Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates spends a lot less time in the limelight now since he’s been retired from the tech giant, but some predictions he made in the book he wrote in 1999 are drawing quite a bit of attention now. Clearly, the technology genius has turned out to be even more of a visionary than anyone could have realized decades ago. Business student Markus Kirjonen pointed out on his blog that Bill Gates’ predictions turned out to be eerily accurate, although many of these ideas probably seemed totally off the wall at the time.
However, when you stop to really think about what was possible in 1999, even though the average consumer might not have known about it, it’s easy to see how his thought processes traveled.
Warren Buffett: If You Own A Good Business, Keep It
Bill Gates’ predictions about the Internet in Business @ the Speed of Thought
The first thing we see when looking at Bill Gates’ predictions is a lot of websites, which probably wasn’t much of a stretch for someone like him. Early government efforts at building an Internet in the U.S. date back to at least the 1960s when ARPANET had its beginnings, so someone like Gates would have been very aware of that work and thus have an understanding of what would be possible one day.
Here are Bill Gates’ predictions about websites:
- Websites for comparison shopping – He predicted “automated price comparison services” that will show users “prices across multiple websites, making it effortless to find the cheapest product for all industries.”
Today there’s a long list of websites that are used for comparison shopping. Travelocity and Priceline immediately come to mind, although there are many sites for comparison shopping across nearly every industry. Even Google can be used to comparison shop easily by simply typing in a product name and getting a list of sites that sell it.
- Live sports discussions – He predicted that during games and other types of sports competitions, there would be services enabling users “to discuss what is going on live, and enter a contest where you vote on who you think will win.”
Some of the early efforts in terms of online contests were run by local TV stations, where they have easy access to people who are watching sports programming on their channels. Social media now makes it very easy, and this area is Twitter’s to lose. The micro-blogging site has done some things to grasp hold of its lead in this area, although it is in danger of losing it to stronger rivals like Facebook. ESPN and other sports sites also allow users to comment on games in real time.
- Web links on TV – Gates predicted TV broadcasts containing “links to relevant websites and content that complement what you are watching”
You can’t watch TV anymore without being told to visit various websites, whether it’s during commercials or during various types of programming.
- Online discussion boards – Bill Gates’ predictions included sites offering “internet-based discussions” about issues affecting residents of a particular area, including topics such as politics, safety or city planning.
Social media easily fills this role, as you don’t have to look very far through your Facebook or Twitter feed to see active discussions going on. You can also comment on the articles you read on most websites.
- Websites based around interests – He predicted “online communities” that are centered around interest rather than location.
It’s become easier than ever before to find others who have the same interests as you or are dealing with the same types of problems as you.
- Online job searches – He said that anyone who’s looking for a job could “find employment opportunities online by declaring their interest, needs, and specialized skills.”
LinkedIn comes to mind immediately, but there are also other sites like Monster that are all about job listings without the social media aspect.
- The gig economy – He predicted online bid systems for everything from construction projects to ad campaigns.
Examples of this include Elance, which is now Upwork. Contractors can bid on a wide variety of projects, and those who are looking for a contract can post their projects to collect bids from people all over the world.
- Social media – Speaking of social media, Gates predicted “private websites for your friends and family.”
Facebook now has nearly 2 billion users, demonstrating just how widespread social media has become. MySpace and others existed before Facebook, but they failed to adapt when competition arrived on the scene. And now social media has grown into messaging apps and photo-sharing sites like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and many others.
- Digital payments, robo-advisors and online healthcare – He predicted online bill pay, online healthcare and that people would “take care of their finances” over the Internet.
PayPal, online banking, crypto-currencies, and bill pay, and online trading and financial advice like robo-advisors all fulfill this prediction. Online health care is still in its infancy, but many doctors’ offices do allow patients to email their doctors or request an appointment online. In some cases, it’s even possible to have a doctor’s appointment online, with many health plans pushing for patients to use online doctors more often.
- Smart advertising – Gates specifically used this phrase “smart advertising” and described it as advertisers knowing users’ “purchasing trends” and then showing ads tailored to their preferences.
Online advertising has gotten so smart that privacy watchdog groups have called attention to it, resulting in more controls on Facebook, Google and other popular sites to enable users to decide how much of their information is shared with advertisers. Such sites use clicks, webs searches, purchase history and interests when selecting ads to display to users.
Bill Gates’ predictions about software
Although Bill Gates’ predictions about websites and online services were probably not much of a stretch for him, given what he knew about the Internet already in 1999, they clearly show how much thought he gave to future possibilities. Another area of expertise for him was software, of course, so perhaps what is more of a surprise is that more of his predictions weren’t about software. But then again, perhaps he knew that one day, Microsoft would have to transform from a software business model into one focused on Internet services.
- Personalized promotions delivered automatically – He predicted “software that knows when you’ve booked a trip and uses that information to suggest activities.”
Expedia and other travel websites offer deals based on where the user has traveled before, while Ticketmaster and similar sites offer tickets to shows like those the user has been to previously. This is one area that’s still developing.
- Cloud-based project management – Gates said there would be online project management solutions for managers who need to put together a team to complete it.
Microsoft Azure is one of a host of online and cloud-based project management tools that enable teams to work together on a project.
Bill Gates’ predictions about other technology
- Proliferation of mobile devices – He said that people would “carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are.”
Given that the first mobile phone call was made in 1973, and then cell phones entered the general population in the 1980s, part of this prediction was already coming true in 1999 when Bill Gates’ predictions were released. The idea of “electronic business” may have sounded strange in those days. The first BlackBerry device was released in 1999, however, which may have provided some clues.
- Digital assistants – Gates called them “personal companions” and said they would “connect and sync all your devices in a smart way.”
This prediction has Siri, Google Now and Amazon Alexa written all over it, and these digital assistants are only going to grow in their capabilities.
- Smart home devices – He predicted the Internet of Things, an entire world of smart devices that are all connected via the Internet, and constant home monitoring online.
The Nest thermostat can automatically adjust the temperature inside your home, and a host of products can automatically adjust things in your home, like the Koogeek Smart Socket. There are also many products that offer online monitoring for your home. Indeed, nearly everything can be connected to the Internet these days, and Apple is even getting in on the action here with its HomeKit SDK for iOS.