The Future: A Retrospective

O’Reilly book author, Leonard Richardson, has written an awesomely hilarious analysis of the book “Future Stuff.” The book was published back in 1989, and had all sorts of predictions about 250 consumer products that should have been available by the year 2000. While the book does succeed in making a few valid predictions (Flat TV, HDTV, Memory Card Camera), and several near misses (Virtual World, Smart TV, Digital Audiotapes, Movies delivered over the telephone), it’s even more interesting to see where it completely misses the boat.

Apparently back in 1989, even though we had computers, nobody could foresee that they could become general purpose devices. One of the biggest themes running through the list of future predictions is that they all end up requiring separate doo-dads and black boxes that would plug into your TV or telephone. So, yes it turns out that now we can have movies delivered electronically to us on demand, as the book predicts, but instead of over the phone line to a “special box plugged into your tv”, we can do it over this thing we call the internet, and can use the computers that we all already have. Same goes for something called the “voice activated typewriter” or something they refer to as an “electronic newspaper.”

Another amusing item is something called the “Smart TV.” It appears to be similar to a tivo, but runs on a jukebox of VHS tapes. Awesome! And remember VCR Plus+? These days it’s built into VCRs (who still has a VCR?), but back in the day, it was actually a separate box that controlled your VCR tuner and recording commands via an IR blaster.

So go and check it out. While you’re there, also read the comments on predicted items such as “The Intelligent Toilet“, “The More Intelligent Toilet“, and of course, “The Most Intelligent Toilet.”

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