is no longer centrally held. There is great further reading on the technical structure of it on the BlockchainHub website (yes, blockchain plays a very core role in the implementation of Web3). Here however I’d like to draw attention to the implications for widespread access to internet, and in turn access to justice.
If we fast forward to what a world looks like when/if Web3 becomes the mainstream internet, we can begin to imagine what that looks like. Given that censorship and surveillance is largely made possible because of the centralized infrastructure of the digital world, a shift to Web3 could support a shift away from corrupt centralized systems. In addition, the theory runs that given the new democratized architecture of Web3, there is a possibility of access to the internet for populations currently without. It is similar to how currently many populations that don’t even own a bank account are able to participate in the economy via cryptocurrencies. Likewise, populations that are currently firewalled, censored, or surveilled, could gain access to information in a way previously unimaginable.
Cautiously Optimistic Certainly these concepts call for massive optimism for what the future holds, and I for one am on the ship that is sailing through these unknown waters. However, this is a time where legal professionals, government bodies, policy representatives, technologists, and even your average lay person, needs to reconcile with the fact that this is a global connectivity issue. It is not something that sits in one jurisdiction or another alone. While many governments are making progress on sound regulation of the current systems, we cannot be so naive as to imagine this will be sufficient for the regulation of what is on the horizon. What is coming our way is universal by nature of its origin, and we need to come together collaboratively in understanding and building the future legislative and regulatory frameworks that are going to address such a radically different global connectedness.
About the Author: Aileen Schultz is a Toronto based award winning growth and innovation strategist with a global footprint, and a passion for creating better exponential systems. She works with SME's across several sectors with a focus in legal and blockchain technology.