The technology industry is celebrated for its ceaseless innovation, its lightning speed and its endless taste for novelty. The new year will no doubt bring its share of high-five triumphs and crash-and-burn disasters for the dreamers and doers of Silicon Valley. Herewith, a few scenarios to chew on.
It's the Palmagotchi!
Your PalmPilot doesn't have much personality. Your Tamagotchi isn't exactly productive. Put them together, though, and you've got one killer app that we fully expect to see next year: a personal digital assistant with an attitude. Forget to feed it and, well, it just might "forget" the appointments on your calendar -- or swap the e-mail addresses of your current lover and your ex.
Once Palmagotchi takes off, you can see the next step in its evolution: Add the wireless signaling capabilities of the Lovegety and you've got a Palmagotchi-gety. Keep it happy and it will summon attractive strangers; neglect it and it will pass copies of sensitive e-mails to the precise people who should never, ever see them.
The Jenni files
In 1998, Jenni of JenniCam fame will astonish the world when she reveals that she has been receiving e-mail messages from sentient beings from Alpha Centauri who have been studying her as a "typical human" for several years (the Centaurians log in, Jenni will inform us, via their own advanced satellite modems). After these revelations, Jenni will be swiftly "disappeared" by government agents; her rabid followers, however, will believe that she was taken off-planet by her new intergalactic friends, and will establish the JenniChurch while they anxiously await her new OuterspaceCam.
The Wildfire defense
In 1999, a Silicon Valley marketing executive, driven to the brink of madness by the demands of an incipient IPO, will murder his boss -- then plead in his defense that his Wildfire "personal assistant" told him to do it: "That voice! Every day -- over and over in my head! I couldn't take it anymore ... She said she was my servant. Then she took over my mind!"
After listening to a Wildfire demo played maddeningly over and over, the jury will vote to acquit.
Son of iMac
In 1998, Apple's iMac made a big splash by putting the familiar Macintosh into a sleek new avant-garde package -- and removing the floppy drive. The strategy was so successful that in 1999 Apple plans to expand -- and reduce -- the iMac line as follows: In March, the iMac II will feature a fancier case but will leave out the keyboard. "The mouse is a superior input device -- keyboards are a tired old 19th century technology," Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs will explain.
In June, the iMac Deluxe will leave out the monitor. "Video displays have outworn their welcome -- we want to lead the way toward the future of direct machine-mind interfaces," Jobs will declare. Finally, for the all-important fall shopping season, Apple will unveil the Ultimate iMac, with no keyboard or monitor -- and no CPU, either. "In the future all real computing will be done over the network, anyway," Jobs will tell the press. The Ultimate iMac may not do much -- but it will look great in its limited-edition, artist's-signature case that, Apple promises, will be suitable for museum display.
- - - - - - - - - -
That's not a word, that's my trademark
Not long ago, while writing a short piece about the PalmPilot personal organizer, we typed the words "Palm Pilot" and hit the "enter" key to start a new line. To our horror, the word "pilot" was suddenly replaced by an icon of the Pilot. With no warning, our own word processor had just become a vehicle for Palm billboard advertising.
We use Microsoft Word 97 and had recently installed Palm software. Without asking for permission, Palm snuck in an addition to the "AutoText" function that allows Word 97 to insert complete words before you have finished writing them. So every single time we write the word "pilot" -- in any context -- and hit enter, whoosh -- here comes a colorful little cartoon picture of a PalmPilot.
Think about the implications: Before the end of 1999, don't be surprised if half the words in the English language are trademarked and have colorful icons associated with them. Instead of authoring documents using the good old 26 letters that we know and love, will we instead communicate in the pictographic code of multinational capitalism? We can't wait.
The merge surge
In 1999, Microsoft will buy Yahoo, News Corp. will purchase Lycos, Time Warner will swallow up Excite and Disney will merge with America Online. Bertelsmann will unite with Amazon, AT&T will snap up MCI/WorldCom -- and GE will pick up eBay, eToys and every other e-commerce company whose name begins with the letter "e."
Salon Magazine, of course, will remain completely independent.
Who owns open source?
Trademark battles over the right to use the words "open source" to market software products will become increasingly fierce in 1999. After much legal action, Microsoft will emerge the winner -- it turns out Bill Gates actually invented the concept of "open source" before dropping out of Harvard. By the end of the year, the Department of Justice will be disputing Microsoft's claim that Linux is an "integral part" of the Windows operating system.
Just can't quit
Computer gaming will become so addictive in 1999 that the entire global economy will start to see productivity drops attributed to lost work hours and an international epidemic of RSI. However, the multibillion-dollar profits earned by the gaming companies will balance out the drag on the economy. By the end of 1999, you will either be working for a gaming company or playing a game. It's a win-win proposition!
Go directly to jail
The CDA II will be ruled constitutional after all. A rash of convictions will begin, as conservative prosecutors in every state take down site after site for being "prurient," until the only Web sites left will be a few home pages with pictures of pet cats. The government will have to build enormous new jails for Net offenders -- and the first person to be incarcerated will be Kenneth Starr, whom a Democratic prosecutor in Alaska will accuse of peddling pornography to online innocents. He will be forced to share a cell with Net porn king Seth Warshavsky.
Spam: A growth market
We don't really want to go out on a limb here, but we predict that you will still receive spam in your e-mailbox in 1999.