TED Radio Hour
6:40 am
Fri September 13, 2013

What Predictions From 1984 Came True?

Originally published on Fri January 24, 2014 6:42 am

Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode Predicting The Future.

About Nicholas Negroponte's TEDTalk

Back in 1984, technology leader Nicholas Negroponte was able to predict, with surprising accuracy, e-readers, face to face teleconferencing and the touchscreen interface of the iPhone.

About Nicholas Negroponte

Nicholas Negroponte is a pioneer in the field of computer-aided design. He's the founder of MIT's Media Lab, which helped drive the multimedia revolution and now houses more than 500 researchers and staff. An original investor in WIRED, Negroponte also wrote a column exploring the frontiers of technology for the magazine — which he expanded into his 1995 best-selling book Being Digital.

Negroponte is also the founder of the One Laptop per Child project. The organization manufactures the XO (the "$100 laptop"), a wireless Internet-enabled, pedal-powered computer designed for children in the developing world.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. Back in 1984, a bunch of academics and inventors and artists all got together for what was supposed to be a one-off conference on technology, entertainment and design. And for short, of course, they called it TED. And one of the featured speakers that year was the MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte. Did you know those things you were talking about would actually happen?

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: I had no question whatsoever. Of course they would happen. In fact, some of the things I was talking about were pretty old.

RAZ: A few months after that appearance, Nicholas Negroponte would create the MIT Media Lab. And when he spoke at TED in 1984, Nicholas was making predictions about our future.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

NEGROPONTE: I'm talking here a little bit about display technologies. Let me talk about how you might input information, and my favorite example is always fingers. I'm very interested in touch-sensitive displays - high-tech, high-touch. And a lot of people think that fingers are a very low-resolution sort of stylus. In fact, they're not. You have to just do it twice. You have to sort of touch the screen and then rotate your finger slightly, and you can move a cursor with great accuracy...

RAZ: Again, this was 1984 - fingers on a screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

NEGROPONTE: One advantage is that you don't have to pick them up and people don't realize how important that is - not having to pick up your fingers to use them...

RAZ: OK, so fast-forward more than 20 years, 2007, the best smartphones still needed a stylus to operate the touchscreens until...

(SOUNDBITE OF 2007 MACWORLD CONVENTION)

STEVE JOBS: Oh, a stylus, right. We're going to use a stylus. No. No. Who wants a stylus? You have to get them and put them away and you lose them. Yuck. Nobody wants a stylus, so let's not use a stylus.

RAZ: Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone at the 2007 Macworld Convention.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

NEGROPONTE: And another advantage, of course, of using fingers is you have 10 of them.

RAZ: It's almost as if Steve Jobs had been there with Nicholas Negroponte in that auditorium that day in 1984.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2007 MACWORLD CONVENTION)

JOBS: We're going to use the best pointing device in the world. We're going to use a pointing device that we're all born with. We're born with ten of them. We're going to use our fingers. We're going to touch this with our fingers.

RAZ: Nicholas made an astounding number of predictions in that 1984 TED Talk, predictions that all came true.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

NEGROPONTE: ...Where we're trying to use computer and video disc technology now to come up with a new kind of book... A teleconferencing system where you had five people in teleconference such that each one was utterly convinced that the other four were physically present... A very recent experiment that we've been doing, in this case, in Senegal, we have tried to use personal computers as a pedagogical medium...

RAZ: Computers in classrooms, Skype video calls, FaceTime, e-readers, the Kindle, all these things Nicholas Negroponte predicted years, decades before they happened. The question is how - how did he know?

NEGROPONTE: I remember giving talks on touch-sensitive displays and people would argue against them. And the most prominent reason was that your fingers would get it dirty. I promise you. And Steve Jobs knew all of this, you know, this happens over and over again. I had to give a speech, actually, recently, to something called the World Future Society. And in my opening remarks, I said one of the few advantages of age when you talk about the future is that you've been there so many times. So when people tell me things like, well, paper books will exist forever. Rubbish. I know that. I remember telling Bertelsmann all the music will be on the network. Rubbish. They thought it would be on CDs and people would buy CDs forever. But you knew it and, you know, these things do come back again.

RAZ: Today on the show, TED speakers who are so ahead of the game it's like they're predicting the future. A future so innovative that, if it comes true, will make almost everything more interesting, more fun. But a warning, some of this stuff will freak you out just a tiny bit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: