Study: Mobile phones to be primary Internet device by 2020

Voice-activation and touch technology will be common, Pew study finds

By 2020, mobile phones will be the primary Internet devices for most people in the world, according to a panel of experts, who also predict that Web technologies will probably not lead to increased social tolerance.

"The mobile phone -- now with significant computing power -- [will be] the primary Internet connection and the only one for a majority of the people across the world," the Pew Internet & American Life Project writes in a new "Future of the Internet" report. "Telephony [will be] offered under a set of universal standards and protocols accepted by most operators internationally, making for reasonably effortless movement from one part of the world to another."

Nearly four out of five experts agreed with this scenario, according to an online Pew survey which formed the basis of the report. Pew surveyed 578 leading Internet activists, builders and commentators, identified through various technology associations as well as an "extensive canvassing of scholarly, government and business documents from the period 1990-1995 to see who had ventured predictions about the future impact of the Internet." A few of the experts polled were Nicholas Carr, author of the Rough Type blog and The Big Switch; Havi Hoffman of the Yahoo Developer Network; Michael Botein, founding director of the Media Law Center at New York University Law School; and several members of the ICANN board.

The experts were asked if wider exposure to different groups through the Web will significantly advance social tolerance by 2020, leading to declining violence, sectarian strife and overt acts of bigotry and hate crimes.

Only 32 percent of experts agreed that the Web will bring about greater social tolerance, while 56 percent disagreed. "A number of the survey participants indicated that the divide between the tolerant and intolerant could possibly be deepened because of information-sharing tactics people use on the Internet," Pew writes.

Social tolerance is "not in mankind's nature," Pew was told by survey respondent Adam Peake, policy analyst for the Center for Global Communications. "The first global satellite link-up was 1967, BBC's Our World: the Beatles 'All You Need Is Love,' and we still have war, genocide, and assassination (Lennon's poignantly)."

In addition to the 578 experts, Pew surveyed another 618 respondents who are helping build the Web but aren't necessarily considered experts or opinion leaders. Poll results were similar in the expert and non-expert groups.

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