Saturday, May 23, 2015

Advertising the future

Earlier this week, I talked about how I wanted technology from Star Trek, and some things that now exist. We really are living in the future. The video above is a compilation of ads from AT&T from more than two decades ago, pretty accurately predicting the future we now live in.

I remember those ads, and I remember how exciting they made the future sound—and how fantastical, yet believable, the technology sounded. Nearly everything they predicted now exists in one form or another, and what doesn’t is mostly technologically feasible, if only there weren’t human barriers of one sort another.

There were only two things I noticed that don’t exist. First, real-time, live language translation of speech. Instead, we can only translate written text (sort of…). We also don't yet have virtual personal assistants, though we can at least accomplish many of the bits and pieces with the technology and software we do have.

This week alone, I used technology to do many of the things mentioned in the ads. For example, I read a book on my Kindle—a book I bought from Amazon, “from thousands of miles away”. I used Skype to record a podcast with Jason, and while that was audio-only, it could have been a video call. In fact, I’ve used Skype video calling many times, and I’ve used video hangouts on Google+.

I also have GPS on my phone in case I need to find some place “without stopping to ask for directions”. I frequently email PDFs (the modern-day equivalent of sending a fax). And there’s much more, too.

When the ads aired, the Internet as we now know it didn’t exist, so neither did any of the Internet services we take for granted. So, the fact that AT&T correctly predicted so much of what would exist in twenty years is pretty extraordinary, since it depended on technology that didn't actually exist at the time. However, what I think is even more extraordinary is that the promise was fulfilled mostly by people who were little kids—teenagers or young adults at most—when the ads first aired.

I can't wait to see what today’s little kids will deliver for us in the future.

Tip o’ the Hat to VOX, which shared and talked about the video today.


guest said...


Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Yes, Skype Translator is a step in the right direction, but far from being what the AT&T ad imagined. First, Skype Translator's only available for Windows 8.1, which means it's useless for Mac users like me—and any number of Windows users, too. Second, so far the voice version works only with
English, Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin—useful, to be sure, but it's
still nowhere near universal. However, Skype Translator's Instant Message translator
does work in 50 languages—though as we all know, text translators aren't
always accurate—sometimes, in fact, they're wildly inaccuate.

So, I stand by saying that "real-time, live language translation of speech" doesn't yet exist, though I do think that Skype Translator is an early step toward that ultimate goal. I also think that it'll be software a generation (or two, or three, or…) down the road that begins to crack it, not this particular version of this particular product.

Still, it IS progress.