In 1999, Bill Gates made 15 predictions about what the internet was going to function like in the not-so-distant future. His forecasts for what the internet would turn out to be was basically a foreign language to most people in the 90s.
The crazy part about the predictions that he made that year is that most of them ended up coming true. In fact, almost all of them are accurate and show that Bill knew almost exactly what the internet would turn into.
"'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."
You're starting to see this come to light recently at a mass scale with technological assistants like Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant. You can ask for your information out loud. Smart devices like Nest collect data on your daily routines and automatically adjust your house's temperature.
Social Media Platforms
"Private websites for your friends and family will be common, allowing you to chat and plan for events."
While it isn't entirely true that "private websites" made specifically for your friends came about, he did predict the idea of having websites specifically for you and your friends to socialize. From Facebook to Instagram to Slack, there are plenty of options for chatting and planning events with your friends or people close to you.
Online Travel Agents
"Software that knows when you've booked a trip and uses that information to suggest activities at the local destination. It suggests activities, discounts, offers, and cheaper prices for all the things that you want to take part in."
This idea of travel companies collecting your past information and preferences and using that data to better provide for your next experience is very common. Companies like Expedia offer targeted ads to previous travelers on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Security Cameras Online
"Constant video feeds of your house will become common, which inform you when somebody visits while you are not home."
It's one thing to have a security camera, but it's another thing to have that security camera live-stream to your phone or laptop online. This is becoming increasingly common. Many companies, like Google and Nest, let you view your camera feed from your phone and it will send a push alert when someone is in view.
"While watching a sports competition on television, services will allow you to discuss what is going on live, and enter a contest where you vote on who you think will win."
If you're not a sports fan and want to know what sports fan are talking about in real time, just head on over to Twitter. People "live tweet" all kinds of sports games while they're happening. You can now vote on Twitter polls deciding who you think is going to win the game.
"People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from where 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."
Again, this was a big deal when he said this was going to happen with technology. From smartphones, smartwatches, headsets etc. we see this certainly came through.
An Internet-TV Relationship
"Television broadcast will include links to relevant websites and content that complement what you are watching."
If you've watched TV in the past decade, you're aware that every commercial has links to websites and phone numbers. In fact, it's incredibly rare to even see a broadcast of ANYTHING that doesn't also link to somewhere on the internet. Many businesses no longer just link websites, but they also ask the viewer to visit their social media page as well.
Price Comparison Sites
"Automated price comparison services will be developed, allowing people to see prices across multiple websites, making it effortless to find the cheapest product for all industries."
Now, you can easily search for products on Google or Amazon and get different prices. Bill Gates' own Bing Shopping is built specifically to compare prices. This seems so elementary now, but back before the internet was, well, the internet, this was a huge deal.
Financing And Healthcare Online
"People will pay their bills, take care of their finances, and communicate with their doctors over the internet."
I mean, if you've ever "googled" your medical symptoms you know that it's not always the best idea. Your simple cough turns into lung cancer, but there are online doctors that you can talk to. You can also now borrow money online through sites like Lending Club, and make payments through apps like PayPal and Venmo.
Business Community Software
"Companies will be able to bid on jobs, whether they are looking for a construction project, a movie production, or an advertising campaign."
This is becoming an important thing for businesses in the digital world. Big and small companies use pages like Craigslist to connect with other businesses in order to collaborate. This is also seen on social media platforms like LinkedIn which has the sole purpose of creating a social network for employers and employees.
"Similarly, people looking for work will be able to find employment opportunities online by declaring their interest, needs, and specialized skills."
Gates actually made a more pointed prediction about sites like LinkedIn. They allow recruiters to find specific candidates for jobs that have the exact requirements. It also allows people who are looking for employment opportunities to easily search for exactly the type of job they're looking for. It beats going into places and dropping off resumés.
Project Management Done Online
"Project managers looking to put a team together will be able to go online, describe the project, and receive recommendations for available people who would fit their requirements."
Can you imagine going into work and not having a management system? How did companies do it before? There are tons of workflow software programs available now. Many of them allow you to recruit effectively, form teams, and assign work to others.
Online Discussion About Various Topics
"Residents of cities and countries will be able to have internet-based discussions concerning issues that affect them, such as local politics, city planning, or safety."
It's commonplace to see every news site and social media platform have some sort of "comment section" where their users can converse with each other. Many sites have forums where people can respond and reply to certain questions or comments, and countries like Libya and Egypt have had full political revolutions started on the internet.
"Devices will have smart advertising. They will know your purchasing trends, and will display advertisements that are tailored toward your preferences."
This is incredibly common, and slightly annoying. If you log onto Facebook, you'll see targeted advertisements directed specifically toward what you've purchased in the past. Ads are based on click history, interests, and purchasing patterns. While it is convenient at points, it can be annoying if you see ads for backpacks for a month straight because you looked at a backpack once.
"Online communities will not be influenced by your location, but rather, your interest."
This is something that we see a lot of today. One of the biggest examples of this is the website Reddit. The site is split up into "subreddits" which are pages that focus in on a specific topic that users can talk to each other about. Also, many news sites have expanded to include separate verticals that share information about specific topics.
Digital Assistants Are Coming
"The most amazing thing will be when computers can read and understand the text as humans do. Today, computers can do simple things like search for specific words but concepts like vacation or career or family are not understood."
He has some pretty interesting predictions for the future as we know it today, as well. He says that many companies like Microsoft and Google are trying to create digital assistants that can better understand our needs on a more "human level."
Slightly More Depressing And Not Technology Related At All
"Epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year."
I know, this has nothing to do with technology, but it's one of the most interesting predictions he's made for the future. He thinks that 30 million people could be wiped out within the next 15 years. This could be due to a mutation, accident, or a terrorist intent. Let's not forget, in 1918 the Spanish Flu wiped out over 50 million people.
Africa Will Be Entirely Self-Sufficient
"In the next 15 years, however, innovations in farming will erase these brutal ironies. The world has already developed better fertilizer and crops that are more productive, nutritious, and drought-and-disease-resistant; with access to these technologies, African farmers could theoretically double their yield."
Gates says that the entire continent of Africa will increase its productivity by 50% by 2030, making it completely self-sufficient. The continent currently imports $50 billion worth of food every year.
Steve Jobs Also Had Some Remarkable Predictions
Bill Gates wasn't the only one who had some very slick predictions about the internet and computers in general. Former Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs had some forward-thinking ideas about what the future held for technology.
It's incredible to read these quotes from both Steve and Bill back in the 90s and the 80s when the internet was basically non-existent in the lives of almost everyone and seemed like a distant dream.
Computers Will Have A Mouse
"If I want to tell you there is a spot on your shirt, I'm not going to do it linguistically — 'There's a spot on your shirt 14 centimeters down from the collar and three centimeters to the left of your button. If you have a spot, I'll point to it. It's a metaphor we all know."
Almost every computer and device we see now has some sort of mouse connected to it in some way. But, that wasn't the case before Apple launched the Lisa and the Macintosh.
Computers Will Interact With Each Other
"The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network."
He made that prediction in 1985, which was four years ahead of a system that we know well called The World Wide Web. The creation of long-distance communication networks, at the time, hadn't been widely known (only with the ARPANET in the military). Now, everything from vacuums to light switches are connected to the internet.
Computers Will Be Used At Home For Fun
"The primary reason to buy a computer for your home right now is that you want to do some business work at home or you want to run educational programs for yourself or your children. This will change, computers will be essential in most homes."
He said this quote in the mid-80s when only 8% of households in the U.S owned a computer. By 2000, 51% of households owned one and by 2015 the number is nearly 80%.
The Tesla Style Dealerships
"Take auto dealerships. So much money is spent on inventory. Inventory is not a good thing. It ties up a ton of cash and it's open to vandalism, it becomes obsolete. Wouldn't it be nice to get rid of all that inventory? Just have one white car to drive and maybe a laserdisc so you can look at other colors. Then you order your car and get it in a week."
This is exactly how Tesla operates (minus the Laserdisc). They barely have any cars on-lot. You look at sample cars and order for later delivery.
"The third thing is commerce, which is even harder than complex publishing because you have to tie the Web into your order-management system, your collection system, things like that. I think we're still two years away. But that's also going to be huge."
So much of our shopping is done online now. Jobs mentioned that if e-commerce reaches 10% of total goods and services, it would be revolutionary. We're pretty close to that percentage right now with Amazon.
He Warned Business To Get On The Web
"The Web is just going to be one more of those major change factors that businesses face every decade. This decade, in the next 10 years, it's going to be the Web. It's going to be one of them."
If you're a business and you're not on social media or even have a website, you're probably non-existent. You HAVE to be keeping up with technology and the digital world. I feel like record stores and bookstores could teach you some lessons.
You'll Bypass The Middleman
"The best way to think of the Web is as a consumer distribution channel, whether it's for information or commerce. It bypasses all middlemen. And, it turns out, there are a lot of middlepersons in this society. And they generally tend to slow things down, muck things up, and make things more expensive. The elimination of them is going to be profound."
There's probably no better example of this than the Casper mattress company that sends their product to you directly without anyone in between.
He Predicted The Cloud, Then Created It
"The minute that I don't have to manage my own storage, and the minute that I live primarily in a connected versus a stand-alone world, there are new options for metaphors."
The idea of a "cloud" seemed abstract and confusing back in the 90s when Jobs mentioned it. But, now it's almost a "duh" sentence to say when talking about technology. Not only did he say it was going to happen, he made it happen.
Desktops Would Disappear
"The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That's over. Apple lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it's going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly the rest of this decade."
Now, this is a later prediction in the mid-2000s, but it's still very interesting. He was absolutely right. Everything is mobile now. The industry is dominated by laptops, cellphones, and touch screens.
He Did Get One Prediction VERY Wrong, Though
"In terms of supplying the computer itself, it's coming down to Apple and IBM. I don't think there are going to be a lot of third and fourth-place companies, much less sixth or seventh-place companies. Most of the innovative companies are focusing on software. I think there will be lots of innovation in software but not hardware."
This is the exact opposite. For many years Microsoft owned the software industry and basically held a monopoly. But, companies like Dell, Samsung, HP and Acer all fought it out in the hardware sector.
And, Another One
"The Web is going to be very important. Is it going to be a life-changing event for millions of people? No. I mean, maybe. But it's not an assured "Yes" at this point. And it'll probably creep up on people."
He was right about the fact that the internet was going to creep up on people. But, he was wrong in saying that it wasn't going to change millions of lives. Not only did it change lives, it shifted how the entire human race operates on a daily basis.