A gaze into the future of the past.
This article is an excerpt from our archives and over 20 years old. We think the visions of Bill are a great way to interpret articles from today about the future. It offers insights into the mind of one of the greatest geniuses and visionaries of our time.
Speech by William “Bill” Gates on 15th of March 1995 at the 5th World Business Dialogue in Cologne
“The ultimate killer application for the PC is communication.”
The technologies of computing and communications are changing very rapidly. I think that this Congress is a recognition of the fact that those things are developing hand-in-hand and that the ultimate killer application for the PC is communication. And that’s been hidden from us up until now because most of the PC functionality has shown mostly standalone functionality and most communications have simply been either broadcast or point-to-point voice communications. In a matter of just a few years time, this will change dramatically.
The really exciting thing that has happened over the last years is not so much in online services, but rather the local applications that run through the use of the CD by taking advantage of 640 megabytes of storage space. We’ve had an incredible variety of organizations looking at how they can use digital interaction to bring across the information or service that they want to provide. There isn’t a museum or a retail shop or a book publisher or a textbook company or software company who now isn’t looking at CD as a way of bringing out their value-added material. And all of the innovation there is extremely important for the future connected world.
Another way to look at this is to think of two dimensions – to think of bandwidth and think of connectivity. The CD-ROM provides a fairly high bandwidth of 1.2 megabits per second, a hundred times greater than a typical dial-in session that means we are playing with motion video. Any of the capacity limitations we are running into today will be relieved.
Now it doesn’t let you get out there and belong to a community of users that you can talk to – that is the online world that has a much lower bandwidth, but because of the richness of material in the community, it is quite exciting. And so when we talk about those two things, the bandwidth we have locally through CD and the connectivity we have with online services, we see that what really is ripe and exciting are devices that have both of those, i.e. that have the kind of bandwidth that is greater than the CD-ROM and the same type of connectivity or greater than we have on online services.
“You will have smaller devices, some like video phones, some like a Wallet PC that you carry around.”
We build an infrastructure that allows a breadth of applications to take place. It’s even harder to think of all of them today. So that’s this thing that we hear about all the time: the Information Super Highway. This term Information Super Highway is one that I like to criticize, but unfortunately, I think we are absolutely stuck with it. It brings up exactly the wrong image. An image of distance. An image of people in a traffic jam going to the same place. It may imply that we need the federal government to actually build the Information Super Highway, and none of those things are at all necessary. In fact, it eliminates distance.
It lets people do what they want to do whether or not anyone else wants to watch that movie or wants to learn about that topic. You’ll be connected to a full two-way network that will deliver those things. Now the devices connected up will have quite a bit of variety.
The PC as it evolves will be a major device whenever you are sitting close to a screen that’s directly connected to the network – that will be the future PC. It will have some local storage, but it will be far more powerful than what we have today. The devices that you sit far away from, although they’ll be connected to the same network, can have the same architecture.
Those you might think of in terms of their form factor and in terms of how they fit in socially as an evolution of the TV set. Movie watching of multiple people, use of an infrared remote control will be the typical usage style of that device. You’d be unlikely to sit down and do your homework there. You’ll be unlikely to sit down and do your banking or go submit an article to your local canoe club. But you might play a game there or you might play the game on the PC-type device.
It’s really just a matter of form factor and distance. You will have smaller devices, some like video phones, some like a Wallet PC that you carry around and isn’t directly connected to the network, and because it uses wireless technology operates at a reduced bandwidth. Many people are talking about the applications here and until it’s all available no one can say for sure which of these applications will catch on.
We are already seeing, with the widespread use of electronic mail, in a certain weak sense, that the Information Highway is here. Companies don’t need as many meetings.
“Capitalism moves faster in this digital world than it ever did in the electronic world.”
The distance to get people collaborating is much easier. I wouldn’t go anywhere without my PC. Now we still don’t have a critical mass for data sharing. We don’t have critical mass for huge information databases that are easy to get to and that’s what’ll come with the market mechanism of matching buyers and sellers that works most efficiently in electronic form. And in a sense, capitalism moves faster in this digital world than it ever did in the electronic world – things like Yellow Pages, classified ads, finding consultants, checking their references – all of those things can be done so much better than the very organizational structure of business (and there are tradeoffs at what they do internally versus externally) will change in a major way.
The move out into the home won’t be too much delayed after business. The primary reason for this is that, particularly in the U.S., we have the cable companies and the phone companies rushing to be the first to get that high-speed wire into the house.
This high-speed wire will superset the function of your cable connection and your phone connection, and so allow whichever company gets there to get the revenue stream that the other used to get in the past, along with the revenue stream of all these new applications. Many people talk about Video-0n-Demand as an application that will be central here.
It is important, but it alone is not enough to fund the development of all this infrastructure. This is why we will need shopping and information services.
“A computer on every desk and in every home. I think it will take less than twenty years for us to get this done.”
We will need to make CD-ROMs on appropriate media and get rid of the media by putting the CD content up on a server so that everybody can have access to the CD contents electronically without the capacity limitations of a CD. This will also enable cross-linkages between different titles. In particular, we want to take all of today’s CDs and make it fairly automatic for them to fit this world so the work people are doing today on CD in no sense is obsoleted. In fact, it is leveraged by this increased connectivity.
The vision that all this relates to is really the original vision that was the founding idea of Microsoft twenty years ago. Our twentieth anniversary has passed, which means that l have spent the majority of my life with the same title, working for the same company. And yet, you can say that we are somewhere like halfway to achieving the initial goal I set for Microsoft: “a computer on every desk and in every home.” I think it will take less than twenty years for us to get this done. No matter how long it does take, I believe that this is the most exciting industry to be in and the opportunities for all of us are really quite incredible.