Envisioning cyberspace in 2025

On Monday, Microsoft released a new report entitled “Cyberspace 2025: Today’s Decisions, Tomorrow’s Terrain” that looks beyond today’s technological trends to anticipate future catalysts for change in cyberspace. Cloud computing, the Internet of Things, big data and cybersecurity loom large on today’s—and tomorrow’s—agenda. In the report is a Cyber 2025 Model, developed to determine potential cyber trends, as well as revealing several interesting projections about the future of cyberspace. For example:

  • The digital divide will take on new dimensions with dramatic growth in some emerging countries/regions. In India, for example, the report estimates growth of more than 3,000 percent in its total number of broadband subscriptions, from about 20 million in 2012 to more than 700 million. During the same period, the entire European Union may add only 105 million new broadband subscriptions, from nearly 143 million in 2012 to 248 million in 2025.
  • A small percentage of skilled technology workers will drive innovation for a highly Internet dependent world. Our analysis has shown that with almost 5 billion people online and tens of billions of connected devices, there will only be about 16 million graduates from STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) per year to advance information and communications technology and services. This imbalance in education sets the stage for fierce competition for technology talent, and global economic competition.
  • Wealth grows in emerging countries and slows in developed countries. The model shows two critical demographic shifts expected by 2025, when developed countries will face rapidly aging populations and declining birth rates while emerging countries can expect more working-age adults because of rising birth rates.

Based on the Cyber 2025 Model, we identified three future scenarios that countries/regions may experience which we’ve named Plateau, Peak and Canyon. Within each of these scenarios, Microsoft also examined their unique cybersecurity challenges likely to emerge as a result. Put simply, the three future scenarios can be described as follows:

  • PEAK – the Peak scenario represents a world of innovation, where information and communications technology (ICT) fulfills its potential to strengthen governance models, economies and societies
  • PLATEAU -  the Plateau scenario is a “status quo” world, in which political, economic and societal forces can both bolster and hinder technological progress
  • CANYON – the Canyon scenario is a metaphor for an isolated world, characterized by unclear, ineffective government policies and standards, rooted in protectionist stances

Today’s public policy decisions can address yesterday’s problems, or they can shape the future landscape of cyberspace. In some instances, they may even accomplish both aims. The policymaker’s dilemma, however, is how to strike the right balance.  This report gives policymakers, business leaders and other decision makers a framework for evaluating today’s policy decisions. Making more data-driven decisions and dedicating resources to support them can create a less daunting and more navigable terrain towards cyberspace for 2025, today, tomorrow, and beyond.

This report is intended to spark dialogue, debate and more understanding about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and ways to benefit from them. We encourage stakeholders across public and private sectors to prioritize the following efforts:

  • Development of governance models that set clear policy direction and provide a cybersecurity framework for the country or region. Ideally, governance models should include commitments to an open, free Internet where privacy is protected; harmonization of laws and standards with international bodies and foreign governments; and supporting global free trade.
  • Enabling talent development through strategic investments in infrastructure and research and development. These investments should balance the need for talent mobility and talent retention, with an emphasis on educating a modern workforce that is capable of sustaining innovation.
  • Global cooperation that advances cybersecurity risk management and coordination among stakeholders both domestically and internationally, with a focus on working with other governments to develop cybersecurity norms that support stability and security in cyberspace.

Once countries have an understanding of which scenario they are trending toward, they will next need to think about their regional topography in cyberspace and what mix of Canyon, Plateau and Peak scenarios they may face. This analytic framework can factor this into broader regional and international strategic planning.

We invite you to learn more about Microsoft’s forecast for Cyberspace in 2025, including the Peak, Plateau and Canyon scenarios at Cyberspace2025.com.

About the Author

Senior Director, Global Security Strategy & Diplomacy, Microsoft