Crystal balls all round

It's that time of year again when all good journos trot out their predictions for the next 12 months. This is by no means confined to the IT press - it's also the time of the year when we get to hear which Hollywood starlet will get married to/divorced from/have a baby with which rock star, and which member of the British royal family will get married to/divorced from/have a baby with which member of the British royal family.

The great advantage of making IT predictions is that because of the rapid innovation of technology, you are very unlikely to over-step the mark with your crystal-ball gazing and therefore end up looking like a goose. We'll leave that predilection to someone like John Mauldin, who wrote in his 1999 potboiler How to Profit From the Y2K Recession...By Converting the Year 2000 Crisis into an Opportunity for Your Investments and Business that "[Y2K will be] the cause of the mother of all traffic jams on the information highway".

Of course, anyone can take a swig of pseudo-authority juice and start spouting how Internet banking will take off (that makes sense), how B2B will soar as the logical outworking of e-commerce technology (also makes sense), and how WAP will blow up on the launch pad (hasn't it already?).

But it's the wacky, miles-left-of-centre predictions that are the fun ones - the IT equivalent of Kylie Minogue mating with aliens or Prince Charles marrying himself.

Nicholas Negroponte is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a man never short of a hunch. Reuters reported that Negroponte, speaking at the International Advertising Association World Congress 2000 in London, disagreed with all predictions that the United States will dominate world e-commerce by 2003.

"Latin America will be huge," he said "because it has a very young population, cash-based underground economies, and a healthy disrespect for authority."

Those perennial miniaturisers in Japan are betting that you won't mind answering the phone of the future by sticking your finger in your ear. Masaaki Fukomoto, a research engineer at NTT DoCoMo, has invented the Whisper phone, which is essentially a high-tech wristband. When the wristband vibrates, you tap your thumb and index finger together to take the call. While speaking into the wristband's microphone, you place your finger in your ear - the caller's voice is converted in the wristband into vibrations that travel up your arm, along your finger and into that other wonderful invention, the ear (check out December 2000 Bytesback).

The folk at Red Herring ( have made some safe calls for our technology future, such as a rise in distributed computing, but have also predicted that the current free-for-all that is the Internet will come under governmental control.

"In 2001, the Internet will fall under the yoke of intergovernmental accords and de facto international treaties covering the gamut from overseeing domain names to collecting e-commerce taxation revenue," according to Red Herring.

"The days of the freewheeling Internet are ending - on a global scale. New foreign policy challenges and a redefinition of national security and national self-interest will result."

For anyone else considering a career in IT premonitions, here is some advice from self-proclaimed Post-Tentative Virtual-Surrealist, Jonar C. Nader. In Prentice Hall's Illustrated Dictionary of Computing, Nader provides a checklist for those wanting to track the ever-approaching next generation of technology.

"Have people stopped talking about computing in the same way that they have stopped talking about street lighting?" he asks, and "Have concert halls given way to home-holography virtual-reality cyber-interactive polymedia centres?" No, on both counts, it would seem.

But the last word must go to the number one name in technology predictions, Nostradamus. Apparently at some stage Nostradamus penned the following:

"Those assembled through the calm of the great number/ counter-manded by land and sea/ Near Autonne Gennes, the shadow of Nice/ Revolution against the leader through fields and towns."

"The calm of the great number," according to one loopy Net denizen, "refers to the code that constructs the Internet" and "Autonne" is Nostradamus's name for the computer.

"I look at any of my computers, Mac or PC, they can be named 'Autonne'. 'Près de l' Autonne Gennes', the people in your home computer room, the light of the computer screen casting shadows."

Whoooooo. The men in white coats have been called.

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