Crystal-ball gazing with Bill Gates

Love him or hate him, Microsoft's top executive saw many of his predictions come true, as evidenced by these choice quotes

Over his years at Microsoft, Bill Gates gave dozens upon dozens of speeches, and in many of them, he would offer his vision of the future. In recent years, his prognostications have stretched beyond IT to encompass the eradication of disease and inroads to remove people from poverty.

[ See related story: "The quotable Bill Gates" ]

He has been lately speaking a lot about how we will interact more with digital devices, with voice recognition and other technologies that will lead to pervasive computing and information always being available to us. Some of what he has said has been off, but much of his gazing into the future has been very close to what has transpired or spot on. Pulled from Microsoft's archives of his speeches, as well as IDG News Service archives and other resources available over the Internet, here are just some of the predictions he has made over the years:

-- "Certainly the Internet is going to have a huge range of devices connected to it. Telephones will be directly or indirectly connected to the Internet. There's two very important form factors that I think will be popular and yet require you to subset the PC. One of those is the handheld device where, because of the screen size, because of the cost requirements, because of the battery life, you want to scale down both the operating systems and the applications. And I think there's great progress being made there. We just introduced, on Sunday, our hand-held PC approach using Windows CE, and there's many vendors building those subset machines." Comdex, Nov. 19, 1996, Las Vegas.

-- "There are a lot of challenges with the Internet. You know, people can view this as a glass half full. And there's been so many wonderful things written about the Internet, there's no doubt we'll see articles that are kind of a backlash saying, well, is it really all that people said it would be? Well, in the next two or three years, there will still be shortcomings, but I think to really understand this thing, you have to think out 10 or 20 years when a broad set of people will see using the Internet to get information as part of their daily activity, and they'll expect everything they do, whether it's scheduling a doctor's appointment or negotiating a contract, or trying to decide on a purchase decision, they'll use the Internet as a tool for that." Comdex, 1996.

-- "In terms of crime on the Internet, the Internet will be no more lawless or less lawless -- I guess I should say lawful -- than any other domain. People who are criminals in real life will be criminals on the Internet. It requires the police to get a little more sophisticated. As the Internet moves to the mainstream, all those things will show up. It's just part of the maturation of the medium." Massachusetts Institute of Technology, May 30, 1996, Cambridge, Mass.

-- "I think PCs will get less expensive. They've got to get less expensive. They've got to get down to even $500 for all of this to be pervasive. Absolutely, that can be done. The market's always making a trade-off, when you have so much innovation, between using the innovation just to get a more powerful machine at the same price or the same machine you've had now at a lower price. And many people have offered inexpensive PCs. They haven't sold that well because the market to date has opted for more power at the same price." Harvard University, May 29, 1996, Cambridge, Mass.

-- "I doubt the print newspaper will look dramatically different 10 years from now than it does today. It will probably have more URLs. It will probably have more subscribers who are talking to you about what they want through electronic mail. You'll probably treasure the fact that you have the electronic mail addresses of a very high percentage of your subscribers, since most of them will be on electronic mail. I think you will have gotten to the point where your Internet revenues had better be funding more than just the Internet marginal costs. It had better be funding some part of the basic costs of the business as well, when you get to that point. But I don't think the print newspaper will be substantially different than it is today. Everything you create there you will be using in electronic form as well to make money." Newspaper Association of America, April 29, 1997, Chicago.

-- "Some time in the next 10 to 20 years, you'll actually be able to talk to your computer and have it understand what you're saying. So it won't just be the keyboard and the mouse." National Governors' Association, July 30, 1997, Las Vegas.

-- "Well, the future device you'll have in the living room, we'll probably still call it the TV, but it will be very different than what you have today. Today you receive broadcasts where you have to decide to watch them when they come on. In the future, because you'll have the Internet, you'll be able to go out and get video, and also because the cost of storage is so low, you'll be able to easily record things on a disk and go back and play them when you want. There will also be interactivity. If there's an ad that catches your interest, you can say, 'Hey, send me more information about that.' The ads will be more targeted, because the ability to insert ads for the right audiences will come really very inexpensively in this digital framework.

"So on your TV sets, the one in the living room that you sit far away from, you'll be able to play games, you'll be able to chat, and it will be connected up to the same network as the device in your den that you'll sit closer to. And so the technology between that TV and that PC will be very similar, even though there will be some differences in terms of the kind of screen and whether you have different peripherals; all the information common to both devices." -- Interview with David Frost, March 24, 1999.

