Time Machine: 1991 films predicted '21st century' lifestyle of 2003

What did the videos get right and wrong?

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I love watching older videos that try to predict the technology of the future, especially when the future predicted is now our past. Two films unearthed by the AT&T Archives show a world in "the 21st century", 2003 and 2005 to be exact. In the first film, entitled "First Born", a family awaits news of their new grandchild, which is born a bit premature. Technology shown in the video includes flat-panel screens, videoconferencing, online shopping, airline seat selection, speech recognition melded with email, and multimedia libraries. Take a look:

AT&T says the Bell System was developing videoconferencing since the first picture phone test in 1956. "But it took true computer integration to really reach the public, and Skype, the most popular videoconferencing software, and the one that had the broadest impact, starting making online video calls common starting in 2006. Live sonography streams were available as early as 2007 (and possibly earlier)."

While speech recognition technology has been around for a while (the grandfather sends an email with his voice, which you can do with Dragon Naturally Speaking), there is a Siri-like quality to the voice system as well, and we're not quite yet at the quality of the text-to-speech system shown in the film.

In the second film, we jump ahead to "2005" (the film was made in 1993, so we're still predicting 12 years into the future), and "Neighborhood" showed the growth of "ubiquitous computing interfaces," although it features voice and video provided by the phone company (I guess they didn't figure on cable companies driving broadband back in the early '90s).

While the film shows the use of GPS for navigation, everyone is taking public transportation (this is hilarious depending on which city you're currently living in, I suppose). They also failed to predict the decline of the "mom-and-pop drugstore", and the portable phones are a lot bigger than the smartphones we had, even back in 2005.

Still, these videos provide an interesting look at what the phone company thought back in 1991 and 1993 about what our future world could look like through the joys of telecommunications, and a lot of what was predicted did happen, and even surpassed some of those predictions.

Keith Shaw rounds up the best in geek video in his ITworld.tv blog. Follow Keith on Twitter at @shawkeith.

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