This link is to some old AT&T commercials from 1993. You might remember these as visions of future technology that AT&T was going to bring us. It’s really interesting to look at their predictions and see how they did. I assume that in 1993 that AT&T probably had folks in Bell Labs looking at all of these ideas.
To put these predictions into perspective, 1993 is thought of now as the launch date of the public web. That’s the year that the Mosaic browser was launched that allowed for the combination of text and graphics and the creation of web pages. Before then the web was still something used mostly by techies and there was very little appreciation for how quickly this would explode onto the market. Here are a few of the more interesting claims from AT&T in 1993:
Borrowed a book from thousands of miles away. The video shows somebody viewing a scanned book. AT&T missed the popularity of e-readers but generally got this right.
Driven across the country without stopping for directions. The US government didn’t release commercial access to the GPS system until 2000. AT&T obviously believed this was going to happen.
Sent someone a fax from the beach. I don’t think AT&T can be faulted too badly for missing the popularity of email and PDF files.
Paid a toll without slowing down. This was not a daring prediction since Norway had implemented the first electronic toll collection system in 1991.
Bought concert tickets from a cash machine. It’s funny to think of having to stand in line at an ATM to buy things on the web. I’m already always annoyed at a person who doesn’t know how to use an ATM and I can’t imagine standing behind somebody who is shopping.
Tucked your baby in from a phone booth. AT&T tried numerous times to push picture phones and it never caught on with the public. They envisioned video phone booths talking to AT&T video phones in the home. In 1993 it was probably hard to envision Skype and FaceTime and the near death of phone booths.
Opened doors with the sound of your voice. This can be done now but is not very popular. But opening your door with a smartphone is starting to gain a little traction.
Carried your medical history in your wallet. This never happened and for various privacy reasons hasn’t even been done very well yet in the cloud from the doctor’s office. You still have to fill out forms for half an hour to see a new doctor.
Attended a meeting in your bare feet. This was a prediction of Skype, but using a picture phone instead of a PC or smartphone.
Watched a movie you wanted the minute you wanted. They foresaw digital transmission of video. 1993 saw the very early trials of cable modems, but DOCSIS cable modems and DSL did not become commercially viable until the end of the 1990s. But AT&T obviously believed that data speeds would get much faster.
Learned special things from far-away places. This supposed interactive distance learning which has become common with the web and which many think will eventually be the primary form of education.
Overall AT&T didn’t do too badly in their predictions, and as the company that owned Bell Labs you would expect them to have insight to the next decade of technology. But they did fail to forecast that cable companies would kick their butts in the marketplace and become the dominant data providers.