Remarkable social experiment has taken a dark turn - let's bring it back to the light

Looking back at what happened in 2016 makes me a bit dark about what 2017 might bring. I blame the internet for that.

The internet was meant to be a resilient communications network for the military and researchers, but people got involved and injected humanity into it because we can't help but do that.

Oftentimes, it's great and astoundingly useful resource that connects humanity and empowers those whose voices wouldn't otherwise be heard. The internet is an economy by itself, where entrepreneurs and innovators make billions with products and services that have never existed before.

By this year however, the internet had also become a very effective surveillance tool, one that scales to billions of users. Those billions of people carry with them at all times portable devices that can rat on their every thoughts, ideas, actions and location to government agencies and commercial enterprises, and to enterprising criminals.

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Speaking of cyber crime, you didn't think it was possible for the internet to become even more hostile than it was, but in 2016 it managed a turn for the worse. Ransomware epidemics, drive-by malware attacks (visit a site, get infected), your broadband router being taken over and more. That's the reality of a life more connected and next year's not looking any better.

Then there's social media which seemed like a cool idea a few years ago. I mean, how could connecting hundreds of millions of people through a private company that makes money by selling them to advertisers possibly go wrong?

Wrong it went, and in return for our privacy social networks in 2016 gave us an even weaker traditional media and democracy undermined through fake news and propaganda spreading like a wildfire. Meanwhile, social networks have provided Nazis and other extremists, misogynists and thugs a platform they really shouldn't have had, and I'm not talking about Donald Trump tweeting crazy stuff in the small hours of the morning.

Don't want to be nasty, but I am kind of glad that Facebook's internet from the skies aircraft, Aquila, crashed in June so it'll take a bit longer before the social network really is everywhere.

Now, internet companies have turned out to be just as bad corporate citizens as traditional enterprises, maybe even worse. Getting them to pay tax like everyone else has turned out to be a challenge.

Small retailers who pay tax however are being squeezed by giant online operations which do not.

It's very hard for traditional businesses to compete against enormous "e-tailers" with massive economies of scale - and who are prepared to exploit labour like slave owners of the past.

Big corporations defying government edicts and bans is nothing new. Usually, they're more discreet about it, and don't tell authorities where to stick their orders, like internet ride-sharing giant Uber did when San Francisco banned it from using self-driving cars on the city's streets.

Don't want to pay tax, disobeys laws, tramples over people's basic rights; someone should perhaps explain to internet companies what it means being part of society, and where their money comes from: us, in the real world.

The internet is perhaps mankind's largest ever social experiment as IT gurus say.

What kind of experiment is allowed to run completely out of control though, without any targets and nobody having the faintest idea what might happen? Now we're pursuing adding artificial intelligence to the tool.

Despite the above, it is amazing that we've built something as powerful and remarkable as the technology that is internet. Right now, that remarkable power is sliding towards bad things, and the internet needs fine-tuning to fit people better. Next year wouldn't be too soon to start on that process.