Further convergence of the online and physical world has led to the emergence of "Web 4.0" - the next generation of internet. Semantic analyzing programs, having evolved into forms of AI, now perform a huge range of automated tasks for business, government and consumers. Running on massively parallel networks, these applications hunt for textual and visual data - combining the most subtle capabilities of humans (such as pattern recognition) with ways in which machines are already vastly superior (such as speed and memory).
In addition to serving as highly advanced search engines, they are playing a major function in the real world - gathering information from the array of sensors, cameras and other tracking devices now present in the environment, on vehicles, and even on people themselves.
Although privacy and civil liberties issues are being raised, this new generation of IT promises to bring enormous benefits to society. Crimes are faster and easier to solve thanks to these intelligent virtual agents; transport and logistics are smoother and more efficient; resources can be managed and distributed more accurately.
In addition, practically every physical document in existence has now been digitally encoded, backed up and archived online. This includes full copies of all books, journals, manuscripts and other literature ever published – forming a complete repository of human knowledge going back thousands of years. These documents can be retrieved and analysed using real-time speech commands, translated from any of the world's 6,000 languages and accessed via 3D holographic imaging.
Web 4.0 is also democratising the Internet more than ever before. News agencies are finding themselves increasingly outmoded by bloggers and other social media when it comes to speed and accuracy of information.