Picture this, it’s the 90s and London is at the center of it all, Nirvana was top of the charts and mobile phones were nowhere the “staple” they are today.
It was a time of pagers and cringe-worthy tech. Yes, it was an awkward time for technology. But the 90s brought along some interesting future technology predictions.
In this article, you’ll find 16 of the most absurd, funny, and interesting predictions from the 90s, and how those predictions have stacked up against today’s technology.
Humans have sought to alter their bodies with tattoos, jewelry, and body piercings. But the integration with digital technology didn’t pop up until 1961 with Edward O. Thorpe and Claude Shannon’s wearable computer. They created the wearable computer to help them cheat at roulette, and sadly enough, their product never hit the market…what a surprise.
But they were on the right path, as the smart clothing market is set to increase dramatically to $4 billion by 2024, and shipments are projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50%. The rise is partly attributed to the demand for body monitoring devices, like muscle tracking, in fitness. However, the market is facing challenges due to the high product cost.
One of the many startups working in smart clothing is Brooklyn based Loomia. Their nylon-like fabric incorporates conductive ink which is capable of self-heating, lighting up and includes no wiring. And Its data collection capabilities have the fashion industry excited. The fabric gathers data on its users, collecting information like how often the clothing is worn, the temperature of your body when wearing it and when it’s washed.
This valuable information could help fashion companies predict future demand for their products. If users of the smart clothing want to share their data, they can sell it to Loomia in exchange for their cryptocurrency tokens. Currently, the startup is still in its prototype stages with big name brands like Calvin Klein and The North Face, although they are set to begin production this summer.
AT&T predicted this one back in the 90s, with their ad campaign “You Will”. It gained a lot of popularity with its stream of subsequent forecasts. The ad featured a futuristic looking tablet which allowed users to video chat from, well, anywhere really.
It’s thought that the first webcam to become available was the QuickCam released back in 1994 with an advanced 320 by 240 image with 16 shades of grey. Fast forward to 1996 and the first cordless phone offering video call was on the market, offered by Panasonic. It boasted 3-7 fps, and it was heavy, weighing over a pound.
But it wasn’t until 2003 that the main messaging services all supported video chat. And by 2005, Skype began to offer the feature. From 2010 on, Apple began offering FaceTime, and in the past 5 years, major social media companies have added the video chat feature (Facebook Messenger (2015), Whatsapp (2016), with Google introducing Hangout and Duo in 2016).
The tech giant Bill Gates predicted a hell of a lot back in ‘99. For one, he felt that the software of today would be capable of tracking the booking of a trip online. That information would be used “to suggest activities at the local destination”, and it would suggest activities, discounts, offers, and cheaper prices for anything that took your fancy.
Gates felt that “automated price comparison services [would develop and allow] people to see prices across multiple websites” helping customers to find the cheapest option available. With sites like Kayak, Expedia, and Skyscanner, it has never been easier to find the cheapest and best deals on the market. They save us money and time and are used by more than 11 million in the UK alone.
It’s a highly competitive landscape, and this competition is a key driver, especially in the insurance sector. While price comparisons are past their innovative stage, they are not going away any time soon. Mohammad Kahn of PwC insurance feels that as they are set to grow, comparison sites need to focus on bringing value to customers in terms of transparency, creating a better customer relationship while building trust.
Contactless payment was predicted by everyone’s favourite sci-fi movie with hoverboards and self-strapping shoes. “Back to the Future” had a whole string of predictions, with contactless payment being one of them. It has been around for a while now, but it’s mobile-only banking that’s beginning to gain traction.
Over the past five years, there has been a plethora of challenger and neo-banks open in the UK and globally. They’re taking everything conventional about banking and turning it on its head for a new, innovative approach. And they arrived with promises of more financial independence and inclusivity.
UK’s Starling Bank is among them. While they are fast growing, their numbers are small in comparison to traditional banks. Is this just a trend, or will customers appetite for challenger and neo-banks continue?
