Gaze of future passed: product predictions for 2006 made in 1996

In January 1996, technology-oriented think tank Battelle Memorial Institute published their predictions of the ten most innovative products of 2006."The next ten years will bring us some amazing products that will change our lives forever," says Battelle Technology Intelligence Program Manager Stephen M.
Written by Russell Shaw, Contributor
In January 1996, technology-oriented think tank Battelle Memorial Institute published their predictions of the ten most innovative products of 2006.

"The next ten years will bring us some amazing products that will change our lives forever," says Battelle Technology Intelligence Program Manager Stephen M. Millett said back then. "Generally, many of these new products will personalize technology and bring all of us much closer to the information and services we need from day to day."

Well, here we are in 2006, and with five weeks to go at that. So let us look at each predicution and see how close we've come.

Prediction: Genetaceuticals: Genetics-based medical treatments will cure or mitigate the effects of various human diseases and disorders, including pharmaceutical treatments for osteoporosis, MS, cystic fibrosis, Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), and Alzheimer's.

Reality: We know we want to do this, and we even have a clue how, but we are not there yet. Plus, it would be more helpful to have a federal government that was enthusiastic about funding stem cell research from which some treatments for these diseases might be developed.

Personalized computers: Your personal computer at home and in your office will be replaced by a very powerful "personalized" computer. It will recognize your voice and follow your voice commands, and it will include a variety of security and service tools to personalize the computer for its individual owner.

"When you turn on your personalized computer," Millett says, "it might automatically show you highlights from your favorite baseball team's game from the night before, show the current stock report on your own portfolio, and ask you if you'd like to order milk or eggs because you haven't bought any in the past week. Then it could go out and do that shopping for you, finding the best prices at all the local grocery stores." The personalized computer will be as mobile and versatile as its user, sending and receiving wireless data and accessing information from remote sites.

Reality: What Millett is really talking about is full voice-command and recognition for PCs Again, we know how to do this but it has yet to reach the consumer market. But as to wireless applications that Millett deescribes, we're a little closer to that.

Multi-Fuel automobiles: To obtain maximum efficiency and meet stringent environmental standards, vehicles will use combinations of various fuels, such as reformulated gasoline, electricity, and natural gas. Vehicles may carry more than one fuel type, with an on-board computer that will conduct on-going analyses of travel conditions to calculate fuel mixtures for maximum fuel efficiency and performance.

Reality: Hybrid autos are a start, but I don't think we're quite there in terms of fuel mixture calculations on the fly (or more properly put, on the road.

Next generation TV: In 10 years, our television set will be large and flat and will hang on the wall much like a large painting. It will be a digital, high definition model with clarity approaching that of a movie screen. This TV will be much more than just an entertainment device - it will also be used as a computer monitor capable of networking with other computers as an interactive, videoconferencing device.

Reality: Although most of us don't hang our tv set on the wall just yet, digital high-def via flat panel displays? We're there, dude. 

CyberCash: Pockets will rarely jingle in 10 years as credit-card-sized smart cards begin to replace cash, as well as house and car keys.

Reality: Read that prediction closely. This is a contradiction in terms. If smart cards are only "begin"-ning to replace cash, wouldn't pocket's still jingle more than regularly? I don't know abut you but most house/car keys are still in the traditional form factor, and most vending machines still want your cash. But to be fair, hotel room keys are mostly "smart" these days.

Home health monitors: These devices will be simple-to-use, non-invasive, and relatively inexpensive for use in monitoring health conditions at home. Many physical functions - liver functions, ovulation, levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, sugar, hormones, water, salt, and potassium - may be monitored as easily as weight is now tracked by bathroom scales. "The graying of our population and the increasing costs of medical care will make these products extremely popular," Millett says.

Reality: This is a component of my ZDNet blogger colleague Dana Blankenhorn's "World Of Always-On. We should be further along, but we may need to overcome privacy concerns to give this vision excellent market traction.

Smart maps and tracking devices: Getting "there" will be decidedly easier with the widespread use of global positioning systems - "smart" maps that will show travelers, boaters, and hikers their exact position and direction. "Ultimately, the devices will be modified for use in cars and trucks to detect other objects and avoid collisions," Millett says. Global positioning systems also will be used to help prevent crime by tracking the exact location of cars and other valuables. People also will be able to track the exact location of their children and even their pets.

Reality:Pretty spot-on. As close to fruition as any of these predictions.

Smart materials: New materials for construction and other uses will be able to give off warnings when they detect excessive stress. For instance, materials in bridges or office buildings could change color before conditions become unsafe. Automobile parts could give a similar warning when approaching the point of breakdown.

Reality: I don't follow this field all that closely but it seems to me that especially when it comes to automobile parts, a demand for such technologies surely exists.

Weight-control and anti-aging products: Though no fountain of youth is on the horizon, new products will make aging a little less traumatic. These new developments may include weight-control drugs that use the body's natural weight-control mechanisims, wrinkle creams that actually work, foods with enhanced nutrients, and an effective cure for baldness.

Reality:We're certainly doing well in the enhanced nutrients department, but all's I know is I am still seeing lots of comb-overs. And notice that he said "cure" for baldness, not "treatment" for baldness. But then again, my philosophy is that it doesn't matter so much what's on top of your head as what's inside

And finally:

Never-owned products: Major household appliances, such as furnaces, air conditioners, washers, dryers, and water heaters will be leased instead of purchased. "People will buy the functionality without buying the item," Millett said. "Manufacturers or distributors will retain ownership and responsibility for eventual disposal and recycling."

Reality: Sorry. Almost totally off the mark. Manufacturers and idstributors may indeed be retaining ownership, but that's far more due to the continued presence of those "No Credit Check" Rent-To-Own places than any revolutionary new business model.



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