Tuesday 21 May 2019

This sci-fi writer uncannily predicted the rise of smartphones and their effect on privacy in 1999


Using smartphone.
Using smartphone.

By Nilima Marshall, Press Association

These days, we cannot think of spending a moment away from our smartphones but two decades ago, who would have imagined a portable device that does everything from connecting you to your loved ones to streaming your favourite TV show would exist in the future?

Well, someone did.

It appears Star Trek writer David Gerrold somehow predicted the rise of the smartphone way back in 1999 when we were still getting used to the idea of brick-like cellular phones.

Not only did Gerrold accurately predict how this hypothetical gadget would be used, he also warned about the privacy issues that would come with the futuristic technology.

His magazine column, which was published in Sm@rt Reseller in December 1999, was shared on Twitter by journalist Esther Schindler, who at the time was its technology editor.

Calling the device Personal Information Telecommunications Agent, or Pita for short, he wrote: “It will be a box less than an inch thick and smaller than a deck of cards.

“The size will be determined by what’s convenient to hold, not by the technology inside.”

And there’s more.

Gerrold continued: “The box will have a high-res colour screen, a microphone, a plug for a headset or earphones, a camera lens, wireless connectivity, cellphone and beeper functions, a television and radio receiver, a digital recorder, and it will have enough processing power and memory to function as a desktop system.”

He also predicted that the gizmo would handle emails and speech recognition and would be able to run “cyber errands” like making restaurant reservations or booking transportation (Alexa, anyone?).

More interestingly, he appeared to foresee the privacy issues that would come to be associated with the devices, saying Pita could also stand for “Pain In The Ass” because “having all that connectivity is going to destroy what’s left of everyone’s privacy”.

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