Number 10: Virtual Reality
Number 09: Alternative Search Engines
Number 08: Voice Recognition
Number 07: Apple Lisa
Number 06: 10 GB Ethernet
Number 05: FireWire
Number 04: Bluetooth
Number 03: Itanium
Number 02: Zune
Number 01: Windows Vista
Yes, there you have it, Windows Vista is the greatest of the failed technologies. Now, for me, it would have to be alchemy, the promise of being able to turn lead into gold. Some say it has been done, but that is purely anecdotal and unsubstantiated. Some might object that alchemy is from too long ago, a product of the transition between the age of superstition and the age of science. To that I answer that the list above does include the Apple Lisa. Come on, if tech as old as the Lisa gets on the list, I don’t think sticking alchemy in there is too great a stretch, is it?
The other thing that sticks out is that the first three disappointments on the list are actually technologies, whereas the Lisa is a product. Then the next three items are technologies, followed by three products. With a little thought, they could have come up with four more technologies to replace the products. Right off the top of my head I can think of four I’ll give them for free: eBook readers, phone/pda combo, the $100 netbook, and sexbots.
What we need in an eBook reader is not even that terribly sophisticated. It should have a high rez screen, wireless internet, and native support for open source document formats. If you want to read eBooks in proprietary formats encumbered with digital restriction management (DRM), you should be able to do that with a downloadable plugin, but basic functionality shouldn’t require anything proprietary. As long as offerings push the proprietary, and are aimed at selling eBooks for little less than the price of the dead tree versions in DRM-encumbered formats that require expensive hardware, this is a tech which will remain disappointing.
I know people with iPhones who just love the things, but while they’re close, they’re not the badger’s nadgers when it comes to the potential of this class of device. I want a phone/pda that has a small actual keyboard, and an impossibly large screen for a small handheld device — let’s say 6×4 inches in a device that, closed, is only 2×4 inches. How is that magic accomplished? Simple, it has a roll up screen that spools up in the device when it’s closed. These flexible screens have been in development for seemingly forever. Any day now. Any day. I keep waiting.
The $100 laptop was the noble goal, unachieved, of the One Laptop Per Child program. They came close enough to give birth to a new category of device, the netbook. Netbooks are small laptops with not the hottest (literally and figuratively) processors, not as much RAM as most laptops, and often without a hard drive at all, using instead some form of nonvolatile RAM, like an SD Card. So far as I know, no one has achieved the magic price point of $100 yet, but as soon as they do, I’m getting one. Provided it runs Linux. At that price point, it’s not unlikely that it will, though by then it’s possible that Microsoft will have released its freely downloadable “Here-take-it-just-don’t-use-linux” edition of XP for netbooks. Or perhaps Windows 7 will live up to its promise to run on netbooks. I’ll believe that when I see it.
Finally, sexbots. For basic functionality, you would think this would be the low hanging fruit of robotics. The Lizzy Lie-Still and Larry Likes-You-On-Top models should be in stores now. The primary technical hurdles would be original utterances (ideally it should be able to combine elements from a large bank of vocabulary and sounds, not just repeat the same 20 phrases like a talking doll with a pull-string), stimulus/response/awareness of surroundings and what’s going on, and some appropriate movements (ideally unaccompanied by the conspicuous sound of servos) which can stop short of http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif full bipedalism given that these models are expected to function primarily on their backs. They would not be expected to be able to make breakfast.
Again, like the eBook reader, sexbots are a technology where the bits and pieces exist here and there, but seem not to have been put together into one satisfying product. You’re telling me Toyota can make a robot that can play the violin, but it can’t make a robot that can fake orgasm?
Of course, Sony’s take seems to be that we are the robots, and only through using their technology can we become human.
Oh, Sony, you are so evil, so thoroughly evil in everything you do. RIAA Big Four member label, infector of people’s computers with root kits, purveyors of mind rot — both the content and the means of delivery. I think you may be more evil even than Microsoft. Is such a thing possible? Let Google be the judge.
Wow, turns out Microsoft is still significantly more evil than Sony. That’s pretty evil. Perhaps, when it comes to technology, what’s most disappointing isn’t the actual tech, but rather the corporations who produce it.