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Futurology in the '90s

1990s 90s computers tech internet futurology AI sci-fi cyberpunk social life

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#1
Yuli Ban

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Let's talk about the '90s. No, no, put away those pogs and Pearl Jam albums. I'm focusing on futurology, sci-tech, futurism, and sci-fi from the '90s. Basically discussing what I'd be spamming on the threadbare FTL forums back in the day. Back when the world wide web itself was a futuristic invention.

Before smartphones became ubiquitous, before 3D graphics were the norm, before AI started trumping humans at everything we're good at, before autonomous vehicles entered the mainstream, before ASIMO became the face of robotics, before all that fun stuff.

 

Back then, the year '2016' was only ever muttered in sci-fi stories.

 

PCs cost several thousand dollars for just a couple megabytes of RAM while all the nerds were geeking out over this tight new tech toy called "Internet".

The '90s are back!

 

And it's shit!
 

Survey: More homes have computers

October 12, 1996
Web posted at: 6:45 p.m. EDT

The number of computer owners in the United States has more than tripled since 1982, with nearly half the country now owning a PC. But a third of the public never uses computers and has no plans to purchase one within the next five years, according to a recent survey.
 
 
The study found that 42 percent of Americans own a PC, and another 28 percent said they would most likely buy one within five years. Just over half of all households with children under 18 have computers. In 1982, only 13 percent of Americans owned one.
 
But while more and more Americans are putting computers in their homes, 31 percent of those polled said they were unlikely to purchase a PC within the next five years and 34 percent said they never even use one.
 
The survey of 750 adults was conducted September 19-22 by Yankelovich Partners Inc. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percent. Results based on subgroups have a larger margin of error.

Among computer users, eight out of 10 said they use their electronic think-boxes for word processing, and seven out of 10 play games on their PCs. More than half of those polled use their PC to do schoolwork or office work at home, and nearly 50 percent use their computers daily.
 
But only 34 percent use their computers to get on the Internet, with men surfing the Net nearly twice as much as women. A striking difference among Net surfers also exists between baby boomers and generation Xers. A majority of computer owners under the age of 30 are wired, while only 28 percent of computer owners ages 30 to 49 use the Internet.
Speaking of the Net, more than half of those polled said a married person who trades sexually oriented messages over the Internet is committing adultery. Sixty-one percent of women polled said it's the same as being unfaithful to a spouse; 49 percent of men agreed.
 
Meanwhile, a majority of people who don't own a computer said they simply don't want one, while another third said computers cost too much.
 
But those who own a computer swear by them. Thirty percent said their lives are much better because of their PCs, and another 57 percent said their lives are somewhat better.


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#2
Yuli Ban

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#3
Yuli Ban

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The Long Boom:  A History of the Future, 1980 – 2020

