Published in 1995, The Road Ahead was Gates’ contribution to the ever-popular activity of crystal ball gazing. At the dawn of the commercial Internet, it was clear that great change was afoot, but nobody was quite sure what it would all mean, despite some people claiming otherwise. One of the great things about predicting the future is that it’s such a popular activity that no one really bothers to check back to see if any of those predictions were in any way correct.
Let’s test Mr Gates on a few of his predictions:
“One of the many fears expressed about the information highway is that it will reduce the time people spend socialising”
Really? Oddly enough, Gates spends a fair proportion of the book talking about a house he was having built at great expense with every imaginable tech gadget. You can imagine that almost all of those gadgets became obsolete within a couple of years, but he was clearly caught between the idea that home was going to be so great that you wouldn’t want to go out and the fact that humans are intrinsically social animals and would still go to the cinema as often as they did before. Cinema audiences in the US did decline in 2013 … to the level they were in 1995, so Gates was partly correct. But Gates completely fails to foresee something called the social network. And a little site called Facebook.
“virtual dating via video conferencing”
Gates has unparalleled credibility as both tech-geek and businessman, but I’m not sure that you’d want to date him. Gates recounts the story of a woman he was dating in another City. To solve the problem of a long distance relationship (and probably Gates working the whole time), he recounts how they would pick a movie, chat on their cell phones on the way there and then review it on the way back. Gates gets quite excited at the thought of including video conferencing into the equation to create a ‘virtual dating environment’. Tinder it ain’t……
You’ll be able to chat with others when playing video games
Given that computer games were already wildly popular in 1995, this was an easy spot, but even Gates didn’t realise that this would be THE way that teenage boys communicated with each other circa 2014. World of Warcraft and Call of Duty have probably generated more teenage male communication in the last ten years than took place previously in the entire history of humanity.