Google’s Eric Schmidt says 'the Internet will disappear.' What does that mean?

So many devices are being added to the Internet, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt says, that the distinction between 'online' and 'offline' will start to become meaningless.

Jean-Christophe Bott/AP
The Internet will "disappear" as our concept of it as a network separate from our daily lives fades, says Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. Here, Schmidt and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The Internet – or at least, the Internet as we think of it today – is going to disappear soon, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said Friday at a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

But he wasn’t referring to a collapse of global data networks.

Instead, Mr. Schmidt said, as the number of Web-enabled devices in our lives continues to soar, we’ll stop thinking of the Internet as a separate entity, and recognize it as a part of everything around us.

“There will be so many IP addresses, so many devices, sensors, things that you are wearing, things that you are interacting with, that you won't even sense it. It will be part of your presence all the time,” Schmidt predicted. In other words, you won’t draw a distinction between being online and offline, the way we do today. The Internet will simply be woven into the objects we use all the time. When that happens, Schmidt said, “A highly personalized, highly interactive and very, very interesting world emerges."

We’re edging closer to that always-online world with the rise of the “Internet of Things,” a network of interconnected cars, appliances, and devices that share information with one another. Your watch, for example, might control the lights in your home. Or your smart phone might be able to tell your car where to go. As sensors and processors have gotten cheaper, more companies have been able to include small chips in their products, allowing those products to connect with the Internet.

There are about 25 billion devices currently connected to the Internet of Things or IoT, and by 2020, chipmaker Intel predicts that the IoT will consist of 40 to 50 billion devices. At that point, when most of what we use and wear has an Internet connection, the line between “the Web” and “everything else” begins to blur. Like a scuba diver immersed in water, we’ll get used to the idea of the Internet being all around us, indistinguishable from our surroundings.

Schmidt also predicted that this “disappearance” of the Internet wouldn’t be accompanied by a disappearance of jobs. Even though computers are constantly improving, he said, each job made obsolete by technology will be offset by several new jobs created by technology. These include non-tech jobs in agriculture, medicine, and manufacturing, since those fields will benefit from technological advances. A comfortable elite enjoying the fruits of technology while the rest of us struggle to scrape by as robots take our jobs? Not going to happen, says Schmidt.

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