In recent news, Apple has teamed up with Goldman Sachs in the quest for a new Apple Pay credit card. The dream team are going to help build each other up, and no surprise, make a ton of money. If you think Apple doesn’t make enough money, fear not. They’re now paving their way to becoming a trillion dollar company. The new card should be rolling out in 2019.
There has been a multitude of people predicting the rise of virtual reality (VR). With one of the most famous examples being the founder of Virgin Games. Nick Alexander, the founder of Virgin Games, stated in 1996 that “[the] incredibly sophisticated virtual reality is the future. Experiences that somehow tap into the mind and are controlled by your thoughts, rather than any hardware, must come somewhere down the line.”
Arthur C. Clarke, a sci-fi legend also predicted its rise, but in 1993 the VR technology he was surrounded by quickly died out. And now it’s making a comeback.
According to Financial Times, it’s not performing as well as was hoped. But, reports are stating that the VR and AR market will grow, with sales expected to hit 68.9 million by 2022. While the predictions for VR have been around for a while, it may not be as spectacular as expected in the 90s, and Alexander’s past self may not have been too amazed by today’s technology. But it’s getting there.
Google is one of the many to announce another VR technology, Daydream View, a standalone VR headset with no official launch date confirmed, sad face. It’s speculated that it will be released at its next developer event in October.
It’s now recognized as a basic human right by the UN. But the internet was not always viewed as it is today. Newsweek reporter and astronomer Clifford Stoll questioned e-commerce, calling it a load of “baloney”. “Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the internet. Uh, sure. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?” – Clifford Stoll (1995, Newsweek)
Funnily enough, Mr. Stoll wasn’t the only hater. Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet cable once predicted that “the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse”.
Once he realized how spectacularly wrong he once was, he quite literally swallowed his words at the Sixth International WWW Conference in 1999. He took his infamous column, put it into a blender and gulped it down like a champ. Yummy.
When Apple was about to go down the drain in ‘97, it became a public ordeal with the likes of Microsoft and Dell predicting its demise.
“Apple is already dead” – Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft CTO, ‘97
“What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.” – Michael Dell, Dell CEO, ‘97
“[Apple] seems to have two options. The first is to break itself up, selling the hardware side. The second is to sell the company outright.”– The Economist, ‘95
A few years prior to their predicted doom, they launched an ad – the Knowledge Navigator – in 1987. The futuristic tech featured in the video was shown during the pre-internet era (before the likes of Google). To understand the context, watch the ad. If you look closely you’ll see the calendar date is 16.09.2011.
Fast forward to 18 days after this date, and the iPhone 4s was introduced offering Siri – the same technology shown in their 1987 ad. Freaky. Technology has moved on a lot since 2011, just recently at Googles I/O Developer Conference, they released Google Duplex, a machine intelligence chatbot assistant that will haunt your dreams. Take a quick peek if you’ve not seen it.
Yes, he called it! Milton Friedman predicted Bitcoin way back in 1999, and back then it was called “e-cash”. Milton’s idea was based on the vastness of the internet and said it would eventually become hard for governments to collect taxes.
“E-cash”, now known as cryptocurrency, would come about after the people’s need for a private transaction, without A knowing B, essentially leaving all records of the transaction invisible. He also understood that while this kind of innovation is positive, it also has its negative side making it easier for the black market to thrive undercover.
It seems like cryptocurrency hits the headlines on a weekly basis, with former Trump advisor Steve Banon talking of starting his own, coining the term “deplorables coin”, or Marc Lasrey, co-founder of Avenue Capital Group, who predicts that Bitcoin will reach $40,000.
“[Of my] personal money…I’ve invested around 1%…, as it gets more into the mainstream and is easier for people to buy…you’ll have something that will end up around $20,000-$40,000.” – Marc Lasrey on CNBC, 2018
Gates foresaw the emergence of tech in home security back in ‘99, with “constant video feeds of your house” to become commonplace, and they’d “inform you when somebody visits while you are not at home”. Well, it’s not exactly as commonplace as Gates initially predicted, but it has become a popular household accessory for many. Companies like Canary, Netgear, and Nest make cameras that feed data back to your phone, sending you a push alert for any disturbances.