We're facing 25 years of prosperity, freedom, and a better environment for the whole world. You got a problem with that?
A bad meme – a contagious idea – began spreading through the United States in the 1980s: America is in decline, the world is going to hell, and our children's lives will be worse than our own. The particulars are now familiar: Good jobs are disappearing, working people are falling into poverty, the underclass is swelling, crime is out of control. The post-Cold War world is fragmenting, and conflicts are erupting all over the planet. The environment is imploding – with global warming and ozone depletion, we'll all either die of cancer or live in Waterworld. As for our kids, the collapsing educational system is producing either gun-toting gangsters or burger-flipping dopes who can't read.
By the late 1990s, another meme began to gain ground. Borne of the surging stock market and an economy that won't die down, this one is more positive: America is finally getting its economic act together, the world is not such a dangerous place after all, and our kids just might lead tolerable lives. Yet the good times will come only to a privileged few, no more than a fortunate fifth of our society. The vast majority in the United States and the world face a dire future of increasingly desperate poverty. And the environment? It's a lost cause.
But there's a new, very different meme, a radically optimistic meme: We are watching the beginnings of a global economic boom on a scale never experienced before. We have entered a period of sustained growth that could eventually double the world's economy every dozen years and bring increasing prosperity for – quite literally – billions of people on the planet. We are riding the early waves of a 25-year run of a greatly expanding economy that will do much to solve seemingly intractable problems like poverty and to ease tensions throughout the world. And we'll do it without blowing the lid off the environment.
If this holds true, historians will look back on our era as an extraordinary moment. They will chronicle the 40-year period from 1980 to 2020 as the key years of a remarkable transformation. In the developed countries of the West, new technology will lead to big productivity increases that will cause high economic growth – actually, waves of technology will continue to roll out through the early part of the 21st century. And then the relentless process of globalization, the opening up of national economies and the integration of markets, will drive the growth through much of the rest of the world. An unprecedented alignment of an ascendent Asia, a revitalized America, and a reintegrated greater Europe – including a recovered Russia – together will create an economic juggernaut that pulls along most other regions of the planet. These two metatrends – fundamental technological change and a new ethos of openness – will transform our world into the beginnings of a global civilization, a new civilization of civilizations, that will blossom through the coming century.
Think back to the era following World War II, the 40-year span from 1940 to 1980 that immediately precedes our own. First, the US economy was flooded with an array of new technologies that had been stopped up by the war effort: mainframe computers, atomic energy, rockets, commercial aircraft, automobiles, and television. Second, a new integrated market was devised for half the world – the so-called free world – in part through the creation of institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. With the technology and the enhanced system of international trade in place by the end of the 1940s, the US economy roared through the 1950s, and the world economy joined in through the 1960s, only to flame out in the 1970s with high inflation – partly a sign of growth that came too fast. From 1950 to 1973, the world economy grew at an average 4.9 percent – a rate not matched since, well, right about now. On the backs of that roaring economy and increasing prosperity came social, cultural, and political repercussions. It's no coincidence that the 1960s were called revolutionary. With spreading affluence came great pressure from disenfranchised races and other interest groups for social reform, even overt political revolution.
Strikingly similar – if not still more powerful – forces are in motion today. The end of the military state of readiness in the 1980s, as in the 1940s, unleashed an array of new technologies, not the least of which is the Internet. The end of the Cold War also saw the triumph of a set of ideas long championed by the United States: those of the free-market economy and, to some extent, liberal democracy. This cleared the way for the creation of a truly global economy, one integrated market. Not half the world, the free world. Not one large colonial empire. Everybody on the planet in the same economy. This is historically unprecedented, with unprecedented consequences to follow. In the 1990s, the United States is experiencing a booming economy much like it did in the 1950s. But look ahead to the next decade, our parallel to the 1960s. We may be entering a relentless economic expansion, a truly global economic boom, the long boom.
Sitting here in the late 1990s, it's possible to see how all the pieces could fall into place. It's possible to construct a scenario that could bring us to a truly better world by 2020. It's not a prediction, but a scenario, one that's both positive and plausible. Why plausible? The basic science is now in place for five great waves of technology – personal computers, telecommunications, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and alternative energy – that could rapidly grow the economy without destroying the environment. This scenario doesn't rely on a scientific breakthrough, such as cold fusion, to feed our energy needs. Also, enough unassailable trends – call them predetermined factors – are in motion to plausibly predict their outcome. The rise of Asia, for example, simply can't be stopped. This is not to say that there aren't some huge unknowns, the critical uncertainties, such as how the United States handles its key role as world leader.
Why a positive scenario? During the global standoff of the Cold War, people clung to the original ideological visions of a pure form of communism or capitalism. A positive scenario too often amounted to little more than surviving nuclear war. Today, without the old visions, it's easy enough to see how the world might unravel into chaos. It's much more difficult to see how it could all weave together into something better. But without an expansive vision of the future, people tend to get short-sighted and mean-spirited, looking out only for themselves. A positive scenario can inspire us through what will inevitably be traumatic times ahead.
So suspend your disbelief. Open up to the possibilities. Try to think like one of those future historians, marveling at the changes that took place in the 40-year period that straddled the new millennium. Sit back and read through the future history of the world.

That's only a tenth of the full article, by the way.

Anywho, I'd say we're definitely going with the middling scenario. The environment's not a lost cause, but we definitely delayed action for far too long to avoid catastrophe. 

 

What even this article gets wrong is just how totally technology will change our lives. I hafta admit, that was pretty surprising to see how much more often people underballed the future rather than overballing it. I thought for sure I'd see a lot more "flying cars, cities on Mars, and super-AI" than I did.

 

I think that if Bush lost in 2000 and we never got involved in Iraq, more of this would've come true.


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#4
Yuli Ban

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P3: Shown off in 1996, this is the robot that would eventually become ASIMO!

 

P4: Shown off in 1998 and 1999, this was the last iteration of the "P" series of robots. The very next one would be ASIMO.


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#5
Yuli Ban

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20 years ago: Hot sci/tech images from 1996


So '90s! But it's also proof that a lot of modern tech was technically possible for a long time, but it's only recently that we've gained the proper computing power and battery energy density to make them feasible.


