Rush Hour 1997
An amusing look at the mid 90's, written in 1989. It now seems to be less absurd than it was meant to be.
01-Aug-1989Version 2: 2023-05-28 17:09:26

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This was published in the Boston Computer Society Update in the July 1989. It was an attempt to look forward about five or so years in the future. Now that we are further in the future, we have built many of the expected enablers. With the Web, even more so. Perhaps we are indeed getting the necessary standards in place. But the paper was more to illustrate the challenges than to be prophetic.

By Bob Frankston

It is sometime in the late 1990's and I'm on my way to the office. I see the sun starting to rise which means that the rush hour is beginning, though traffic has already stopped. Usually I avoid this trip since my home computing environment is well connected to the office. In fact, it is a better setup, more homey so to speak. But it is good to get to the office frequently to maintain personal contact and for discussions.

While I'm sitting in traffic, I'm still connected to the computing environment. I can speak into the microphone on my watch. There is also a small color display there but I much prefer the eyeglass-mounted display which gives full resolution. In my pocket are my CPU and storage unit. All this is connected via my body LAN. I'm still relatively low tech and use a low power radio packet network. The idea of running a wire down my arm (like Seiko used to do for their ancient wrist TV) seems silly. Clothing that conducts IR is a tempting alternative but is still not fashionable.BCS Update July 1989

Though voice processing (I prefer not to use the term recognition) is quite useful, I've grown accustomed to using gesturing. Moving my hand through the air is much more powerful than the old mouse as a pointing device. Of course, I don't want to confuse the machine, so I tighten the muscles behind my ear as a command mode indicator. Wriggling my ears, even if only slightly, used to seem a strange way to interact with the computer, but I no longer even think that way, I just think about sending a command. This is no different from typing; in fact, it is considerably easier. When I first learned to type I had to pay a lot of attention to what I did with my fingers. After only ten years of practice, I was able to type conversationally with little or no awareness of what my fingers were doing. In fact I still consider typing to be an important form of gesturing. Typing in the air does look a bit strange however.

I'm still hesitant about taking the next step of direct nerve connections. The most interesting research involves using the vestigial tail nerves. The other possibility is direct retinal transfer for video. I'll wait until they are better developed.

I hear the sound of someone revving an engine. I chose that audio metaphor as the signal that traffic is moving again. Indeed the traffic is up to 5kph, the point at which I don't trust the car to drive itself. But I can continue to talk to you since the car is quiet enough. In fact, that was a requirement when I chose this car. You're probably reading the text version of this on your screen. I still prefer that medium as being better for skimming. It also makes it easier to edit. But I'll wait till the office system has had a chance at transcription since I'd rather use the extra capabilities of that system to get a more accurate transcription.

In the meantime I've gotten an update to my meeting schedule for the day. It came via the cellular data network. I ask (or gesture) for an audio summary so I can continue to watch the road. I know that I'll be able to make some progress now since I get a continuous feed from the traffic reporting system. It is the same one the radio stations use and is well worth the personal use (as opposed to commercial use) price. Hopefully not too many people will subscribe so that I can still take advantage of knowing where the traffic is still light.

Since I don't want to be too distracted from my driving, I get a compressed audio summary of my incoming email. One letter sounds intriguing so I flag it for visual display when I get my next chance. Since it has a gigabyte of video, I'll need to give it a chance to get transferred into the car's system.

What I've already gotten are the previews for tonight's HDTV fare. I'll be able to see if there's anything interesting. Unfortunately, there is even less TV than their used to be. Doing special effects for HDTV takes a lot of computing. I might give a try at acting in one of them. No, not for broadcast, just one of those games that integrates my video image into the scene.

But back to my agenda. Stopping off for breakfast will give me a chance to review the agenda without the distraction of driving though I don't want to stray too far from the cars computer and communications link. I can actually do fairly well with just the system I'm carrying but the car's communications capacity is much greater.

I have an alert set in case I have only an hour of unscheduled time. At that point I'd want to personally approve any additional meetings. It hasn't triggered so I presume there is still a little slack in the schedule though it seems pretty full.

It is still early in the morning as I sit down for coffee. I rest my head for a second and hear a loud purring sound. I groggily try to remember what the audio icon is for and look up into the face of my cat. After a little disorientation I realize I'm home. It is still the late 90's but awake I look at the shelves full of documentation. At least the real versions are online on my CDROM and over a network but still I see the titles: X.400, X.500, X.12, ISDN, BISDN, ASN-1, OSI, among others.

The technologies exist to do all that I imagined. In fact most of them were available way back in '89. Perhaps it was more expensive then but we've managed to reduce costs and increase capacities. But we still can't get them to talk to one another. I can't quite get my body network interfaced to my car. Cellular packet networking is almost there but not quite. The databases are all incompatible.

Well, maybe next year will be the year of information integration. Or the year after that. And then finally I'll be able to casually peruse the back issues of the BCS Update.