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Recently, Microsoft's PR department cobbled together a whizbang vision of our technological future, as seen through the lens of Microsoft's ideas about technology and man/machine interface.

It's a remarkable bit of work, though likely not quiiiiiite for the reasons Microsoft might think. If you haven't seen it yet, here it is--it (kind of) requires sound and is safe for work, unless perhaps you work for Google or Apple.

Now, a few things struck me when I watched this video.

Not just the sterility of it, or the fact that in Microsoft's future we're all upper middle class, or the fact that nobody actually talks to anyone else. Those things are all true, I suppose, and reflect Microsoft's corporate identity as a painfully introverted, socially awkward, borderline-autistic Lex Luthor, as befits its founder and cultural leader Bill Gates.

No what struck me as I watched this video was the fact that there are no disruptive technologies. Everything here is just an evolution of tech we already have.

Displays mounted on walls, instead of displays being walls. Handheld cell phones with 3D screens, instead of completely virtualized input and output (say, contact lenses with 3D displays). "Computing devices" being distinct entities from other devices. Cars that have displays embedded in their windows, rather than cars whose windows--or paint jobs!--are displays. And everywhere swipe, swipe, push, and swipe.

It reads to me as if Microsoft in 1982 had released a version of the future where keyboards are really thin and we all type commands into command prompts in glorious 24-bit color instead of using GUIs...you know, rather like Linux users do today.

When I look at this video, what I see is the Jetsons. Remember the Jetsons, the cartoon that told us that the future would have us living in glass-domed pods floating in the air, but that gender roles and social norms would still be just like they were in 1959? In the Jetsons future, instead of making robotic vacuum cleaners, you make robotic maids that push regular vacuum cleaners around.

Now, I get it. Disruptive technologies are, by their nature, hard to predict. Visions of the future always end up getting it wrong, sometimes in ways that look silly.

But man, Microsoft isn't even trying. To them, the future is just like the present, only longer. What's missing from their vision isn't just imagination; it's humanness. It's a sense of how people use technology, and how the street finds its own uses for things.

To me, that, more than anything else, is Microsoft's failure.



( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
It's not only that the technology isn't disruptive... it's that \so much in the film is...

...well... not even an evolution of what already exists.

Multi-touch displays? Costs $313

The multi-touch surface table? On pre-order

Pocket-sized to page-sized computers that respond to touch and store in a central location? I think I've seen them around somewhere...

Now, I haven't seen eyeglasses that translate automatically. (I'll be very surprised and pleased when this happens. Though I don't expect it soon.)
Dec. 7th, 2011 05:27 am (UTC)
Translation? It's coming REALLY soon I bet.

As for the rest... Yea. I was looking at the whole thing and thinking "iPad. iPhone. Skype. Rombia..." There is already a version of almost any of that already (although the computer fridges always seem to suck.)

Something that turned out to be MUCH closer to the truth.

Edited at 2011-12-07 05:28 am (UTC)
Dec. 7th, 2011 05:59 am (UTC)
1st ad: meh that's stuff we have today... wait a minute...

2nd, 3rd, 4th: What's a phone booth? LOL
Dec. 8th, 2011 04:42 pm (UTC)
Seriously! I remember watching those and, aside from the phonebooths ("Tuck your daughter in? Really??") thinking "Yea, like THAT'S going to happen anytime soon!"

(Deleted comment)
Dec. 7th, 2011 06:06 am (UTC)
Really? It understands spoken speech and translates it?
Dec. 7th, 2011 12:00 am (UTC)
Haven't seen a good review of the video yet - also found El Reg's take on the video interesting:

Dec. 8th, 2011 05:42 pm (UTC)
Working link:

I think that was for a charity (as noted by the words "BENEFIT CONCERT" in the second image), not a beggar.
Dec. 7th, 2011 02:54 am (UTC)
Wow. Everyone in the future is a hot model with cool gadgetry. Businesses try to sell others on the viability of growing stuff on the wall, supposedly since buildings of the future won't need windows (which is, coming from Microsoft, more than ironic).

And none of that gadgetry does a damned thing different than the stuff we have now. Inspiring.

Dec. 7th, 2011 04:41 am (UTC)
Agreed on all counts; I was actually too bored to finish. There's nothing really disruptive there.
Dec. 7th, 2011 05:50 am (UTC)
The future looks great... if you're rich. How many of the working poor will have such gagetry?

Many of the interfaces are clunkier than what we have today. Flip or tilt a tiny card to display information? It's like turning everyone's iphones into wiimotes. Also the sterile office where the stuff on the white desktops blends into the stuff on the white screens behind into a big high-contrast mess.