While motion sensors, fingerprint scanners on your door, and smart cameras aren’t exactly a product that you see in the average persons home, some countries are beginning to adapt. In 2016, only 6% of American homeowners had some kind of smart device in their home, and that number is predicted to rise to 15% by 2021…not a huge difference. But in Dubai, the police department is encouraging its citizens to register to it’s Police Smart Home Security plan in a step towards preventing crime rates.
AT&T predicted that a person’s entire bill of health could be loaded onto a single card, and accessed almost anywhere. Surprisingly that has not happened, although medical records can be accessed by some online, it’s not easily obtainable and would need significant upgrades to work.
Even so, there are exciting times ahead for the health sector, and Ai will play a huge role in the advancement of the industry. “The time scientists spend analysing data and testing molecular combinations” will severely decrease.
Ai and its implementation in the health sector is already finding its way to the commercial market. A new tool, named The Allen Integrated Cell Project uses Ai to looks inside and analyze cells. It came along in 2014 and uses machine learning algorithms, feeding the algorithms hundreds of images of cells, “engineering the cells to make them glow”.
They’ve now learned to predict “the shape and location of structures in any cell”. It’s a costly process but in the long run, it’s expected to save researchers money, making leaps and bounds in cancer research and will help them to understand how exactly a cancer cell grows from start to finish.
Paleofuture pointed out that in 1996, the Space Study Board’s annual report mentioned 2018 “as the year that we might have crewed mission to Mars”. Trump, Obama, Bush and Clinton have been among those who’ve promised a mission to Mars, needless to say, it’s a highly anticipated goal. 22 years on, and four presidents later and we’re still not there. But SpaceX and NASA are making headway.
We could have crewed a mission to Mars 30 years ago, so what’s holding us back? It’s not technology or innovation, it’s politics. With every presidential administration comes a change in policy, and that change brings a severe lack in funding.
Objectives for space exploration are often set, only for the next president to cancel or cut investments, meaning that NASA has inconsistent funding. For example, in 2010 Obama urged Congress to fund NASA with $6 billion over five years in his “space policy”, resulting in NASA’s “Journey to Mars” program that same year.
Fast forward to 2016, and the Trump administration updated the space policy. A heavier focus was put on Moon exploration, putting the Moon first, and Mars second. This constant shift means that NASA could potentially lose the race towards a crewed mission to Mars.
While we may not have made it to Mars just yet, NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars. It’ll be an autonomous chopper, and a small one at that and it’s happening as soon as 2020. The aim of the mission is to see whether vehicles can levitate on the incredibly thin atmosphere of Mars.
Netflix and chill, is that over yet? Predicted by AT&T in the 90s and by Robert Egbert in 1987, this one doesn’t seem to be a surprise. Movie streaming has completely changed our viewing habits.'We will have high-definition, wide-screen television sets and a push-button dialling system to order the movie you want at the time you want it' - Egbert, Omni MagazineClick To Tweet
With the rise of YouTube as a video streaming site, and Netflix along with its competition being Amazon Prime and Hulu, there’s a lot going on. It’ll be interesting to see what will happen to Netflix, along with its heavy competition as the market widens.
Concerns of major British broadcasting corporations are growing. With the rise in popularity of online streaming subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming hosts, the number of paid TV licences are beginning to dwindle compared to a paid subscription.
Channel 4, Channel 5 and ITV, three of the major broadcasting channels in the UK are holding talks of starting their own streaming services with co-produced content, making them viable competition for the current market holders. With traditional media viewing habits changing, will these broadcasters, as well as broadcasters abroad need to adapt to stay afloat?
