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[ NNSquad ] Re: AT&T's 1993 "You Will" Commercials
A classic was a 1950's ad saying that one day you will go into a phone booth, call home and start your lawn sprinkler and only Bell Labs can make it happen.
It's important to step back to understand why the predictions did come through and why it was despite ATT not because of ATT.
My basic thesis is that one key aspect of hypergrowth is being open to opportunity (as I wrote in 1997). In the heyday of ATT they could found lots of experiments and a few gave us so much. You might predict smaller phones but not the transistor. Unix was indeed developed at Bell Labs but by people associated with Multics and ATT’s attempt to become a Unix vendor was one of their many failures. I could list 900’s, their credit card attempt, Excite@Home as part of a long list of failures resulting from trying to create solutions.
The reason this is important is that so much public policy is predicated on the idea that we can impose solutions and choose winners. It’s part of innovation chic and creating prizes for meeting well-defined targets.
The predictions ATT made were already nascent at the time of the ads. In 1993 the web was in its infancy but we already had AOL, Ziff-Davis Interactive, Prodigy, Gopher, Lotus Notes and other services with aspects of what later coalesced around the opportunity created by HTML and browsers as generic building blocks. These tools let anyone innovate by providing open generativity.
But this is not so much targeted innovating as cycling quickly through many ideas at a low cost. What appears to be targeted innovation is really harvesting the few winners. In fact if you look at the details things are often quite different. Sure you can send a fax from the beach but why would you want to when you can have a video conversation? Or, better, just take the day off because you know the email will be waiting for you on your schedule.
The article on “ISP Innovation” shows the danger of relying on ATT’s children, the ISPs, for innovation. Because they are gatekeepers. Not only do they fail at innovation but they prevent others from innovating. Even if they could innovate on demand the carriers’ incentives owe more to ARPU than empowering users. If anything the most important innovation is creating opportunity for others, us, to innovate.
And, if anything, their most important innovation is preventing others from innovating. And it is our belief that ATTs can and will innovate on our behalf that costs us so dearly. People still feel uneasy when I suggest a compositing local efforts because they still want to be reassured that someone, an ATT, is there to fix all problems. Sigh. As I wrote in http://rmf.vc/?n=FiOSRealityCheck it’s precisely their skills at being an ISP that make it so difficult for them.
Today I can go to any computing device, connect to my home system and turn on my sprinkler using software I wrote. All this because I can get bits past the gatekeeper and run my own servers in my own house. ATT isn’t really in the lawn business but they are in the business of preventing solutions.
AT&T's 1993 "You Will" Commercials
This is a fascinating collection of 1993 commercials from AT&T, touting "future" technologies. Ironically, most of what is shown has indeed come to pass in startlingly accurate ways, but mostly pioneered by others, not by AT&T.