Prediction: "Small video devices using cameras attached to personal computers or television sets will allow us to meet readily across the information highway with much higher quality pictures and sound for lower prices."
Verdict: Hit. What came to be called webcams are standard issue on PCs, or can be purchased from Bill Gates's favorite company for under $30.
The Internet and the Web
Prediction: Gates's 286-page book mentions the World Wide Web on only four of its pages, and portrays the Internet as a subset of a much a larger "Information Superhighway." The Internet, wrote Gates, is one of "the important precursors of the information highway," along with PCs, CD-ROMs, phone networks, and cable systems, but "none represents the actual information highway. ... today's Internet is not the information highway I imagine, although you can think of it as the beginning of the highway."
Verdict: Miss. Gates's notion that the Internet would play a supporting role in the information highway of the future, rather than being the highway itself, was out-of-date the day The Road Ahead was published. Even Gates realized it. Shortly before his book hit the stores, Gates reorganized Microsoft to focus more on the Internet, and he made major revisions to a second edition of The Road Ahead, adding material that highlighted the significance of the Internet. In many ways, Gates's cloudy crystal ball regarding the Internet amounted to wishful thinking.
Gates built Microsoft into a global powerhouse by selling proprietary software that users loaded onto their PCs. He wasn't likely to warm to the idea that the same functions could be delivered cheaper and faster through a decentralized network that he couldn't control. Of all of the predictions Gates missed in The Road Ahead, this one might be the costliest. Microsoft is still playing catch-up as a result of failing to anticipate the dominance of the Internet.
Predication: "A decade from now, you may shake your head that there was ever a time when any stranger or wrong number could interrupt you at home with a phone call. ... by explicitly indicating allowable interruptions, you will be able to establish your home -- or anywhere you choose -- as your sanctuary."
Verdict: Little Hit, Big Miss. It's true that technology lets you explicitly indicate allowable interruptions -- you can use caller ID to dodge unwanted calls or sign up at the National Do Not Call Registry to nix telemarketers. But the notion that technology would pave the way to greater privacy has turned out to be anything but true. Privacy has become one of the great casualties of the computer age, a reality most people have come to accept as the cost of traveling on the information superhighway.
Don't bother looking for privacy on The Road Ahead -- it's already in the rear view.
It's fun to see what (even) Bill Gates could get wrong about today in predictions 15 years ago, but how would you do? Take a shot in the comments section below with what you think things will look like in 2025 ...