from 2025report by macrae & macrae first published 1984 -tech scenarios first mapped 1982
Net Futures - The 2024 Report
Back in 1984 , Norman Macrae wrote "The 2024 Report: a future history of the next 40 years". It was the first book to:
The great technological event of the next 40 years will be the steady rise in importance of the Telecommunications-Computer terminal (TC for short)... Eventually books, files, television programmes, computer information and telecommunications will merge. We'll have this portable object which is a television screen with first a typewriter, later a voice activator attached. Afterwards it will be minaturised so that your personal access instrument can be carried in your buttonhole, but there will be these cheap terminals around everywhere, more widely than telephones of 1984. The terminals will be used to access databases anywhere in the globe, and will become the brainworker's mobile place of work. Brainworkers, which will increasingly mean all workers, will be able to live in Tahiti if they want to and telecommute daily to the New York or Tokyo or Hamburg office through which they work. In the satellite age costs of transmission will not depend mainly on distance. And knowledge once digitalised can be replicated for use anywhere almost instantly.
Over the last decade, I have written many articles in The Economist and delivered lectures in nearly 30 countries across the world saying the future should be much more rosy. This book explores the lovely future people could have if only all democrats made the right decisions.
Norman Macrae, 1984.
Telecommunications are now recognised as the third of the three great transport revolutions that have, in swift succession, transformed society in the past two hundred years. First, were the railways; second the automobile; and third, telecommunications-attached-to-the-computer, which was bound to be the most far-reaching because in telecommunications, once the infrastructure is installed, the cost of use does not depend greatly on distance. So by the early years of the twenty-first century brainworkers - which in rich countries already meant most workers - no longer need to live near their work.
All three revolutions were opposed by the ruling establishments of their time, and therefore emerged fastest where government was weak. All three brought great new freedoms to the common man, but the railway and motor-car ages temporarily made access to capital the most important source of economic power. As most men and women did not like being bossed about by capitalists who could become more powerful because they were born stinking rich, they voted to give greater economic power to governments during the railway and motor-car ages. This was economically inefficient, and also made tyrannies more likely and more terrible. The information revolution was fortunately the exact opposite of the steam engine's industrial revolution and of Henry Ford's mass production automobile revolution in this respect. The steam engine and mass production has made start-up costs for the individual entrepreneur larger and larger, so that in both the steam and automobile ages to quote Bell Canada's Gordon Thompson in the early 1970s, there was 'no way an ordinary citizen could walk into a modern complex factory and use its facilities to construct something useful for himself'. But, as Thompson forecast, the databases of the next decades were places into which every part-time enthusiast could tele-commute. In all jobs connected with the use of information, start-up costs for the individual entrepreneur in 1984-2024 have grown smaller and smaller. It was 'never thus', said Thompson, 'with power shovels and punch presses'.
In consequence, in the TC age, the most important economic resource is no longer ownership of or access to capital, but has become the ability to use readily available knowledge intelligently and entrepreneurially.
For a region's people to succeed in the Telecommuting Age there are four main requirements - satisfied in places as far apart ad Guam and Queensland and Cape Province and California and Penang and Scotland. First , as the prophet John Naisbitt said in 1982, 'the languages needed for the immediate future are computer and English'. Second, the area has to be a nice one in which to live. Third, it is important that all income earners should adapt happily to a 'cafeteria of compensation' schemes. These allow the individual employee to decide what mix (s)he wants of salary, job objectives, career aims, flexitime, job sharing, long or short holidays, fringe benefits or fringe nuisances. Fourth, there needs to be a competitive and quickly changing telecommunications system. The TC age is making understanding of these requirements increasingly transparent among human beings worldwide.
Governments at first tried to impede or regulate much of this, but an early discovery of the Telecommutung age was that we could change the way we chose our governments. Until the 1990s we had pretended to ourselves that we could alter our lifestyles by choosing on each Tuesday or Thursday every four years whether Mr Reagan or Mr Carter , Mrs Thatcher or Mr Kinnock, was putting on the tribal demonstration which at that particular moment annoyed us less. After the advent of the TC we found that the more sensible and direct way in which a free man or woman could choose government was by voting with his or her feet. The individual could go to live in any area where the government - which could from then on be a very local government - permitted the lifestyle, rules and customs which suited that human being.
The introduction of the international Centrobank was the last great act of government before government grew much less important. It was not a conception of policy-making governments at all, but emerged from the first computerised town meeting of the world.
