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The Prophecies of Epimetheus

July 5th, 2017

Bill Gates Anticipates Captain Obvious

I read something interesting. Bill Gates made a bunch of predictions in 1999, and they are coming true. Amazing, right? He must be a genius.

Bill Gates may be a genius; there are claims out there that he got a perfect score on the pre-participation-trophy version of the SAT. Usually claims like that turn out to be BS, but it could be true. I know lots of people who got perfect math scores. Perfect verbal scores…not one. I failed to achieve that distinction myself, although I came closer than anyone I know.

Bill Gates may be a genius, but he is not much of a prophet. Look what he predicted. It appears that he has a genius for predicting the past.

1. “Automated price comparison services will be developed, allowing people to see prices across multiple websites…” I’m pretty sure these existed in 1999. Pricegrabber and Dealtime, for example. Yes, Wikipedia says Pricegrabber was founded in 1999. Get out of the office once in a while, Bill.

2. “People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are.” Uh…cell phones. I am a late adapter, and I had my own phone in 1997. Now that I think about it, I had access to my dad’s cell phone as early as 1986. By 1997 or 1998, I knew a guy who had a Quotrek, which was a mobile stock ticker. And let’s not forget Dick Tracy.

3. “People will pay their bills, take care of their finances, and communicate with their doctors over the internet.” Most of us were not paying monthly bills over the web in 1999, but I had e-trading in 1994 or 1995.

4. “Personal companions’ will be developed. They will connect and sync all your devices in a smart way, whether they are at home or in the office, and allow them to exchange data.” Personal Digital Assistants had been around for about five years before Gates made his astonishing prediction. I’m not including total-wonk versions that existed a decade earlier. Granted, they were not as good as tablets or smartphones, but it didn’t take Edgar Cayce to look at them and say, “Maybe these will get better!”

5. “Constant video feeds of your house will become common, which inform you when somebody visits while you are not home.” Maybe you couldn’t get a system like that in your area in 1999, but it was obvious that they were on the way. I guarantee you, banks and government buildings had things like that. Obvious, Bill. To get a patent on something, your invention has to be novel, useful, and nonobvious. Your prediction fails two of the tests.

6. “Private websites for your friends and family will be common, allowing you to chat and plan for events.” AOL was there in something like 1990. Where was Bill?

7. “Software that knows when you’ve booked a trip and uses that information to suggest activities at the local destination. It suggests activities, discounts, offers, and cheaper prices for all the things that you want to take part in.” Score one for Bill? Doubtful. Expedia, a travel site belonging to Microsoft, roared to life in 1996. Unless Bill was playing Donkey Kong in meetings, he had to know they were working on improving their marketing.

8. “While watching a sports competition on television, services will allow you to discuss what is going on live, and enter a contest where you vote on who you think will win.” AOL. Chat rooms. Come on, Bill. This is Chauncey Gardiner stuff.

9. “Devices will have smart advertising. They will know your purchasing trends, and will display advertisements that are tailored toward your preferences.” Don’t know when this started, but if Microsoft, which made a popular browser at the time, didn’t know about it in 1999, someone was slacking.

10. “Television broadcast will include links to relevant websites and content that complement what you are watching.” Obvious. Every intelligent person who got a good look at the web in the Nineties knew it would eventually merge with TV, the Postal Service, Radio, and telephony. Links were natural extensions of that merging.

11. “Residents of cities and countries will be able to have internet-based discussions concerning issues that affect them, such as local politics, city planning, or safety.” You’re kidding me, right?

12. “Online communities will not be influenced by your location, but rather, your interest.” See previous.

13. “Project managers looking to put a team together will be able to go online, describe the project, and receive recommendations for available people who would fit their requirements.” I had Amicus Attorney and Time Matters either in 1999 or not long afterward. Someone wake Bill up when the briefing is over.

14. “Similarly, people looking for work will be able to find employment opportunities online by declaring their interest, needs, and specialized skills.” Guess what year Monster.com was founded? Come on. Guess. I predict you will guess 1999.

15. “Companies will be able to bid on jobs, whether they are looking for a construction project, a movie production, or an advertising campaign. This will be efficient for both big companies that want to outsource work that they don’t usually face, businesses looking for new clients, and corporations that don’t have a go-to provider for the said service.” This was not part of my world in 1999, but based on Bill’s spectacular failures as a prophet, I will bet it already existed.

If this is genius, what does plagiarism look like? I am confused.

Let me predict stuff. I still say the distinctions between the Internet, phones, TV, and the mail will vanish. They are unnatural and expensive. I think Amazon will eventually open showrooms where you can go look at junk before buying it, but it will only be possible in large cities, because inventory costs money. They will also have a video chat facility that allows you to watch an employee demonstrate products you want to buy, but it won’t be available for every product. TVs will be even bigger than they are now, and it will be impossible to turn off the spy functions.

Later on, it will be illegal to turn off the Internet, and Uncle Sam will always know where you are and what you’re doing, “for your own good.” You will be required to have at least one social media account, and it will be your legal address for service in lawsuits and so on. You will be required to take legal notice of all communications to it.

The devil hates literacy, and IT marketers hate products that require end users to exert themselves, so tech companies will do their absolute best to develop devices that allow you to turn thoughts into text. Eventually, it will work, and the down side is that the habit of using these things will cause you to broadcast signals continuously, the same way you form words in your mind, allowing Uncle Sam or whoever to read some portion of your thoughts.

The government will collect a whole lot of biometric stuff, without our consent. You will have to submit DNA along with fingerprints when you get a gun permit, a real estate license, or any other type of professional license. It’s for our own good.

Come back in five years and tell me I was wrong. I hope you will be able to…but you won’t.

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