What Bill Gates Foresaw in 1999 - and How Accurate He Was

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Richard Drew/APBill Gates in a contemplative mood in 1999.
By Eugene Kim

In 1999, Bill Gates wrote a book titled "Business at the Speed of Thought." In the book, Gates makes 15 bold predictions that at the time might have sounded outrageous. But as business student Markus Kirjonen pointed out on his blog, Gates' forecasts turned out to be "eerily prescient."

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 of the same product. Sites like NexTag and PriceGrabber are built for price comparisons.

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 -- and now smartwatches -- do all of this.

3. Financing and Health Care Is Better Online

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 health care all that much, but there are sites like ZocDoc that makes finding a doctor and scheduling easier. You can now borrow money online through sites like Lending Club and easily make payments through sites like PayPal and Venmo.

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: Google Now, a smart assistant that runs on mobile devices, is starting to head in this direction. Smart devices like Nest collect data on your daily routines and automatically adjust the house temperature. Beacons will send you store coupons based on your past purchasing habits.

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: Dropcam sells home surveillance cameras that make home-monitoring easy. Google bought the company for $555 million in 2014.

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: Social-media sites like Facebook and Instagram take care of this.

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 past purchase data. Google and Facebook ads can offer promotional ads based on the user's location and interests.

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 contest where you vote on who you think will win."

What we see now: A bunch of social-media sites allow this, with Twitter being the clear leader. You can leave comments in real time on sports sites like ESPN.

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: Most online advertising services have this feature, where advertisers can target users based on click history, personal interest, purchasing patterns.

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 live sports game has ads featuring links to a specific site. The ads also show the teams' Twitter handles in some cases.

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: Most news sites have comment sections where people can have live discussions, while many sites have forums where people can ask and respond to certain questions. Twitter and Facebook played roles in political revolutions in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia.

12. Interest- Based 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 expand to separate verticals, offering more in-depth coverage on a given topic.

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 is revolutionizing how you recruit, form teams and assign work to others.

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 allow users to upload résumés and find jobs based on individual interest and needs. Recruiters can search based on their specialized skills.

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: Many enterprise softwares are focused on the social aspect, so users can reach out to other businesses and start a conversation that could lead to bigger projects within their apps.
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