Sunday, June 6, 2010

AT&T predicts the future (in 1993)

There are plenty of nasty things to say about AT&T, but don’t ever tell me that they’re bad futurists. Check out their “You Will” commercials from 1993. These predictions were made before the internet had exploded into popular use, yet they managed to correctly predict many technologies that are in common use in 2010.

In this series of commercials, AT&T correctly predicted e-readers, GPS, car navigation systems, wireless internet, ubiquitous email, tablet computing, RFID, e-commerce, video conferencing, voice-over-IP, streaming videos, and distance learning. Granted, not all of them turned out to work the way that AT&T probably imagined, but I’d say they did a pretty amazing job given the date of these predictions.

The only thing that I saw which seems like an obvious miss was the voice-activated security systems. Seventeen years later, we’re still waiting for that one. That seems to be a common prediction from the 1990s that never materialized; it turns out that pattern-recognition technology is much more difficult than most futurists thought. Also, I’ll give AT&T partial credit for the prediction about medical history cards which people carry in their wallets. Those are technically possible today, but they failed to consider the economic and political problems that prevent their common use in the United States.

I only count one and a half predictions that failed to manifest themselves, but what interests me even more is the biggest trend they missed entirely: cell phones. It’s quite amusing to see people video-conferencing on a pay phone. It is ironic that one of the top cell phone providers today completely missed the fact that mobile phones would become ubiquitous and pay phones would become obsolete.

Overall, I think these are incredibly prescient. Possibly the best set of predictions I’ve seen from this time period, although the commercials don’t really specify the date when these things would become widespread.

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