An Evolving Challenge: Aligning Transportation Solutions with an “Emotional Web”

August 14, 2020
Eric Rensel, FLTA &

Just like the rest of our technological world, the internet has evolved since its commercialization in 1989. Industry analysts tell us we are currently living in the era of Web 4.0.

  • Web 1.0 was the “read-only” era, characterized by the ability to seek and find information without the opportunity to interact. From 1989 through 1999, the internet included approximately 3 million websites.
  • Web 2.0 was the “social” era, which saw the emergence of blogs and popular websites such as MySpace and Facebook. Web 2.0 was about shifting to an electronic connection with others.
  • Web 3.0 has been called the Semantic Web, and represented a paradigm shift that brought forth applications that connected with each other and executed functions on their own. This generation of the web saw the internet of things, artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented reality go from science fiction concepts to real-world applications.
  • Web 4.0 is the Mobile Web. Bringing context to independent application communication and integrating the web into daily routines is another paradigm shift. There are now more mobile connections to the web than there are people in the world.

Another Major Shift

What will define Web 5.0? Many industry analysts have dubbed Web 5.0 as the “Emotional” or “Symbiotic” Web. It will be characterized by the development of virtual assistants that predict behaviors. Websites will give individuals a customized experience, and the web will perceive individual emotions and respond appropriately.

This will, once again, represent a major shift in how people seek, consume, and act on web-based information. Transportation will not be immune to these shifts. Our industry has increased its use of the web to deliver transportation mobility and safety solutions as the different eras of the web have taken shape.

Impact on Transportation

As we plan smart cities that include connected transportation solutions such as mobility on demand/mobility-as-a-service, and as we look for ways to make journeys more convenient for travelers, we need to consider the emotional web and how it will impact us—both positively and negatively. For example, social media comments criticizing the cleanliness or customer service of a particular transit route could alter the AI algorithm used by popular trip-routing software, encouraging riders to avoid the route.

Conversely, the emotional web could play to our advantage for things like modal shift. For years, transportation professionals have attempted to change travel behavior by incentivizing a shift from a car to a train, or from a car to walking. In a true mobility-as-a-service ecosystem that features a single payment per trip, an AI algorithm could function as a powerful agent of change.

Of course, both of these examples could be severely impacted by bad actors or a general lack of attention toward transportation equity. It is important that the transportation industry begin thinking about the emotional web and its impacts to transportation system resiliency now so we can be prepared for the future. How transportation engineers respond to Web 5.0 will play a significant role in determining what urban mobility looks like in the coming decades.