Beyond academia, few people in 1969 knew of the internet’s existence, and those who did probably never imagined how it would change the world for good and bad. After all, those who witnessed inventor Samuel F.B. Morse’s four-word telegraph dispatch — “What Hath God Wrought?” — from the U.S. Capitol to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore in 1844 couldn’t have foreseen what was coming.

The telegraph connected far-flung communities, and the internet has done the same during its first 50 years. More than 4.9 billion people — more than half the world’s population — use the network of connected computers. In the past half-century, the internet has become a conduit for incredible good, including wealth creation, and surprising bad, including surveillance and cybercrime.

So we perused the online writings of futurists to garner a glimpse about what the future may hold. We discovered a couple of disquieting trends.

The first is the challenge of regulating internet activities that transcend national borders. The second is assessing the veracity of ideas and data in a world where people have access to more information on mobile phones and other devices than previous generations could tap into even if they visited one of the world’s great libraries. But since not everything on the internet is pure, the responses of governments, individuals and companies to these challenges will fundamentally determine how the internet will evolve in the future.

How much privacy should users expect? What rules and protections will exist to deter financial fraud, identity theft, sex trafficking and other abuses? And globally, whose vision of the internet will prevail — the democratic internet we love and hate, or the blunt-force authoritarian alternative that China and other totalitarian governments want?

We should expect revolutionary changes in transportation, manufacturing, communications, education and just about every segment of life, as well as warfare and geopolitics. But across the globe, we have seen troubling examples of personal data being weaponized, the radicalization of pliable young minds, the exploitation of political beliefs and efforts to sow division and mistrust.

We cannot take for granted that the internet will remain safe for free expression and open markets. China is investing billions in artificial intelligence and other next-generation technologies designed to take control of the rules of cyberspace from the market economies of the West, setting the stage for an existential clash between Western style democratization of the internet and the censorship-heavy approach of China.

In 50 years, the internet we know could be different in other ways, too. Regulators in Europe and the United States are looking for ways to address mounting concerns about how personal data is being collected and used. Companies like Google and Facebook could face serious legal challenges to their market clout and treatment of personal data, and the trickle-down impact of regulation could alter the vibrancy of the internet and the overall competitive landscape. And, of course, numerous studies show that the digital divide is widening, a chasm that poses questions about whether opportunities for success can and will be open to all.

This much is certain: The internet — or whatever new networking technologies are on the horizon — will test our resolve to make these technologies work for our betterment, not against it.

FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS