Technological visionaries have existed for centuries. Men and women with bold, seemingly impossible ideas have birthed innovations throughout history that have revolutionized industries and changed the world.
It’s interesting to consider what Henry Ford, who revolutionized the auto industry by developing and manufacturing the first affordable car in 1908, would think about today’s sleek, eco-friendly hybrid cars. Even better, could he have ever imagined a future highway filled with self-driving cars? Or a sky filled with air taxis?
In today’s rapidly-evolving digital age, it’s also mind-boggling to think about how fast the latest and greatest trend or device becomes last year’s model or a precursor to “the next big thing.”
Multiple examples of this were on display at CES 2019. For instance, mobile devices are pushing toward 5G technology. Space-saving smart TVs will conveniently roll out of sight, and house keys can soon be replaced by a smart touchpad deadbolt lock named Alfred, who responds to voice prompts in multiple languages.
All these impending innovations began with an idea, from a single person or a team of smart, imaginative people. These pioneers have at least one thing in common: They are forward thinkers.
Rewind to 1976, when Bill Gates and Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft. The pair’s BASIC programming language helped spark a revolutionary, home computing era.
Furthermore, when Microsoft launched Windows 95 in 1995, computer operating systems and the world at large would never be the same.
In 1999, Gates wrote a book called “Business @ the Speed of Thought.” Touted as a guide for companies who wanted to do business in the next millennium, the Seattle native tech magnate told his readers the way to stand out from competitors was “to do an outstanding job with information.”
Along with sharing his wisdom and advice in the book, Gates proved himself to be an enduring forward thinker. As such, he made several bold predictions about the future of technology. Many of those predictions have astonishingly come true.
A business student named Markus Kirjonen reportedly pointed out in a blog post how many of Gates’ forecasts eventually came to pass.
We’re marveling at five of them below, as well as casting a look ahead at related emerging tech trends in the not-too-distant future.
Handheld Mobile Devices
Gates’ forecast: “People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are. They will be able to check the news, see flights they have booked, get information from financial markets, and do just about anything else on these devices.”
The fulfillment: IBM technically released the first rough version of a “smartphone” in 1992 with Simon the Personal Communicator. It functioned as a cell phone and a PDA with which you could check email, take notes, keep a calendar, and more.
However, Apple delivered the first iPhone in 2007. The device does everything Gates predicted and more. Today, smartwatches, tablets, and virtual assistants like Alexa deliver information on-the-go and on demand.
The Future: Smartphones might be foldable and 5G technology will improve data transfer and speed.
Online Bill Pay, Finances and Healthcare Portals
Gates forecast: “People will pay their bills, take care of their finances, and communicate with their doctors over the internet.”
The fulfillment: Major banks have websites and mobile apps with which we can check balances, transfer funds, pay bills, and send money almost anywhere in the world. We can also apply for loans, open retirement accounts, and start online savings pools.
Plus, many hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices now have convenient online portals in which patients can view test results, access medical records, and communicate directly with their doctors.
The future: Many technological advances and AI innovations are making big strides in medicine. For example, a teen researcher developed a skin patch to help prevent silent heart attacks and new innovations in AI could detect Alzheimer’s years ahead of a typical diagnosis.
Gates’ forecast: “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…”
The fulfillment: Virtual assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa help us to create grocery lists, set task reminders, turn smart home-connected lights on and off, operate appliances, lock our doors, and more.
The future: AI and home automation is the wave of the future. The KitchenAid Smart Display, for example, is a handy hi-tech tool that displays recipes, gives cooking instructions, and helps make shopping lists. Robots vacuum the floor, and much more.
Social Media Sites
Gates’ forecast: “Private websites for your friends and family will be common, allowing you to chat and plan for events.”
The fulfillment: Today, we live in a social media age with sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. Though they are not private, they keep us connected with friends, family, and people all over the world in real time.
The future: Social media seems like it’s here to stay. However, strides must continue to be made to protect user privacy, to ease people’s fears in the wake of recent data collection concerns.
Links Displayed on TV
Gates forecast: “Television broadcast will include links to relevant websites and content that complement what you are watching.”
The fulfillment: All sorts of banners scroll across the screen during live TV shows. Links to a news station’s website or social media page are frequently shown or mentioned by a business during a commercial.
The future: Upcoming smart TVs will integrate even more functions such as playing music or displaying a weather forecast. However, concerns raised about unauthorized data collection on smart TVs will likely tighten manufacturer privacy regulations in the future.
Certainly, Bill Gates had his thumb upon the pulse of the tech industry at the turn of the millennium. Now, his genius has been let loose upon humanitarian efforts around the world. The Burn-In not only applauds his forward-thinking mind, but also his heart.