Tech predictions from 1993: Video phones, tablets and hovercars

Be happy you didn't live in the AT&T "world of 2003"

AT&T was always pretty good at making videos and commercials showing us the "world of tomorrow" - for example, its "You Will" ad campaigns of the early '90s predicted things like on-demand cable TV services, videoconferencing from the beach, and other such techno-marvels that we now take for granted.

But in this video, released today by the AT&T TechChannel from its archives, they really got some things wrong. Check out the first "skit" in the hour-long "Live from Bell Labs (1993)" show, in which we visit the world of 2003. The skit opens in a futuristic barbershop, where a teen-ager learns that his high school is about to get a new worm mascot, courtesy of a local billionaire who is donating money to the school. With the teen's super-technology, he rallies his fellow students through group emails, faxes and his video wristwatch (oy!) to petition the school board to not approve the mascot.

Maybe I'm being a bit too harsh here, especially on the technology side. The billionaire (played by actor Michael Jeter, who most parents of toddlers will recognize as Sesame Street's Mr. Noodle) did use a mobile phone with a color screen (unheard of back in 1993), and the girl designing the new mascot logo used a very cool iPad-like device. I think what turns me off to these predictions is everything else "in the future" - the fashions are horrible, I'm still waiting for my barbershop to institute a "what kind of haircut do you want video mirror", and don't get me started on the hovercar.

It's almost like the people directing these prediction videos did a lot of work coming up with the technology predictions, but then said, "Oh, we need futuristic clothing, let's just go with bright colors and patterns, and add a hovercar." Even the film Back to the Future got the fashions wrong - that movie had people wearing "double ties", but at least other things seemed normal - heck, even Nike created a concept for their sneakers with the automatic tying laces and the coat that could auto-dry itself. I guess the bottom line is that if you're going to create a film or video that is predicting the future, try to stay away from figuring out what people are going to be wearing, and just put them in normal-looking clothes.

And don't forget to watch the rest of the Live from Bell Labs show - it also features appearances by Penn & Teller and the Flying Karamazov Brothers. For more details on the Live from Bell Labs shows, head to the AT&T Archives website.

Keith Shaw rounds up the best in geek video in his blog. Follow Keith on Twitter at @shawkeith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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