In his book The Road Ahead, Bill Gates relates to a non-technical audience the history, growth, and future of technology. He discusses how the trends, technologies, and issues of the Information Age are affecting society. Gates makes predictions and gives advice on how to adapt and succeed in the future of incredible change in computing and communicating. His book is written with two major concerns: the development and future of technology, and its influence on society. Bill Gates begins by explaining how computers will be interconnected globally in what will be called the information superhighway. Of course the precursor to this network is the currently used Internet.
The development and use of this interactive network is the main focus of the book. Gates uses the metaphor of the 'ultimate market'; to describe how all manner of human activity will take place in this market, with the medium of exchange being digital information of all kinds. Bill Gates states that the ability to change and manipulate information and the increasing speed at which is it handled places us at the beginning of an 'information revolution.' ; Since almost all information in the future will be digital, conventional communication devices will be altered. As soon as the cost of communication drops and it is combined with other technological advances, Bill Gates predicts that the results of this interactive information will be like the effects of electricity. He also predicts that the house of the future will have one wire running into and out of it that will carry television, phone, or news information that will be sent to the appropriate device. In his book Gates attempts to tell the history of the computer industry, but instead he tells about the development of Microsoft and his achievements while debasing his competitors.
He recounts the history with a degree of arrogance and criticizes IBM for the mistakes it made, for example not buying thirty percent of Microsoft when given the opportunity, and for wasting time and money on the OS/2 and Office Vision projects. Bill Gates speaks on Microsoft's success and, in a way, reaffirms customers that Microsoft will not raise its prices or stop innovation. The future success, he says, depends on innovation and improvement to stay ahead of competition. He dedicates a chapter to appliances and applications of the future. Video-on-demand, and other digital information stored on servers, will be available when residential broadband networks are installed. The cost for these networks is still extremely high, so it won't be available for at least a decade to the majority of the homes in the United States.
This is an example of how general-purpose devices are replacing special-purpose devices. Video-on-demand will replace VCRs in the same way that telephone answering machines have evolved into voicemail. Gates feels that high-definition television will not catch on until the broadband network is in use, and so screens for TV and PC will improve in quality and that most will be flat-panel displays. Bill Gates goes into detail concerning an appliance called the wallet PC. It sends e-mails and faxes, displays messages and schedules, and stores digital money, among other things.
Precursors to this wallet PC that are out on the market include cellphones, pagers, and personal digital assistants. To help with the overwhelming task of finding information, Gates suggests the use of queries, filters, spatial navigation, links, and agents as primary selection techniques. 'Softer software,' ; which seems to get smarter as you use it, would be used like an agent. When these agents take on a personality, they become 'social user interfaces.' ; In order to be useful these agents will have to know information. With this information being stored on the Internet, it brings up the issue of privacy and security. Bill Gates suggests the use prime numbers as one-way functions.
This method is not certain, so networks would have to be designed to allow encryption methods to be changed quickly. Bill Gates makes the switch to broadband same easy, but in reality expensive physical infrastructures like lines, switches, and servers have to be installed. If the responsibility is left to the telephone and cable companies to upgrade their networks, most people should not get their hopes up. Think about how long it can take for a phone company to fix a small problem in the phone line or for the cable repairman to show up. It is definitely going to take longer than a decade. Until then narrow band capacity networks will have to suffice unless mid band capacity networks can be easily and cheaply installed.
This new technology creates several critical issues that will need to be addressed. Demand will increase quickly and could cause congestion problems. This may change how we pay for information. Some solutions suggested are to make people pay a higher flat rate or find something to meter, such as time, distance, or size of transmission.
Bill Gates suggests such topics as availability of technology, investment in education, regulation, and the balance between individual privacy and community security. The question of responsibility arises and some have suggested that communication companies should be made gatekeepers in charge of the filtering the content of what they carry. A rating system, like the one used for movies, could be implemented and parents could then restrict what rated sites their children visit through their web browser. Bill Gates refrains from using technical vernacular and explains all computer terminology as he discusses it, making it clear and easy for normal people to understand him.
He is convinced that this new technology will 'enhance leisure time and enrich our culture by expanding the distribution of information.' ; This, however, oversimplifies most issues and results in a dull, repetitive book for most experienced computer users. He succeeds in explaining his vision of the future and why he has chosen to switch Microsoft's focus to the Internet. Bill Gates optimistically looks ahead at the emerging tools of technology that will forever transform the way we buy, work, learn, socialize, and communicate and encourages us to help shape the future.