In 2001, Have been We Proper Concerning the Way forward for Expertise?

Completely happy fortieth anniversary, PCMag! Instances like these name not just for nostalgia, however a glance again at what we obtained proper, and what we obtained mistaken. I used to be the editor-in-chief of PC Journal for 14 years, and within the September 2001 concern , for the twentieth anniversary of the IBM PC, I made some predictions(Opens in a brand new window) about expertise and the way I anticipated it to look 20 years into the longer term. So now could be the proper time for me to revisit these assertions and tally up my hits and misses. Let’s simply say I did not fairly have crystal-ball imaginative and prescient. However all in all, I did not fare too badly.

Miss: The Utmost Significance of the Smartphone

“Digital cameras shall be ubiquitous, with nearly everybody utilizing computer systems to edit pictures and digital video. Each enterprise will use the Web for communications, and net companies will begin to take form this 12 months. Over the following few years, your calendar shall be out there on the internet and accessible wherever you might be. You’ll share it with a number of individuals.”

I used to be form of proper, this stuff did occur, however I did not take the prediction almost far sufficient. By 2011, digital cameras and the Web have been certainly in every single place, and you possibly can simply share content material on the web. However what I missed was how the smartphone would principally eat the digital digital camera market—and extra importantly, how it will change into most individuals’s main computing machine for its portability issue, not like the PC in your desk. Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, with the App Retailer following the following 12 months. The remaining is historical past.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max


Apple iPhone 13 Professional Max
(Molly Flores)

Hit: The Genesis of Cloud Computing

“The functions I really need—real-time, correct voice recognition and translation—are nonetheless years away, however they’re coming. Within the subsequent few years, we’ll see advances in peer-to-peer computing not just for file sharing but additionally for harnessing all of the computing energy we now have on the market to unravel huge issues.”

Sure, the concept of what we now name “scale-out(Opens in a brand new window)” computing was already taking off. We had software-as-a-service (SaaS) options, together with Salesforce—and relying on the way you have a look at it, going way back to, say, ADP processing payroll on mainframes. Amazon Net Companies launched in 2002, and it quickly developed into what we now name “cloud computing.”

These platforms initially began as extra environment friendly methods of operating conventional functions, however in addition they let organizations acquire, retailer, and analyze large quantities of knowledge in an economical method. This enabled new functions and new enterprise fashions, accompanied by numerous professionals and cons. What I hadn’t realized was simply how necessary they might change into as software-development platforms.

Neural Network


((Illustration: Weiquan Lin/Getty Photographs))

And it was the flexibility to coach deep neural networks with GPUs and usually, the flexibility to run these large fashions in cloud architectures, that basically enabled speech recognition and later, translation. Siri launched in 2010 and Alexa in 2013, and since then, such platforms have change into increasingly more correct, with real-time translation vastly bettering prior to now couple years.

Hit: Broadband Turns into Massive

“The broadband and wi-fi revolutions are nonetheless in early phases, and the telecommunications market is overbuilt. However I am satisfied we’ll ultimately have incredible broadband and wi-fi functions.”

This one’s a no brainer, in fact. If something, as I discussed earlier, I underestimated all the pieces we might be doing on smartphones. But it surely did take years for web visitors to catch up—after which exceed—what was constructed within the dot.com period.

Hit: AI As a Double-Edged Sword

“I additionally take significantly the very actual issues about the place expertise is headed. I discover some consolation within the sluggish progress throughout the discipline of synthetic intelligence, however the concepts from of us like Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge make me marvel.”

I used to be proper to be involved about using expertise, however I did not account for the AI explosion of the previous decade. Deep-learning neural networks have been an instructional backwater after I wrote this; it will be one other 10 years till researchers began utilizing them on GPUs. When mixed with the large quantity of knowledge we now have out there and the cloud infrastructure to deal with it, this expertise has introduced new accuracy to picture recognition and voice recognition, and later to all kinds of different functions.

Facial Recognition


(Illustration: imaginima/Getty Photographs)

We have seen lots of utility from machine-learning algorithms and the functions they’ve made attainable, however we have additionally seen loads of cases through which these functions have resulted in unintended or biased outcomes, in addition to a lot controversy over how they have been utilized in the actual world. We’re nonetheless grappling with these points, and there is no finish in sight.

Hit: Nanotechnology and Biotechnology

I believe that nanotechnology and biotechnology are extra fertile grounds for each pleasure and concern. As an illustration, the controversy about bioengineered meals presages tougher debates to return.

We have seen many nanotechnology and biotechnology enhancements prior to now 20 years—mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 amongst them—together with many debates on these subjects. A number of the progress has been slower than I might need guessed, however let’s name it successful.

Beneficial by Our Editors

SpaceX Starship SN15


SpaceX Starship SN15
(SpaceX)

Miss: The Commercialization of Area

I do not suppose that expertise will evolve as easily or shortly as some individuals predict. After the moon touchdown, individuals thought we would begin colonizing the planets. Nicely, a quarter-century has handed for the reason that final man walked on the moon, and nobody is even speaking about going again.

Nobody has walked on the moon since I wrote that, both. However we now have seen unbelievable development in business house functions—all the pieces from satellite tv for pc communications to GPS. I would not have predicted the advances startups resembling SpaceX have given rise to, together with reducing the price of going to house, or that we would see “house tourism” earlier than anybody may get again to the moon. These companies at the moment are speaking about going again to the moon—and possibly to Mars.


I knew there could be controversies, however I did not count on social networks to unfold so extensively and to change into devices of additional polarizing society.

It is all the time tough to foretell how individuals will use expertise. In the long run, it doesn’t matter what the expertise is, individuals will resolve what’s and isn’t helpful for them. As I typically put it: Expertise adjustments shortly. Individuals change slowly.

I knew there could be controversies, however I did not count on social networks to unfold so extensively and to change into devices of additional polarizing society. I hadn’t grasped the significance that these networks would play in commerce or in encouraging billions of individuals to make and share their very own quick movies. And I fully missed the emergence of a decentralized blockchain (first described by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008) and cryptocurrency.

Bonus Hit: Expertise Is By no means Boring

The subsequent 20 years promise to be fairly a journey. I would not miss it for something.

I used to be positively proper about that. This is to the following 20 years!