Ten tech futurism videos worth watching

I recently completed a major research project for consulting client. As part of the work I had to collate hundreds of references on the tech industry zeitgeist. These included some fascinating futuristic videos from the past and present.

Here are my favourite “then and now” clips (with length). If you only watch one, make it this one, as it’s the most fun

Predictions from the past

Flashback: What we said about mobile phones in 1983 (2:16, after 30 second ad)
What? CBS News explains the benefits (and limits) of newfangled and pricey cellular phones to the general public.
So what? Bang-on in its predictions, so good futurism is possible! “We’re already a mobile society, and this will make us moreso.” – 30 years on, we’re still on an incredible trajectory of miniaturisation and lower cost. Where will it take us?

Apple Knowledge Navigator Video (1987) (5:45)
What? A very early vision of voice plus visual navigation of cyberspace. Predates the Web.
So what? Apple is still executing this humanised aesthetic vision of tech, and it’s very profitable indeed.

Microsoft Smart Home (6:04)
What? A 1999 video on a sensor and AI-filled home and tech-mad family.
So what? It all seems rather mundane compared to what we can do today. Who thought women doing digital shopping lists was the future of retail? Wrong vision, and wrong execution too, as smartphones were not “pocket PCs”. These framing issues stymied Microsoft’s success. (Is Apple repeating the UX downsizing error with their Watch?)

What lies ahead

The Beaming Project (1:21)
What? Telepresence avatars that can perform real-time inter-cultural gesture translation.
So what? The future is not video conference calls, but computer-amplified interactions. The machines become “superconductors for our minds”. (To learn more see Being in Augmented Multi-Modal Naturally-Networked Gatherings.)

Smartwatches could be a perfect home for augmented reality (1:27)
What? A watch that collaborates with your phone to nag you about your diet and nudge your interior design choices.
So what? We know that the key wearable value propositions are “wellbeing” and “convenience”. But oh, how we are struggling to turn those values into plausible use cases.

GE: The boy who beeps (2:01)
What? Madison Avenue’s take on the sensor and AI world on behalf of corporate America.
So what? It’s actually a really good one. That said, it notably celebrates the empowered individual over the collective good. What are the implicit values of your tech vision?

The LSD-Inspired, Oculus Rift Game ‘SoundSelf’ (3:26)
What? We plug our minds straight into the machines, with bio-feedback. Weird stuff then happens (“a meditative trance experience”).
So what? Computers are psychedelics, as they involve the manifestation of inner thought of others’ minds. This video hints at the engineering of “feeling states” and perception. (See also From Psychedelics to Cyberdelics by Jason Silva.)

Watch Old People Freak Out Trying Oculus Rift For the First Time (8:00)
What? Does exactly what it says on the tin.
So what? This video is really, really funny in places. I am conscious of becoming “digitally old”, despite immersion in computers from the 8-bit era on. I feel both excited and threatened by the leap to immersive VR and wearable tech. How do you feel?

Self-Driving Car Test: Steve Mahan (3:01)
What? A Google car drives around under control of a blind man.
So what? It’s easy to fall for the “end of history illusion” and fail to see radical leaps of technical capability ahead. Tech has the potential to be both liberating and empowering. When compared to superheroes, we are all disabled all of the time!

The Visual Microphone: Passive Recovery of Sound from Video (4:31)
What? High-speed cameras watch subtle vibrations of objects and re-construct audio.
So what? Sensors have opened up a Pandora’s Box of privacy and security problems.


Introducing Human Technology: Communications 2025 (2:22)
What? Our own effort from the Hypervoice Consortium to predict what happens when voice meets wearables, AI and sensors.
So what? Notice how the focus of value creation moves from engineering “logical” outcomes (like the Microsoft Home) to emotional and ethical ones.

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