Re: A Future Timeline from Interactive Week
Sun, 25 Apr 1999 12:08:40 -0700

Greg Burch,, writes:

> Speaking of future timelines and scenario building, we had a discussion here 
> about a year ago on general scenario-building that resulted in my compilation 
> of a timeline stretching from 2000 to 2015.  You can find it at:
> I have rechecked it from time to time and, while it is of course still quite 
> early, I'm still pretty happy with what we came up with.

I am considerably more pessimistic in the short run. Allow me to counter-predict. These are all "circa 2000", and I will predict whether they are likely to arrive by, say, the end of 2003, four and a half years from now. Mostly I am only including the ones I disagree with (which is about 90% of the predictions):

: Computer Technology (Processing, Interface, Software, Networks):
: Interfaces:
: flat screens become common;
: first practical consumer VR interfaces;
: retina painters become available in some industrial applications;
: speech input becoming more common, especially with palmtops;
: crude VR avatars/virtual spaces available

None of these will happen by 2003. Flat screens will probably still be too expensive; there will be no head mounted displays in use for consumer VR (they make people sick); no retinal painters will be used in industry; speech input will be rare, except for simple voice recorders. There won't be VR avatars, but there already are online interactions where you control an avatar.

: Software:
: first consumer-level remembrance agents;
: first consumer-level personalizable full-time
network spiders

I don't know what remembrance agents are, but I don't think we'll see full time network spiders for end users. They would be too inefficient to be useful.

: Communication Technology:
: cell phones the size of credit cards; a few disposable
cell phones;

No disposable cell phones (in the sense of throwing them away; you may be able to rent them while travelling, etc., but you'll have to return them)

: first practical consumer videophones; major consumer items (cars, houses) begin to have embedded cell
: communications;

No videophones; no cars or houses with embedded cell phones

: Neuroscience/Neuromedicine/Bio-cognitive Science & Technology:
: evolved software networks (e.g. Cambrain project) demonstrated as impressive software toys;

Only lab curiosities, they can't do anything.

: neurochips implanted into small lab mammals with minimal effect;

I don't think so, maybe just a few experiments

: breakthroughs in Alzheimer disease

No reason to expect this.

: Genetic Science and Technology:
: human cloning bans enforced; first human clone announced in lab in Latin America or Asia;

No human clones.

: General Medicine:
: AIDS effectively reduced to level of non-lethal chronic disease;

Not in Africa

: very effective chemical treatments for coronary artery disease developed;

No, very unlikely.

: angiostatin-endostatin proves highly effective in first human trials as general anti-cancer agent;

Probably not.

: continued progress in human cryopreservation techniques significantly reduces freezing damage

Maybe, given the terrible state of the art, there will be some improvement. Cryonics will still be a miniscule, insignificant fringe practice.

: Other Biology:
: pharmaceutical ranching becomes common;

I doubt it.

: Power Technology:
: U.S. power market continues process of deregulation;


: natural gas "micro-turbines" become available at the consumer level;

No chance.

: continued progress in fusion R&D

Well, the scientists will claim so, but no significant movement towards practical fusion.

: Manufacturing and Materials Science & Technology:
: Arrays of STMs-on-a-chip for crude mechanosynthesis ("diamond weaving") demonstrated;

No way.

: MEMs become available in some major consumer devices

Just airbags like now.

: General Transportation Technology:
: competitive electro-hybrid autos begin to hit market

Not really competitive, unless government subsidized.

: Aeronautics:
: Boeing announces plans to build a large HST;


: resurgence of small general aviation market through application of composite materials and
: computer-mediated control systems (Rutan meets Gates)

No way. GA is dead.

: Space Technology and Development:
: NASA space station becomes operable;

But useless.

: private lunar ice lander-prospector proposed;
: workable proposal for privatization of NASA space station;

Anyone can propose anything. Nothing will come of these.

: work commences on second generation of private launchers and first private LEO spacecraft (tugs, shuttles)


: Business & Finance Technology and Practice:
: increasing trends toward telecommuting;

Yes, but still not at a significant level.

: continuing development of expertise consultancy in areas other than traditional professions (software, other
: engineering, personnel management, finance);


: increasing privatization of investment for retirement; electronic commerce becomes ubiquitous;

The first idea will die as soon as the stock market crashes. The second is certainly happening.

: first practical private e-cash

Very doubtful.

: Personal Lifestyles:
: development of second career ideal among healthy "Boomers"
in their 50s;

No, too much trouble.

: Law and Government:
: first "virtual courtrooms" demonstrated;


: first commercial applications of smart contracts;


: continuing privatization of traditional government functions;

Maybe, depending on who gets elected. Could easily go the other way.

: complete overhaul and simplification of the U.S. tax code complete;

Absolutely not.

: continuing political battles over rights issues such as abortion, drugs, genetic self-control

Of course. Plus ca change...

: Art and Entertainment:
: first widely-distributed virtual environments;

Not in terms of VR. Possibly as an enhanced chatroom.

: first consumer-level virtual environmental tools;


: first real interactive fiction;


: continuing human/machine artistic collaborations

Not a significant artistic force.

So, what's my secret? Why is my crystal ball better than anyone else's? Well, I'm writing a year later than Greg was, which is pretty significant for events "circa 2000". But I seem to view major short-term enhancements as being both less likely and less predictable than other people here. It may seem curmudgeonly to say "no" when other people go out on a limb and look for breakthroughs, but that is the safer bet. There probably will be surprises in the next four years, but they will surprise both Greg and me. And they are unlikely to significantly change society in that time frame; there is just too much inertia.