History of the internet: where are we now?

‘The internet’ is a concept that used to be shrouded in science-fiction mysticism. What is it? And how do I use it? But now it’s something that most people simply can’t live without and has become integral to our lives. It provides us with information, keeps us connected to loved ones, and allows us to work and learn from home.

In part one of our History of the Internet series, we took a look at how it all began. We cover the invention of the world wide web, which opened up the possibility of web pages. We also explore the phenomenon of ‘surfing the web’ and online shopping that was made possible by the introduction of search engines. And now, that’s where we’ll pick up…

Ok Google, tell me everything

It’s pretty hard to imagine a world without access to information. With the introduction of search engines like Google, this information was filtered out, categorised and presented to us at the click of a button. Nowadays, we have encyclopaedic knowledge available to us whenever we command it. Quite literally. We no longer need to even lift a finger to get the latest news updates, find out how to get from A to B or play our favourite tunes. This is all thanks to artificial intelligence.

The integration of AI technology has fundamentally changed the way we experience the internet. We no longer have to browse the internet – we have a virtual assistant to do that for us. At the call of our voice, virtual assistants use voice recognition artificial intelligence to comprehend our verbal requests, and surf through the web, sieving out the unnecessary – all in a matter of seconds.

Artificial intelligence – particularly in the form of virtual assistants is a big contributor to the internet being ubiquitous in our modern lives. In fact, it’s a perpetual cycle of improvement. Here’s an analogy: think of the internet as a machine, and think of the web as an infinite database on that machine. By being ‘hooked up’ to that machine and therefore having access to that infinite database, AI programs are able to use that ever-growing database to learn. The internet helps AI technology improve, and in turn, AI technology improves our experience of the internet.

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And it’s not just virtual assistants that integrate AI with the internet. Nowadays, there’s a whole world of smart home technology to help you run your home smoothly with ease. From Smart TVs to doorbells with facial recognition that sync to your phone, there’s no shortage of examples of how AI has made the internet integral to our normal daily activities. And not only is this smart home technology convenient and easy to use, but a lot of the time, it can save money and home energy too. Take a look at our latest smart home tech here.

Keeping communities connected

Speaking of smart technology, let’s explore one of the most important and integral pieces of modern technology. The smart phone. No longer are we using mobile phones to simply make calls and send SMS. The very phrase ‘mobile phone’ highlights the novelty of having a portable device that existed when Martin Cooper developed the first hand-held phone back in 1984. Nearly 40 years later, and no such novelty exists. In fact, not only do we take our phones with us everywhere, but we use other devices to sync with them – smart watches, tablets, even our cars. Anything that we can connect, we do connect. That’s part of a theory called the ‘internet of things’, in which anything and everything can connect to the internet. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we’ll cover that in part three.

So why is it so important to us to have our phones within access? Firstly, it’s our window to the web. For most people, browsing on a mobile is convenient and easy – thanks to the introduction of 3G in 2001. But that’s not all. Our phones allow us to communicate with our loved ones via instant messaging and video calls. With the boom of video chat in the early 2000s (Skype video launched in 2005), it wasn’t long before this technology evolved from clunky webcams on computers to the slick apps that we use today, such as Facetime, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts.

This ‘one to one’ communication has proved essential – especially during the current pandemic. Virtual communication is no replacement for face-to-face interactions, but it does go a long way to keeping us connected to those we love. Over the last few months, many of us have relied heavily on video calls, not just for connecting with friends and family, but for working, teaching and learning from home.

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Like, comment and share

We can’t possibly have a conversation about mobile phones and the internet without mentioning social media. With its launch in 2004, Facebook catapulted the world into a global network. And it really is global. As of April 2020, 59% of the global population were active internet users. 1.6 billion of these people are active on Facebook. The number of internet users increases significantly when you look at the UK specifically, with an estimated 95% of the population being online by 2021.

With the social media giants like Instagram, Twitter and Youtube gaining traction, we now have access to entire communities across the globe. In many ways, the internet and social media specifically, free us from geographical limits, and bring us together around interests and hobbies. That might be video gaming, beauty blogging or technology vlogging. There’s endless content to consume, and terms such as ‘like’, ‘comment’ and ‘share’ are part of our daily lexicon.

The wonderful thing about social media and the internet in general, is that anyone can be a creator. Sure, there’s endless possibility to consume, but there’s also endless opportunity to create. Never before has it been so easy to share your skills, thoughts and creativity with the world, and social media has empowered millions to use the internet to fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams. With sites like Squarespace, WordPress and Wix making it easy to set up a website in just a few clicks, and social media sites like Instagram encouraging business accounts and influencer marketing, the world is truly your oyster.

Look out for part three in our History of the Internet series, where we’ll explore how the internet is evolving and what that means for us all.

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