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How Accurate Were AT&T’s “You Will” Ads From 1993

AT&T had a series of commercials back in 1993 that had examples of some of the cool new technologies that the company had hoped to develop in the future. The ad agency that did the commercials must have had a professional futurist working for them, because they were strikingly accurate.

It’s now 15 years later, lets see how well they did:

Have you ever borrowed a book from thousands of miles away?
The internet fits this description pretty well. In 1993, the web was a baby, and most people didn’t even know the word “Internet”. So the concept of reading a library book from anywhere in the world seemed fairly radical. Now it’s commonplace.

…crossed the country, without stopping for directions?
I think this one is the most impressive. The first GPS-based vehicle navigation system was released in 1995, two years after this commercial. And it wasn’t until 2000 that Selective Availability was ended, which made GPS units a real marketable precision. The video in the commercial looks like it could be any modern car equipped with a modern GPS unit. Spot on accurate.

…or sent someone a fax, from the beach?
This is an example of the basic idea of the technology being available, but not in the same way that it’s shown in the commercial. You may not be able to send someone a fax from the beach, but you can send someone an email, which has the same effect. This one not only assumes tablet PCs or touchscreen PDAs, but also assumes some sort of wireless communication system. Another good one.

Have you ever paid a toll, without slowing down?
Electronic toll payment had been an idea as far back as the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1997 that the EZ Pass system really took off. Between 1993 and 1996, the entire NY thruway was fitted with EZPass, and that’s when it really started growing. So they had this one beat by 4 years.

…bought concert tickets from a cash machine?
You can buy concert tickets from kiosks at the entrance of most venues. Movie theaters have the same thing, those rows of ticket kiosks where you can slide your credit card and buy a ticket for whatever show you please. Or you can just do it online.

…or tucked your baby in… from a phone booth?
Ouch, they were doing so well until this one. People have been dreaming of future videophones for many many years, but we still don’t really have them. They’re the staple future-gadget for any sci-fi segment, but despite the fact that we have the technology to create them… they’re just not commonplace. The demand isn’t there for them apparently. And then… “phone booths”? I haven’t even seen a payphone for weeks. Do they still exist? This one is a strike for AT&T.

Have you ever opened doors, with the sound of your voice?
Biometrics is another one of the future-gadgets that are common in science fiction, and just like videophones, still not commonplace in real life. Keys work so well, and are so much less expensive, that any sort of biometric door lock (fingerprint, retina, voice) would be pointless and prohibitively expensive. Strike 2 for AT&T.

…carried your medical history, in your wallet?
I don’t really know about this one. With insurance companies creating vast databases, your medical history is no doubt linked to your social security number by now. So in a sense, this one is true.

…or attended a meeting, in your bare feet?
Another videophone one? Not really, this one is more realistic since video conferencing is fairly widespread. Videophones are for one person calling another person; video conferencing is for a group interacting. Video conferencing is a reality now.

Have you ever watched the movie you wanted to, the minute you wanted to?
Digital cable is a fairly recent development, and it allows for two-way communication between the viewer and the cable company, so that the viewer can do things like pick the movies they want to watch at any given time. Also, with the constantly increasing capacity of broadband internet, sites like could make it possible to view anything you want to watch, at anytime, anywhere.

…learn special things, from far away places?
This is basically a function of the internet. It seems to be showing a classroom via the internet, which is a common use of the internet.

Overall, its an amazing series of ads from AT&T. About 80% of the calls they made came true, and they were strikingly accurate with the ones they did get right. Good stuff.