-- "I'd say that the percentage of people operating in the Web workstyle or Web lifestyle is less than 10 percent, even in the United States. But it's my belief that this percentage will go up very, very dramatically. And over the next five years, the majority of people will engage in the Web workstyle and the Web lifestyle." Digital Nervous System - Enterprise Perspective, March 24, 1999, New York.

-- "There's nothing preordained that the computer has to be large in size. That's just an inconvenience. It's an artifact of the hardware. Eventually we'll characterize computers really by only two characteristics: the size of the screen and whether it's a portable device connected up through wireless networking or it's a connected device that gets the entire bandwidth you have by having a fixed connection. And so every size between something that just sends an image to your retina by being part of your glasses to something that is a wristwatch, or the pocket-sized device, all the way up to your entire desktop where you might have a screen that's 3 feet by 3 feet in size, every one of those will be a choice." MIT, April 13, 1999.

-- "There's no problem exactly like Y2K ahead of us. The way that the dates are being solved now, people will be able to go tens of thousands of years without a particular date milestone coming in as a computer problem. But there are other things like the virus problem that we need to get on top of in advance to minimize the disruption that those things cause." Statement before the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, June 15, 1999.

-- "When you have a document up on your screen, in fact, your computer will go to work very quickly looking at all the information in that document, trying to find related information that might be interesting to you. So if it sees the name of a person, you just click on that person to see all the data you have about them, or to be able to contact that person. If you see the name of a book that's in a document, all you have to do is click on it and it would offer a method of being able to go out and buy that. So, using that power, that local power of the PC to take the information that you're looking at and make all the different things you might want to do easy, that's how we're going to bring a huge benefit to the increasing process or speed that we have there.

"Also, the PC, although we don't think about it today having this, it will have a microphone and a camera as a standard thing. Instant messaging, which probably the people in this room don't use much, is an incredible phenomena amongst teenagers. The idea that you can just fire off a neat little message, see which of your friends are online, that kind of real-time communication actually will be valuable to all age groups, and even in business settings." Microsoft CEO Summit, May 24, 2000, Redmond, Wash.

-- "By the end of the decade, most developed countries will have the majority of households connected up through broadband, and the number of services that will come along on top of broadband I think will surprise all of us." ITU Telecom World 2003, Oct. 13, 2003, Geneva, Switzerland.

-- "Even the mobile phone itself will have this ability to project onto a large surface area. So if you want to read lots of information, yes, the mobile phone can connect through Bluetooth, or some other means, to another computing device, but it can also simply have projection capability, these laser displays, and some of these different ways the screen hardware works, it not just going to bring us high resolution, it's going to bring us screens that are on all the walls, the ceilings, different places. So when a kid thinks about their bedroom, it will be customized the way they want it, until the parent walks in, when immediately it will be customized a different way, so that everybody stays happy." University of Washington, April 25, 2008, Seattle.

-- "Over time, the PC won't look anything like it looks today. The size will simply be the screen, the tablet-sized screen that you can either connect to a wire, or carry around in a wireless fashion. We're going to have a lot more simplicity. All these error messages that are so cryptic and kind of leave you dangling, those have got to go away. You know, why shouldn't the machine be able to self-maintain. If you're going to get an error, why not have all the software connected through the Internet look and see what's wrong. And, if necessary, a human is contacted and can look at your screen and help you out. And so, you can virtually guarantee satisfaction because you're always going to be connected up with the expertise, both the software expertise and human expertise. In fact, you'll be able to backup all your information. So, if your PC fails, you'll never lose anything, or if you go somewhere else, that information will be out there on the Internet. Any device we have to connect up, identify yourself, and that will be available to you." Windows 98 launch, June 25, 1998, San Francisco.

-- "My daughter doesn't know what a record is. I keep meaning to go find one and show her, but they're hard to find nowadays. Soon enough things like the phone book or a print-based encyclopedia will be equally antiquated." -- Stanford University, Feb. 19, 2008, Palo Alto, Calif.

-- "Spam will be a thing of the past in two years' time." World Economic Forum, January 2004, Davos, Switzerland.

-- "So I think this next decade is the big one. This is the decade where your involvement with computing will be very pervasive -- from reading to meetings, in every way." Microsoft CEO Summit, May 23, 2001.

-- "I don't see a time in the future where I won't be the chairman of the company. I want to have that association my entire life." News conference announcing plans for full-time philanthropy work and part-time Microsoft work, June 15, 2006, Redmond, Wash.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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