A bleak future: What the Internet of 2046 will look like

One of the biggest digital libraries today gives us a glimpse of what the Internet of 2046 might look like… And it’s a cause for concern.

Imagine a world 25 years from now in which the biggest online news outlets are run by monopolies with political agendas. The use of end-to-end encryption is banned worldwide, and free, unrestricted access to online content is long gone after the oppressive law known as the Digital Copyright Act of 2024.

While access to the Internet still exists, it is now only a fraction of what it used to be. You go online and go to one of the news sites you used to visit, but you find a pop-up banner blocking the content.

“This site no longer exists,” reads the message that appears on the screen.

“The site you are trying to visit either can no longer comply with the new rules imposed by the Monopoly Commission in 2029 or has been found to be in violation of them,” the message explains.

If this all sounds like a scene from the dystopian future often told in science fiction movies, think again. According to the Internet Archive, an American digital library that is home to millions of books, movies and audio recordings freely available online, this eerie view of the world of 2046 may not be that far off from becoming a reality.

One of the cornerstones of Internet Archive is its popular search engine, Wayback Machine, which provides an archive of nearly 580 billion Web pages. Now, in conjunction with the site’s 25th anniversary, the site has added a Wayforward Machine feature that gives visitors a glimpse into a more draconian future where access to information on the Internet will be severely limited.

“On the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Internet Archive, we’re looking ahead to the year 2046,” the site explains on a page that appears after visitors access the new search feature for the future. “Will we have access to reliable information on the Internet? Will knowledge be free and open?”

Decorated in the eerie green colors of “The Matrix” and featuring pop-up messages from fictional organizations such as the Ministry of Truth, Wayforward Machine gives a glimpse of what the world of the future might look like.

“This site contains information that is currently classified as Thought Crime in your region,” reads one banner from the Ministry of Truth that appears over the main content of sites accessed through Way Forward Machine.

Accompanying its new future search engine, Internet Archive also provides an interactive timeline beginning in 2022, which highlights key events leading up to the destruction of a free internet over the course of the next quarter-century. Events it details include the establishment of the “great firewall” by the South Asian Republic in 2034, the defunding of public libraries in the United States in 2037, and the introduction of advertising implants in 2042.

By 2043, sites like Internet Archive have been “forced underground,” and the following year all known physical copies of George Orwell’s 1984 have been destroyed. However, an activist releases a digital version shortly thereafter—the likes of which can be read today within Internet Archive’s online library—only to be captured and sentenced to life in prison for the offense.

Also lending flair to Internet Archive’s grim projections about an authoritarian future is an interactive Twitter as it might appear in 2046 under similar restrictions.

Internet Archive’s new Wayforward Machine and other Orwellian-themed elements are part of its new #EmpoweringLibraries campaign, a movement launched by the site which strives to ensure that knowledge will remain accessible to all in the decades to come. The campaign was launched in response to a lawsuit that four corporate publishers have recently filed against Internet Archive, which aims to prevent libraries from lending digital versions of their books to the site or to digitize their own collections and make them available to the public.

“Borrowing digital books is a lifeline for people who cannot physically access a library,” reads a statement featured on the official webpage for the campaign. “But a new lawsuit by four corporate publishers against the Internet Archive attempts to prevent libraries from lending digital versions of their books or digitizing their collections. The impact on our most vulnerable communities, as well as on our cultural heritage, would be severe.”

The site also features resources like the following video, which explains the concept of controlled digital lending, which relies on current legal interpretation of U.S. copyright law, and the principles of fair use and copyright exhaustion:

Internet Archive’s creative response to a very real legal situation that they have been faced with highlights how real the concerns are over access to information in the coming years.

“Most societies place importance on preserving artifacts of their culture and heritage,” reads a statement at Internet Archive’s website. “Without such artifacts, civilization has no memory and no mechanism to learn from its successes and failures.”

Founded by American librarian Brewster Kahle in 1996, the Internet Archive has grown to be one of the largest online repositories for information online.

According to recent figures, the site has become home to more than 30 million books and other texts, along with close to 9 million films and videos, approximately 13,225,000 audio files, nearly 650,000 software programs, 3.8 million images, and 580 billion web pages indexed since the site was launched.

“Our culture now produces more and more artifacts in digital form,” the site’s statement adds.

“The Archive’s mission is to help preserve those artifacts and create an Internet library for researchers, historians, and scholars.”

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