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Technology predictions from 20 years ago

We recently moved from Atlanta, Georgia to Mountain View, California and during the move I had a chance to go through some old boxes I’ve had for years — twenty years to be exact.

Tonight, I decided to open up some of the boxes and try and see if I could find some old pictures after seeing some of my high school friend’s pictures on Facebook.

I came across a Newsweek magazine in almost perfect shape from almost 20 years ago to the date: October 24, 1988. Spooky?

And on the cover, today’s hero was the wonder kid 20 years ago: Steve Jobs. Yep, that’s right, the man on top of Apple (once again) and by far, one of the world’s most influential technology snobs.

The title: “Mr. Chips”. The subtitle: “Steve Jobs puts the ‘wow’ back in computers.”

How apropos for then, and today.

As an aside, another big box read: “Why Bush is winning: The GOP’s Campaign Machine”. Yeah, that was Bush senior. 20 years later and we’re still talking about a Bush in the white house. But, that’s another story.

Flipping through this issue was literally going back in time. A number of computers advertisements, several cigerrate ads and an article on how “more consumers are ducking the price of perpetual interest by paying off bank cards in full”.

This was the IBM 280 PC. It ran DOS, had VGA graphics, 4MB of memory on the system board, proprietary PS/2 devices and could be configured to run IBM’s OS/2.

You don’t see cigarette ads anymore. This article predicted: “Heads you win. Tails you win.” However, fearing thousands of separate, costly lawsuits from customers with smoke-related health problems, the major U.S. tobacco companies and 46 states signed the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) on Nov. 23, 1998. The MSA placed restrictions on future tobacco advertising and cigarette sales practices and also provided for a $250 Billion settlement.

The Epson PC? This one was the Equity ET with the tagline: “I don’t need a laptop computer. I need a desktop computer that fits on my lap.” Great vision, terrible execution.

Walmart was on the leading edge of technology stores with this tagline: “Name brand electronics. Always at lower prices: The switch is on to Wal-mart electronics”.

Let’s first start with the cover article on Mr. Jobs - the whiz kid, 33 years old back then.

The article is mainly about Steve Jobs’ comeback after Apple Computer with the NeXT computer. “Love him or hate him, people in the computer world couldn’t wait to see what Jobs had secretly worked on for three years in his Palo Alto headquarters.” The price tag for the initial model (with a university discount): $6,500.

Even Esther Dyson, back then the publisher of the Release 1.0 newsletter, said: “It’s a neat, neat box.”

And Steve Jobs was aimed “where the smart money is going”: the workstation market was $2.5 Billion and broken into the following market leaders:

25.5% - Sun Microsystems
18.6% - Apollo Computer
17.8% - Digital Equipment Corp
17.2% - Hewlett-Packard
17.0% - “Other”
3.9% - Silicon Graphics

Notice anybody missing? IBM, Toshiba, Sony, Dell, Apple?

Notice some that are gone? Apollo, DEC ? I would imagine Sun and SGI together probably own less than 3.9% of the workstation market these days.

The article also had a very familiar name in the article, Bill Gates, with an awesome photo. Back then, Gates was only 32. The article states that Gates is “a virtuoso software engineer with virtually zero charisma, he is the ultimate entreprenerd.” According to the article, Jobs invited Gates to contribute software to the NeXT, but Gates declined, saying there wasn’t enough money in the narrow market Jobs was pursuing. It also has Gates saying: “Steve always yells at me.

Well, NeXT didn’t exactly take over the computer world, but Steve Jobs did and he did regain control of Apple (along with a number of key people and technologies from NeXT) after Apple bought NeXT only 8 years later for $429 million. Jobs returned as CEO in 2000 and NeXTSTEP was the foundation for the next generation of Apple operating system, OS X.

In this same issue, they outlined some interesting predictions for the future of technology.

Let’s see how we did 20 years later.


Grade school
Prediction: Desktop computers will replace pens and papers.
Reality: Not only do classrooms have desktop and laptop computers, most students now have the full power of a handheld computer in their pocket.

Prediction: Voice simulation will make it possible to learn foreign tongues from mechanical tutors.
Reality: Rosetta Stone, one of the leaders in language tutoring uses voice recognition and a computer to teach foreign languages.

Prediction: Buildings full of books will be stored on optical disks.
Reality: Not only stored on optical disk, but stored in the global computer network and instantly available by keyword search thanks to the Google Book Search Library Project.

Prediction: Flexible software will make it easy for students to create their own computer programs.
Reality: With languages like Squeak, Ruby and HTML, students have a variety of programming languages they are learning way before they reach college.


Prediction: Everyone from architects to dressmakers will be able to make simulations of products - in 3-D.
Reality: Computer Aided Design (CAD) software has become common-place and producers and consumers worldwide can use software provided by companies like MFG.com to work with each other to build just about anything.

