In 1999, Bill Gates wrote a book titled Business @ the Speed of Thought. In the book, Gates made 15 bold predictions that at the time might have sounded outrageous.
But as Markus Kirjonen, a business student, once noted on his blog, Gates’ forecasts turned out to be eerily prescient. Here are the 15 predictions Gates made just about 20 years ago — and how close they’ve come to be true.
No. 1: Price-comparison sites.
Gates’ prediction: “Automated price comparison services will be developed, allowing people to see prices across multiple websites, making it effortless to find the cheapest product for all industries.”
What we see now: You can easily search for a product on Google or Amazon and get different prices. Sites like Kayak and Expedia help people find the cheapest price for a flight, while Google Shopping and Microsoft’s own Bing Shopping help find bargains for everything else.
No. 2: Mobile devices.
Gates’ prediction: “People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are. They will be able to check the news, see flights they have booked, get information from financial markets, and do just about anything else on these devices.”
What we see now: Smartphones, smartwatches, speakers like the Amazon Echo, and even headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens give users a way to have all of their information on hand at all times.
No. 3: Instant payments and financing online, and better healthcare through the web.
Gates’ prediction: “People will pay their bills, take care of their finances, and communicate with their doctors over the internet.”
What we see now: Tech hasn’t been able to change healthcare the way Uber changed transportation, but sites like ZocDoc aim to make finding a doctor and scheduling easier. Startups like One Medical and Forward are trying to change what the doctor’s office is like by offering monthly memberships for online and data-driven healthcare. Plus, big HMOs like Kaiser Permanente now offer video-chat medical consultations via smartphone.
You can also now borrow money online through sites like Lending Club and easily make payments through sites and apps like PayPal and Venmo.
No. 4: Personal assistants and the internet of things.
Gates’ prediction: “‘Personal companions’ will be developed. They will connect and sync all your devices in a smart way, whether they are at home or in the office, and allow them to exchange data. The device will check your email or notifications, and present the information that you need. When you go to the store, you can tell it what recipes you want to prepare, and it will generate a list of ingredients that you need to pick up. It will inform all the devices that you use of your purchases and schedule, allowing them to automatically adjust to what you’re doing.”
What we see now: Virtual voice assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are moving in this direction, offering a personalized way to get your information just by asking for it out loud. Meanwhile, smart devices like Nest’s flagship thermostat collect data on your daily routines and automatically adjust your house’s temperature.
No. 5: Online home-monitoring.
Gates’ prediction: “Constant video feeds of your house will become common, which inform you when somebody visits while you are not home.”
What we see now: This is increasingly common — companies like Canary, Amazon’s Ring, Netgear, and Google cousin company Nest all make cameras that let you view the feed from your phone, and that send a push alert when there’s a human in view.
No. 6: Social media.
Gates’ prediction: “Private websites for your friends and family will be common, allowing you to chat and plan for events.”
What we see now: “Private websites” didn’t quite happen. But Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Line, Slack, and plenty of other apps give you an easy way to keep in contact with groups large and small.
No. 7: Automated promotional offers.
Gates’ prediction: “Software that knows when you’ve booked a trip and uses that information to suggest activities at the local destination. It suggests activities, discounts, offers, and cheaper prices for all the things that you want to take part in.”
What we see now: Travel sites like Expedia and Kayak offer deals based on a user’s past purchase data. Google and Facebook can offer promotional ads based on the user’s location and interests. Airbnb, which lets people stay in homes rather than hotels, offers specialized trips at destinations so you can live like a local, too.
No. 8: Live sports discussion sites.
Gates’ prediction: “While watching a sports competition on television, services will allow you to discuss what is going on live, and enter a contest where you vote on who you think will win.”
What we see now: Facebook and Twitter are both places where sports fans go to discuss the big game, as it happens. The two social networks have even dabbled in streaming pro sports directly from their sites — Facebook aired some MLB games, while Twitter streamed select NFL and MLS matches.
No. 9: Smart advertising.
Gates’ prediction: “Devices will have smart advertising. They will know your purchasing trends, and will display advertisements that are tailored toward your preferences.”
What we see now: Just look at the ads you see on Facebook or Google — the online advertising industry hinges on the ability of these services to target ads that are, in theory, personalized to your demographic and interests.
No. 10: Links to sites during live TV.
Gates’ prediction: “Television broadcast will include links to relevant websites and content that complement what you are watching.”
What we see now: Almost every commercial these days has a callout asking the viewer to go to a website, follow the business on Twitter, or a scan a QR code. It’s rare to see a broadcast without a website linked at all.
No. 11: Online discussion boards.
Gates’ prediction: “Residents of cities and countries will be able to have internet-based discussions concerning issues that affect them, such as local politics, city planning, or safety.”
What we see now: Beyond what Facebook and Twitter already offer in terms of political discussion, apps like Nextdoor and Citizen are aimed at helping neighborhood denizens connect with each other and discuss local issues.
No. 12: Interest-based online sites.
Gates’ prediction: “Online communities will not be influenced by your location, but rather, your interest.”
What we see now: All kinds of news sites and online communities focus on single topics. Many news sites have expanded to include separate verticals, offering more in-depth coverage on a given topic. Reddit is a great example of a website that’s divided into subgroups, or “subreddits,” that focus on interests rather than who you know or where you are.
No. 13: Project-management software.
Gates’ prediction: “Project managers looking to put a team together will be able to go online, describe the project, and receive recommendations for available people who would fit their requirements.”
What we see now: Tons of workflow software in the enterprise space, including Slack, Asana, and Trello, are revolutionizing how people recruit, form teams, and assign work to others. Meanwhile, companies like Fiverr and Gigster help connect companies with the creative talent they need to get a project accomplished.
No. 14: Online recruiting.
Gates’ prediction: “Similarly, people looking for work will be able to find employment opportunities online by declaring their interest, needs, and specialized skills.”
What we see now: Sites like LinkedIn — now a Microsoft subsidiary — allow users to upload résumés and find jobs based on interests and needs, and recruiters can search based on specialized skills.
No. 15: Business community software.
Gates’ prediction: “Companies will be able to bid on jobs, whether they are looking for a construction project, a movie production, or an advertising campaign. This will be efficient for both big companies that want to outsource work that they don’t usually face, businesses looking for new clients, and corporations that don’t have a go-to provider for the said service.”
What we see now: There’s not quite a single marketplace for companies to go find work, as a whole. However, a bunch of so-called “gig economy” services, like Upwork and Fiverr, allow freelancers and small businesses to find clients. Meanwhile, Craigslist remains as a favorite place for small businesses to connect with one another and find jobs.