Thursday, October 27, 2011

Views of the Future

Microsoft has a new ad promoting its version of the future. (Watch below.) It is striking to me that this future is a lot like the present, just with different gadgets that let us do the same thing we do now marginally better.

How well will Microsoft do in the prediction game? Probably pretty well since they are likely working on all of the ideas they feature. AT&T did really well predicting the future way back in 1993:

And Apple was extremely prophetic in 1987:

But do these views of the future get anyone all that excited? Some of these ideas presented are potentially revolutionary, but most are just doing the same thing a bit better. My larger point, however, is that these visions of the future focus on marginal improvements rather than big ideas. Even though the military is still working on flying cars (get this week's update here and the 1958 update here), the future depicted by technology companies is pretty much a future of going to more meetings, which is not exactly a space-age concept. We're not really even space-age anymore, for that matter.

Here is a bold vision of the future from Disney in the 1950s:

And here is what AASHTO says now:

AASHTO sounds sensible and boring, and will be well served by the productivity gains from Microsoft, I suppose.

So what is exciting for the future? Flying helicopters with your mind, of course! Clever researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed software that allows the user to fly around the Minnesota campus by thinking hard while wearing a special hat. Here is the paper, and video is at this link. Let's see more views of the future with mind control, autonomous cars and other technologies that fundamentally change the things we do (so we can do different things) instead of marginal improvements of what we already do. After all, we're still waiting for the telecommuting revolution to kick in.

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