Bill Gates: (Not Quite) A Tech Nostradamus

15 years ago Bill Gates published The Road Ahead, a book in which he laid out his vision for the future of personal computing. The Atlantic took a look at how his predictions and how they held up.

Not all that well, it turns out. Gates seems to fare better when he's talking about the future of computing devices themselves—he's on point with his prediction that we'd all be carrying wallet-sized PCs (read: smart phones) in our pockets and purses—but in terms of how we're using the technology, he's no prophet. As The Atlantic's Tom McNichol explains, Gates initially understated the importance of the internet itself:

Prediction: Gates's 286-page book mentions the World Wide Web on only four of its pages, and portrays the Internet as a subset of a much a larger "Information Superhighway." The Internet, wrote Gates, is one of "the important precursors of the information highway," along with PCs, CD-ROMs, phone networks, and cable systems, but "none represents the actual information highway. ... today's Internet is not the information highway I imagine, although you can think of it as the beginning of the highway."

Verdict: Miss. Gates's notion that the Internet would play a supporting role in the information highway of the future, rather than being the highway itself, was out-of-date the day The Road Ahead was published. Even Gates realised it. Shortly before his book hit the stores, Gates reorganized Microsoft to focus more on the Internet, and he made major revisions to a second edition of The Road Ahead, adding material that highlighted the significance of the Internet. In many ways, Gates's cloudy crystal ball regarding the Internet amounted to wishful thinking.

Still, hit or miss, it's incredibly fascinating to see one of the greatest minds in the industry try to turn the clock forward and predict what was on the horizon. You can read the full analysis at The Atlantic.

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