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The Future Past! From British Telecomm - Elf M. Sternberg
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The Future Past! From British Telecomm
Futurism is always a difficult subject. In 2015, I think it's time to go back to 2001 and review the British Telecomm Technology Timeline, published in December of 2001, although nominally started significantly before then, and so no yet fully aware of just how much 9/11 and other events would curtail some developments yet accelerate others.

The *Timeline* is broken up into sections, and is meant to show how the advance of technology would strike the energy sector, or entertaiment, or education, or telecommunication. Some of the sections are tech-specific, such as "how will CPU/memory/networking advance?"

The first thing to see is that the *Timeline* is heavily wired. The impact of things like 4G and LTE were still a few years out. The iPhone would not be released until 2007. The societal impact of having on always-on, readily available two-way multi-mode communications device with a programmable presentation layer (apps, Javascript in the browser, phonegap, notifications) is completely missed in this document.

This blindspot extends to things like the spread the Internet. By 2015, "75% of the civilized world will have Internet access." In reality, there are very few places left in the world that don't have Internet access.

The speed of AI was completely wrong. By now, 25% of our celebrities were supposed to be completely synthentic, with both voice and appearance being managed by a team of animators. Machines were supposed to be so advanced as to "need lesiure time" themselves. Pets did get chipped, but we don't use satellites to track them. "Smart" Barbie is ten years ovedue. And I'm still writing software rather than training AIs how to extrude it. AIs should already be getting PhDs, and brain implants will eliminate all need for formal education in two years.

The health section is equally silly. I still can't send an orgasm by email! We don't yet have an Orgasmatron! We haven't successfully replaced lungs and kidneys, but we're getting there with the liver. Remote surgeries are a thing, and the digital tagging of all patients in hospital is just now getting underway. BT says that apps for your brain are still 15 years out.

Sadly, the notion that police forces would be completely privatized has borne out.

I don't think we'll ever actually need space-based solar collection systems. We're going to do just fine with ground-based systems.

Japan hasn't started building its deep, underground mega-city "hives." They need to get on that.

BT thought too much that people were anxious about biology and would prefer an artificial existence: artificial pets, artificial plants, and entire ecosystem that has replaced our biologicial siblings with extruded duplicates looked preferable to the *Timeline*. The same detail covers the robotics section; robot guides for the blind, robot pets, robot gardeners were all supposed to be commonplace among the middle class by now.

Holodeck meeting rooms, 3D TVs without glasses, most towns having a "ghost copy" of themselves in "cyberspace" (because, of course, we want to double the amount of attention we spend on our home towns), video surveillance of neighbors becomes a social problem. The amount of solid state storage space in your computer was supposed to be 100GB by now; I have 750GB in this machine.

On the other hand, biosensors tracking your health minute by minute are only two years out. If Apple or Samsung figure out the oxygen and glucose monitoring in their watches, we'll be there. Google glasses was supposed to have happened in 2004.

The policing and war section is so naive. ID cards won't ever be replaced by biomonitoring; the purpose of ID cards is to remind the bearer of his or her responsibilities. But biomonitoring is in wide use to track you anyway. Drones are commonplace, so they got that right. The cracking of public key cryptography "within seconds" was supposed to have happened in 2006.

We haven't gone to Mars, we aren't colonizing the Moon, we haven't launched a 100M mirror telescope, we aren't about to produce, store, and use antimatter. Sad. We're five years behind automatic cars, "road trains" never became a thing except in Australia, and all the "assisted driving" features are way, way overdue. Things like ride sharing and the way the automation of driving leads to reduced car ownership don't begin to factor in here.

Under wildcards, there are some fun ones: There *is* a (small) third-world exodus that some claim is threatening global stability. The stock market *could* crash at any moment. We *do* have people hijacking computers for ransom, although it's a much smaller criminal issue than BT thought it would be.

All in all, the *Timeline* is a look at the hopes and fears of people in the year 2000. It's predicitions are often hilariously SF-informed, or poorly considered in light of other predictions in the document. It's a good attempt at science fiction, but that's about it.
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