Frank Zappa, most known for his music career, called this one. Back in 1989, the late Zappa published “The Real Frank Zappa Book” predicting the music streaming industry. Users, in his opinion, would be able to “store [their music] in a central processing location, and have them accessible by phone or cable TV, directly patchable into the user’s home taping appliances, with the option of direct digital-to-digital transfer”.
These days, we have a number of options in terms of streaming services. Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, and tools like Shazam use a digital fingerprint to scan a massive database of music. And as 2.5 exabytes of data are produced every day (that’s about 90 years worth of HD video), businesses have a lot of information to work with. Big data is helping the music industry to gain insights into customers, like where they listen to music, what they listen to, and on what platform. Whereas before insights were based on assumption.
One of the more virtuous future technology predictions, or at least the hopeful ones. Humans have long been making apocalyptic predictions of the future world. It’s easy to understand why, with overpopulation and mass pollution. Life Magazine reported the likelihood of air pollution in 1970, stating that city dwellers would have to wear gas masks by 1985.
“Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….” – Life Magazine, 1970
Unfortunately, it’s a reality in China where residents and tourists are seen wearing air pollution masks in the heavily polluted north-east. Air pollutants exceeded a P.M2.5 level of 1400, 56 times the recommended exposure, in 2015.
Although, China is fighting back. Recent government policies have meant that millions moved from coal to natural gases to power their homes and businesses. These measures have dramatically reduced pollution, although the sudden change has meant that many are faced with fuel shortages.
Luckily, carbon recycling is starting to gain traction. There is a multitude of startups and researchers working tirelessly on the technology. A Swiss-based company, Climeworks, introduced the first commercial carbon filter and it is incredibly impressive. Pulling CO2 from the air, it redirects the carbon dioxide gas into a greenhouse. The negative emissions technology uses the filter to capture and collect the CO2, releasing clean air back into the atmosphere.
Although the prediction comes from AT&T in the 90s, the history of smartwatches goes way back. The first semi-smartwatch came about in 1927. Although it was incredibly rudimentary. Named the Wristlet Route Indicator, it got you from A to B. No tech was involved other than a rolled up map and a scrolling mechanism on the side of the watch, but at the time it was pretty impressive.
It wasn’t until 1998 that the technology became more advanced. It was called the Linux Wristwatch, and it was capable of showing the weather forecast, stock market, and even traffic conditions. It wasn’t as glamorous as the smartwatches that people know and love today, but the tech has evolved at a speed that we could never have foreseen in the 90s. With products like the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear S and Google Pixel Smartwatch, who knows what’s to come in the near future?
In 1999, Ray Kurzweil, Head Engineer at Google and all-round badass, wrote the book “The Age of Spiritual Machines“. In that book, he predicted a number of future trends, and for the record, of all the predictions he’s made, around 86% of them are accurate.
One particular prediction from his book was set for 2009 on the use of portable devices. Kurzweil forecast the “individuals primarily use portable computers”, and while his prediction may have been a little off, by 2015 more smartphones were sold than laptops. Even so, laptop sales are set to make a comeback over smartphone sales by 2022.
It’s no secret that the computational power of a mobile phone has accelerated exponentially. If you compare a computer from the 1940s, weighing in at around 30 tons, to the smartphone you’re holding in your hand, your phone would run that computer out of the water.
Transistors have shrunk continuously over the last 5 years, with the smallest measuring 1nano meter, that’s 800,000 smaller than a strand of hair. With the shrinking of transistors, technology will be able to advance even further, and the future of our “portable devices” will change. Our smart devices are becoming smarter, cheaper, and smaller.
Because of this, the devices that we know and love today, in Kurzweil’s opinion, could be built into our clothing, or by the late 2020s, immerse us in a virtual reality indistinguishable from our own.
To summarize, at any point in history there will be talks of crazy, unfathomable and plain bizarre predictions. Like with Metcalfe and Stoll on the future predictions of the internet, it’s common to go far beyond popular science fiction of the time. But for some, predicting the future is a second nature. Liked what you read? Valuer posts new articles every week.
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