And I have to laugh at the automated selection of a pump. Only 3 models? No navigating different websites of companies product selection with drastically different appearances? No phone calls or negotiations with suppliers? Really?
Dec. 8th, 2011 05:43 pm (UTC)
Just like now - the working poor get the ten year old version of the whatever after it's gotten cheap.

(Or they use the Google version of it...)
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 8th, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
Re: What struck me?
"...why am I traveling there at all when I could virtually teleport there using the same display technology in that window..."

Assholes will still demand showing their power by making you travel to them.

"Why was the magazine in the hand-held panel formatted for print?"
Flipboardand AOL Editions are popular and work like that. When an improved GUI takes hold (and it will) then it will all change.

I still remember going overseas for two years and coming back to discover all the gas pumps now had this weird thing that let you pay at the pump...

Dec. 7th, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC)
Wow, I am sooo soo underwhelmed. Just like I always am with Microsoft, heh.
Dec. 7th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
I'm really curious about the display technology that makes all clothes look like new and cloaks all coffee cups in the office...
Dec. 7th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
Channeling the old Conan routine... IN THE YEAR 2000:
  • ...there is only ONE FONT.

  • ...everything is thinner: displays, refrigerator doors, people.

  • ...every surface is a display, just like in Spaceballs. (I told you to never call this wall! This is an unlisted wall!)
Dec. 8th, 2011 01:06 am (UTC)
Couple of points. First, this's specifically by MS Office, so they're focusing on a business/student-friendly view & product focus, rather than a general market/consumer view.

Second, disruptive technologies appeal to a VERY limited market segment, which would include most of your readers but NOT the market in GENERAL. Something I'm learning as I take my years of experience in marketing & apply them specifically to tech products, as I've been doing for the last year, is that whether it be hardware or software if you stray too far outside the "norm" of what people expect & can accept it turns the masses off. Even with, for instance, a website design in a particular market niche where people hate the market leader's "tired old look," if you give them a vastly updated site built on their preferences & requests but it strays too far from what they've been bitching about for years you get tons of "It's too confusing, I don't understand it, it's unusable," etc.

So when you're selling tech NOW to a mass audience, especially for a product like MS Office that is aimed at more conservative ,markets (students aren't necessarily conservative but the parents paying for it are) you have to couch it in terms THEY understand... go too far off in to disruptive tech, new ideas, or speculative theory & you've lost the people whose money you need.
Dec. 8th, 2011 06:26 am (UTC)

i'm a biased usability student, but i think it's entirely possible to redesign a site and give it a beautiful new look that gives a much improved visual perception but isn't necessarily any easier to use or understand ;)

people know how to ask for features and design-y things and love having their ideas implemented, but usability isn't always intuitive... they'll request things which go against basic principles even if you try to dissuade them. rather than debating, i sometimes go the route of making something that fits their requests, something that doesn't, and then showing statistically which prototype performs better and discussing the reasons why...

Dec. 8th, 2011 07:42 pm (UTC)
Oh? Send me an e-mail, James at insider house (you know what goes here) com.

We're hiring. :-)
Dec. 13th, 2011 09:34 am (UTC)
But disruptions go mainstream...
At the risk of being labeled fanboi, disruptive tech can and has gone mainstream - Apple being notable for many instances. Also look at the Nest thermostat - designed by former Apple personnel. David Pogue discusses it in a NY Times column.
Dec. 8th, 2011 05:56 pm (UTC)
Last post in this tread for me, I think:

I still want tech improved ADULT entertainment! I grant you that an iPad and porn website (or Skype and a willing partner) are pretty awesome, but how will sex drive the technical innovation?
Dec. 8th, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC)
Not at all if you use Apple products & Jobs' successors keep his dream of a porn & nude free cyber world alive.
Dec. 17th, 2011 04:57 pm (UTC)
Steve Jobs' efforts at promoting online chastity notwithstanding, every new media technology - photography, motion pictures and now personal computing - has been deployed very shortly after its introduction for the purpose of delivering articles of prurient interest. And for just as long, there have been those who wish to suppress sexual expression for their own selfish ends.

I read an article in some magazine about "teledildonics", in which you virtually bonk a real partner over the net. By way of digital appliances tailored to one's anatomy one would feel many of the same sensations which one would if one were actually mingling body parts and fluids with said partner in the usual manner.

I read that article in 1991 or so. So what's the holdup?
Dec. 17th, 2011 07:05 pm (UTC)
The holdup is that nobody seems to want to pay for it.

I ran a business making and selling teledildonics about ten years ago. Lost a ton of money. Everyone is like "Oh, that's awesome!" in the abstract, but then never buys.

There are a number of open source teledildonics floating around--look at slashdong.org for examples--but the actual interest in them seems small.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )