30 May 2018

pita pocket - tech predictions - discussed by Lawrence Jones MBE

Image: Esther Schindler (@estherschindler)

Who knows what’s around the corner or over the next hill?

We often joke that it would be useful to have a crystal ball, to know what lies ahead – particularly in business and in such fast-paced industries as tech and digital.

Well, believe it or not, some people have made some extraordinarily accurate predictions over the years, none so much as Star Trek writer David Gerrold.

Whilst science fiction may seem a little far-fetched there may be more unintentional fact in there than we realised at the time. The genre makes assumptions about the future by its very nature and it’s interesting to see how that translates into the real world.

A friend sent me a screenshot recently of an image that has gone viral across social media. The image shows a magazine column from 1999 by the sci-fi writer, Gerrold. Rather than aliens and spaceships, he predicts exactly what we now know to be a smartphone.

He describes a phone combined with “a pocket organiser, a beeper, a calculator, a digital camera, a pocket tape recorder, a music player” as well as a colour television, which fits in a box smaller than a deck of cards.

Whilst there were some early-days smartphones and PDAs on the market at this time – including a HP-Nokia hybrid among others. Of course, these had nowhere near the capacity that Gerrold ultimately predicts.

Privacy predictions

Most interestingly is that he foresees the chaos the device would cause. He speculates on the very problems we’re experiencing today, saying: “I call this device a Personal Information Telecommunications Agent, or Pita for short,” he wrote. “The acronym also can stand for Pain in the A**, which it is equally likely to be, because having all that connectivity is going to destroy what’s left of everyone’s privacy.”

There’s no denying the accuracy of this statement when you look at the furore around privacy throughout 2018 so far. With Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal and the ongoing General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) changes to marketing and business. It really is quite remarkable.

Of course, it’s not the first time an uncanny prediction has been made. Nikola Tesla predicted wireless communication in 1926. In 1987, American film critic Roger Ebert predicted services like Netflix. And, of course, the famous German octopus, Paul, who predicted the outcome of each of Germany’s World Cup football matches in 2010!

Now Gerrold is predicting the future of robotics. He forsees in-home assistants capable of multiple tasks including being a “toddler’s first friend” and helping them to develop better social skills. It’s certainly an interesting read and time will tell how accurate these predictions are.

What do you think?

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