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#6
Yuli Ban

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One of the biggest sci-tech news stories of all time happened in the '90s—
Dolly

Dolly (5 July 1996 – 14 February 2003) was a female domestic sheep, and the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the process of nuclear transfer. She was cloned by Ian WilmutKeith Campbell and colleagues at the Roslin Institute, part of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the biotechnology company PPL Therapeutics, based near Edinburgh. The funding for Dolly's cloning was provided by PPL Therapeutics and the UK's Ministry of Agriculture. She was born on 5 July 1996 and died from a progressive lung disease 5 months before her seventh birthday. She has been called "the world's most famous sheep" by sources including BBC News and Scientific American.
The cell used as the donor for the cloning of Dolly was taken from a mammary gland, and the production of a healthy clone therefore proved that a cell taken from a specific part of the body could recreate a whole individual. On Dolly's name, Wilmut stated "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's"

 
Here's some period articles:
 
A Clone in Sheep's Clothing
Mar 3, 1997
 
Scientists clone adult sheep
Feb 23, 1997
 
Dolly Had Three Little Lambs
Jul 15, 1996

While Dolly died in 2003, more of her clones still live on. I believe, earlier this year, they said all 4 of her clones are aging well?


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#7
Yuli Ban

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1994-1996 VR Coverage By PC Gamer Mag

In retrospect, it's easy to see why VR failed two decades ago. Latency issues were unreal, screen resolution was nightmarishly poor, and the best 3D graphics could do was throwing a few hundred polygons at you. VR is just too much of a hardware issue at the end of it. Trying to pull off successful VR outside of the arcades in the '90s is the equivalent of trying to create a television show outside of the cinema in the Old '10s.

Energy-Dragon 

The screenshots are not bad, but those old HMD resolutions, wow... 80x225 pixels for "iGlasses", 300x200 for "Cybermaxx 2.0", 260x230 for "VFX1". No wonder that people did not like it much. Although their refresh rate was not bad, 60Hz - 250Hz is pretty cool. At least they tried to do it well, but the technology was not advanced enough that time, and most consumer computers simply could not have handle anything higher in the 90's.
And now we will have soon 2160x1200 (1080x1200 per eye) both for Oculus CV1 and HTC Vive @ 90Hz. I am sure that it will work out this time; and we will see better VR HMDs every year. ☺


 
manfred_manley

Haha yeah, imagine using a 80x225 display. There's more pixels in an icon on your phone.


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#8
Yuli Ban

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#9
Yuli Ban

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"80x225 display"
 
Imagine this stretched out over your face and encompassing all 360 degrees of your vision.
HvXPp1l.jpg
 
Yes, that.


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#10
BasilBerylium

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"80x225 display"
 
Imagine this stretched out over your face and encompassing all 360 degrees of your vision.
HvXPp1l.jpg
 
Yes, that.

:o


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#11
Yuli Ban

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Jakob posted this:

 


An article by Peter Drucker looking at the upcoming 21st century from way back 1995, when the Web was young and I did not exist. Very interesting.
 

NO century in recorded history has experienced so many social transformations and such radical ones as the twentieth century. They, I submit, may turn out to be the most significant events of this, our century, and its lasting legacy. In the developed free-market countries--which contain less than a fifth of the earth's population but are a model for the rest--work and work force, society and polity, are all, in the last decade of this century, qualitatively and quantitatively different not only from what they were in the first years of this century but also from what has existed at any other time in history: in their configurations, in their processes, in their problems, and in their structures.
 
 

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#12
Yuli Ban

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Bill Gates made these 15 predictions in 1999 — and it's scary how accurate he was
 
I'll give you a plain-text list. It's quite intriguing!

  • Price comparison sites
  • Mobile devices
  • Instant payments and financing online, better healthcare through the web
  • Personal assistants and the Internet of Things
  • Online home-monitoring
  • Social media
  • Automated promotional offers
  • Live sports discussion sites
  • Smart advertising
  • Links to sites during live TV
  • Online discussion boards
  • Interest-based online sites
  • Project-management software
  • Online recruiting
  • Business community software

Now for my comments that will determine just how impressive these predictions really are. I ought to preface this by saying that those who were expecting this to be worldshattering or examples of nigh-superhuman prescience would probably be disappointed to know that these sorts of predictions were somewhat commonly made in the '90s, especially during the Dot-Com boom-years.
The only one that really might be an exceptionally amazing call would have to be the Internet of Things and personalized ads. Even in the 2000s, it was not easy trying to pin down a year for when the IoT would become a thing. And the idea behind smart advertisements was more of a dystopian sci-fi concept, one that wouldn't even reach mainstream attention until three years later with Minority Report. Sure, many people believed it would eventually come true, but not for decades. And before pedants enter this thread to point out that the 2010s technically qualify as 'decades in the future', I mean something more like '2080s' and '2090s.' 
 