Secretarial work
Predictions: Machines will take calls, write memos and organize the busiest of executive schedules.
Reality: Secretaries? The secretary pool has been retired and replaced by the PC, Gates’ multi-billion dollar Office productivity suite and email. Only venture capitalists are the dinosaurs left that still use secretaries. :)

Predictions: Using groupware, machines will talk with each other.
Reality: Not only will machines talk with each other all over the world, called the Internet, but people also communicate in social and virtual reality networks.

Predictions: Laptops will be small enough to slip into a vest pocket.
Reality: Laptops aren’t quite that small, but full-fledged mobile devices from computer pens, mobile phones and RFID chips are fueling the nano revolution.


Prediction: Doctors will walk through surgery beforehand - on screen.
Reality: Doctors, even one’s across the world, can now operate on patients using computers and sophisticated video conferencing systems. We’re even now starting to see biocomputers which can enter the body to perform certain medical tasks.

Prediction: Sophisticated imaging will revolutionize high-tech design.
Reality: Imaging in all parts of science have revolutionized the world. Pocket cameras and mobile phones have more sophisticated imaging software and lenses than expensive professional photography equipment less than a decade ago. 3D ultrasound imaging can produce an almost photorealistic image of a fetus in utero.

Prediction: Computer “models” will track weather patterns and predict major shifts far in advance.
Reality: Computers have become more advanced at tracking weather patterns and creating more accurate prediction models.

Prediction: Police will be able to recreate the scene of a crime - and simulate the moves of the criminal.
Reality: Police are using more sophisticated technology - from chemical analysis to DNA to find and prosecute criminals.

The Arts

Prediction: Any artist will be able to do super-sophisticated animation or create images that look real.
Reality: Computer software gives artists the ability to create and mash up music, video, animation and photos and produce and distribute them at very little cost.

Prediction: Compositions will be written and stored on computers.
Reality: Not only are they written and stored, music is distributed, re-mixed and stolen all over the world by millions of people each day with the click of a button or mouse.

Prediction: High-resolution screens will revolutionize the field.
Reality: High-resolution video screens are everywhere, from the football field to the local bar to the airport check-in desk. High-definition television is available in many homes.

Prediction: Home computers will be able to generate sounds and special effects of a “Star Wars” movie.
Reality: Not only have home computer games been able to generate sounds and special effects, the gaming industry has grown larger than Hollywood and music labels combined and has bigger production budgets than most movies. Multi-player interactive games can be played on-line at any time of the day, worldwide.

Alan Kay of Xerox’s PARC fame predicted that “portable computers will require built-in cellular-telephone connections - so you can tap into big data banks while sitting under the apple tree.” (The “apple” keyword has a particular significance today as the Apple iPhone takes a predicted 25% of the smart phone market share after only one year on the scene).

Mitch Kapor of Lotus fame said: “We need to build a national infrastructure that will be the information equivalent of the national highway-building of the ’50s and ’60s”. The World Wide Web was invented by English scientist Tim Berners-Lee one year later in 1989.

Wayne Rosig, at the time at Sun Microsystems, predicted: “It’s a waste to have hundreds of computers in a building that share nothing but AC power.” The article predicted that “Groupware will permit an officeful of people to collaborate on, for example, a magazine advertisement, with artists, copywriters and salespeople all contributing, via computer, to the project. When a writer changes a line of copy, it will instantly show up in the layout on the designer’s computer screen.” Today, we have applications like Google Docs and Zoho that have similar capabilities.

John Seely Brown of Xerox’s PARC fame, envisioned “meetings at which every participant has a computer - and the meeting’s progress appears on a ‘decision spreadsheet’ projected on one wall, on which the pros and cons of the argument are analyzed for all to see.” In most meetings today, it’s not uncommon for everyone to have a laptop and mobile device during a meeting. Today, virtual meetings are commonly held online using services like WebEx.

My favorite prediction was from Lawrence Tesler, then the VP of advanced technology at Apple and now at Yahoo: “Sooner or later, more people will carry their computers around than keep them fixed to a desk.” With more than several billion mobile computer devices worldwide in use today, this was probably the one prediction that was difficult to understand in its impact. In some countries like Japan, there are more mobile devices than personal computers. And, with the price of computer chips, storage and memory continuing to fall and with the advent of modern nano technology, we’re seeing more and more miniaturized computers in all sorts of products.

And, as a final bonus, the political carton section from this issue:

Even then, Donald Trump ruled the world. After a rise, and fall, and rise again, he’s back on top just like Steve Jobs. Funny how much things have changed, and in some ways, they’re still the same.

What will the next 20 years bring us? Any predictions for the next 20 years you’d like to share?

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Jeff Haynie

Jeff Haynie is co-founder and CEO of Appcelerator. He started Appcelerator to provide a true open-source solution to enterprise RIA and SOA-based services development, after growing frustrated by the limited options and complexity in other solutions through his own development work. Prior to starting Appcelerator, Haynie served as co-founder and CTO of Vocalocity and CTO of eHatchery, an extension of Bill Gross? ideaLab. Haynie is an expert software developer and entrepreneur. Haynie has been active in standards development, as well as a contributor to open-source projects, including early work on JBoss. For more on Jeff Haynie, visit his blog at http://blog.jeffhaynie.us.

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