This Hugo Award-Winning Sci-Fi Writer Predicted Smartphones With Uncanny Accuracy Almost 20 Years Ago
Yeah, Back to the Future 2 predicted flat-screen TVs, drones, and biometric identification becoming commonplace by 2015, but it also thought fax machines and phone booths were still going to be a thing. There's all kinds of people claiming to know what's next in tech (or when the human race will end), but the only real way to figure out which ones are duds is to wait about 20 years. Luckily for us, a sharp-eyed editor picked up on an old article from 1999 that shows at least one person foresaw the rise of smartphones back when we still had beepers.
David Gerrold, a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning sci-fi author and screenwriter for Star Trek, was asked to write a short column about the future of computing. Since sci-fi writers generally have their fingers on the pulse on where technology is headed, it makes sense that Gerrold would muse that a lot of his gadgets (he mentions his digital camera, his cellphone, calculator, and music player) will one day merge into one multipurpose device. That sounds a lot like the tricorder from Star Trek—nothing too outrageous. But then Gerrold starts getting strangely specific.
"It will be a box less than an inch thick and smaller than a deck of cards. (The size will be determined by what's convenient to hold, not by the technology inside.)...Most important of all, it will have both speech recognition and speech synthesis...It will be an agent, going out and doing cyber-errands for you. For instance: I need a Japanese restaurant in Tulsa, near the Ramada Inn. If there's no Japanese restaurant, try for Italian."
Gerrold is essentially describing Siri, Alexa, or the Google Assistant.
On top of that, he's describing an interaction that's become second nature to urban users: finding a suitable restaurant within walking distance by talking to your phone.
But he isn't finished yet—Gerrold even predicts our modern-day love-hate relationship with screens and the growing concerns over privacy when it comes to connected devices:
"I call this device a Personal Information Telecommunications Agent, or Pita for short. The acronym also can stand for Pain in the Ass, which it is equally likely to be, because having all that connectivity is going to destroy what's left of everyone's privacy."
Somebody get this guy on the phone and ask him about VR.