The predictions that disappoint me have to be the ones on mobile devices and online discussion boards. You can read the article, but they all list Gates' predictions as paragraphs of his statements, so it's easy for me to spoil it all by saying that he was merely predicting the usage of smartphones, not their sheer ubiquity. 
That would've been a much more impressive call, if he said that, within two decades, more than 75% of the American population would possess personal mobile computers
 
Likewise, his prediction on internet forums was a joke at best and pathetic waste of time at worst. Internet forums predate the World Wide Web— you can read Usenet posts dating back to 1981.  By the time he made this prediction, the earliest Usenet posts were old enough to vote.


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#13
Erowind

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I was looking at that demographics article you posted above Yuli. It boggles my mind that there are some people who are smartphone dependent. I can't imagine the internet without a real computer.


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#14
Sciencerocks

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most people(of what I understand at least) thought we'd have a moon base and onto mars by the late 2010's in the 1990's.

 

Fusion certainly was very close



#15
Yuli Ban

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most people(of what I understand at least) thought we'd have a moon base and onto mars by the late 2010's in the 1990's.

 

Fusion certainly was very close

People thought the same thing in the 1980s about the 2000s, as well as in the 1970s about the 1990s. And it appears it was most optimistic in the '70s due to our recent successes with Apollo. 

 

Right now, we seem to think we'll have moon bases and be on Mars by the 2030s. Nothing has really changed except for the appearance of two actors (SpaceX and Blue Origin) who are fiercely racing to make it happen.

 

And fusion certainly was not very close. Media hype said it was, but media hype said that we'd have quantum iPhones and graphene memristor supercomputers by 2017.

 

3vYLQmm.png

 

would like to read articles detailing these sentiments, though. About what people in the '90s thought the '10s would be like.


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#16
Yuli Ban

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s4z8fstc4po01.jpg


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#17
Yuli Ban

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FUTURE WORLD : VIRTUAL REALITY: The Revolutionary Technology of Computer-Generated Artificial Worlds--And How it Promises and Threatens to Transform Business and Society, By Howard Rheingold
August 04, 1991 | Robert Wright


Toward the end of "Virtual Reality," author Howard Rheingold peers into the world of tomorrow and offers the following report: "(T)here is no reason to believe you won't be able to map your genital effectors to your manual sensors and have direct genital contact by shaking hands." Then he asks: "What will happen to social touching when nobody knows where anybody else's erogenous zones are located?"


I must admit that this question had never occurred to me. On the other hand, it didn't come entirely out of the blue. There is something about the infant technology known as virtual reality that sends people's thoughts drifting in the general direction of sex. If you describe the technology to someone who's never heard of it, and then watch his eyes closely for 10 or 15 seconds, you may be able to sense the point at which the carnal implications are silently grasped.
Perhaps, before further elaboration, some technical details are in order.
Virtual reality (VR for short) refers to the increasingly realistic artificial worlds into which people can be electronically immersed. The most common point of entry is the "head-mounted display": A pair of goggles presents your eyes with a computer-generated image of a fake world--or, more precisely, presents each eye with a slightly different slant on this world, imparting the illusion of a third dimension.


But this is more than a 3-D movie, because you can shape it. Turn your head to the right, and the computer adjusts your visual field accordingly. Look down, and you see a virtual floor. Point your finger at the other side of the virtual room, and you "fly" there. Your hand is clothed in a DataGlove that, like the eyeware, continually transmits its location and orientation to the governing computer, or "reality engine." The DataGlove also allows you to grasp an object in this virtual world and move it--and to see your virtual hand in action. It's even possible to "feel" the object, in a rudimentary way, if the DataGlove is equipped with fingertip vibrators. And if you release the object, you can see--and hear--it hit the virtual floor.
Significantly, a virtual world can accommodate more than one person. Your partner could be miles away (comparably outfitted, and connected to your reality engine by fiber optics); but his image--or an image of Mickey Mouse, or Betty Boop, or whatever virtual identity he adopted--could appear before your eyes, within reach of your virtual hand. The two of you could even "touch" each other. If you were wearing DataSuits, you could virtually dance. And so on.
At the moment, the technology is expensive and primitive. Setting up a virtual world takes a few hundred thousand dollars. And that buys only a surrealistically smooth, almost cartoonish environment; none of the "people" look real. But surely virtual worlds, like other microelectronic things, will get better and cheaper, fast. The quantity and quality of available adventures will grow, and the conduits will become more inviting, as lightweight glasses, or opaque contact lenses, replace the oppressive head-mounted display, and dataclothing gets more sleek and sensitive from head to toe. Cyberspace, as they call it, will be accessible from the living room.
So, however futuristic all this sounds, at some point a book that astutely and engagingly explores the promise and perils of VR will come in handy. Which isn't to say that now is that point, or that "Virtual Reality" is that book.


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