The Road Ahead after 25 years
Twenty-five years ago today, I published my first book, The Road Ahead. At the time, people were wondering where…
Bill Gates, reflecting back on his first book:
Another idea that’s central to ‘The Road Ahead’ — that technology would allow unprecedented social networking — has pretty much come to pass. I am surprised, though, by the way social networks are both bringing us together and contributing to a more polarized atmosphere. I didn’t anticipate how much people would choose to filter out different perspectives and harden their own views.
This is one of those things that is only obvious in hindsight, but probably should have been back then given that it taps in pretty deep to human nature. The thought/hope was that the positives would far outweigh and perhaps even eliminate the potential negatives here — and that seemingly happened at first. Then the negatives came roaring back with a vengeance. Which suggests the positives only had a true advantage when the networks were sub-scale. And that human nature was destined to equalize things in the end.
One thing I was probably too optimistic about is the rise of digital agents. It is true that we have Cortana, Siri, and Alexa, but working with them is still far from the rich experience I had in mind in 1995. They don’t yet “learn about your requirements and preferences in much the way that a human assistant does,” as I wrote at the time. We’re just at the beginning of what agents will eventually be capable of.
This reminds me of that early Apple assistant concept video, “Knowledge Navigator”. We’re more or less there in many ways technology-wise — voice recognition is now fairly amazing, for one thing — but it’s not nearly as seamless as it should/could be and yes, context and personalized memory is often lacking.
Anyway, fun to look back at the book which I recall my grandparents buying for me when I was 14 years old. My most distinct memory is that it came with a CD-ROM. The future!