By 2005 the gap in income and expectations between the rich and poor nations was recognised to be man's most dangerous problem. Internet linked television channels in sixty-eight countries invited their viewers to participate in a computerised conference about it, in the form of a series of weekly programmes. Recommendations tapped in by viewers were tried out on a computer model of the world economy. If recommendations were shown by the model to be likely to make the world economic situation worse, they were to be discarded. If recommendations were reported by the model to make the economic situation in poor countries better, they were retained for 'ongoing computer analysis' in the next programme.
In 2024 it is easy to see this as a forerunner of the TC conferences which play so large a part in our lives today, both as pastime and principal innovative device in business. But the truth of this 2005 breakthrough tends to irk the highbrow. It succeeded because it was initially a rather downmarket network television programme. About 400 million people watched the first programme, and 3 million individuals or groups tapped in suggestions. Around 99 per cent of these were rejected by the computer as likely to increase the unhappiness of mankind. It became known that the rejects included suggestions submitted by the World Council of Churches and by many other pressure groups. This still left 31,000 suggestions that were accepted by the computer as worthy of ongoing analysis. As these were honed, and details were added to the most interesting, an exciting consensus began to emerge. Later programmes were watched by nearly a billion people as it became recognised that something important was being born.
These audiences were swollen by successful telegimmicks. The presenter of the first part of the first programme was a roly-poly professor who was that year's Nobel laureate in economics, and who proved a natural television personality. He explained that economists now agreed that aid programmes could sometimes help poor countries, but sometimes most definitely made their circumstances worse. When Mexico was inflating at over 80 per cent a year in the early 1980s , the inflow to it of huge loanable funds made its inflation even faster and its crash more certain. The professor set Mexico's 1979-1981 economy on the model, pumped in the loaned funds and showed how all the indicators ( higher inflation, lower real gross domestic product and so on) then flashed red, signaling an economy getting worse, rather than green, signaling an economy getting better. ..The professor then put the model back to mirror the contemporary world of 2005, and played into it various nostrums that had been recommended by politicians of left, right and centre, but mostly left. The dials generally flashed red. Then the professor provided another set of recommendations , and asked viewers who wished to play to tap in their own guesses on the consequent movement of key economics variables in the model. Those who got their guesses right to within a set error were told they had qualified for a second round of a knock-out economic guesstimators' world championship. Knockout competitions of this sort continued for viewers throughout the series of programmes.
In the second part of that first programme, the presenters dared to introduce two political decisions into the game. They said that government-to-government aid programmes had been particularly popular among politicians during the age of over-government, but there was growing agreement that government-to-government aid was the worst method of hand-out. The excessive role played by governments in poor countries was one of the barriers to their economic advance, and a main destroyer of their people's freedom. Could anyone have thought it would be wise to give aid to President Mbogo?
In consequence, the most successful economic aid programmes had been those operated through the International Monetary Fund, which imposed conditions on how borrowing governments should operate. The professor showed that IMF-monitored operations in most years had brought more green flashes from the model than red. But this involved IMF officials - often from the rich countries - in telling governments of poor countries what to do; and one of the objectives of this town meeting of the world was to diminish such embarrassments.
The first questions to be asked in the next few programmes, said the compilers, were 1) which countries should qualify for aid? ; and having decided that, 2) up to what limits and conditions? ; and 3) through what mechanisms? They promised that later programmes after the first half-dozen would examine how any scheme could be used to diminish the power of governments and increase the power of free markets and free people.
In a typical 21st C scene, obedience to consumer needs is shown by every car plant in the world because of better and more customised information available on all our TCs. Most people buying a car in 2024 will key into their special requirements into their TCs.
The TC will reply: "You can get a customised car which meets all of your specifications by putting personalised instructions on the software of the assembly line's robots in one of these factories (choice of nine) requesting that the next car on the line be modified as you dictate. But that would cost up to $40,000 (Click to factories for quotations and credit facilities). For a fifth of that price, you can meet most of your requirements by the following standard computer programme at present scheduled for production in June at Nissan Kanpur; or July at Ford Manila (and so on). Click to factories for precise specifications and prices.
All of this has become commonplace after 2000. How has it affected employment?
For a new industry of 2019-2024 let us cite the intendedly short-lived example of the Clark-Schmidt Robot Gardener. Matthew Clark was a 53-year old on his third university course (he had started the other two at the ages of nineteen and thirty-seven respectively) telecommuted through the University of Southern California, although he took it while living in his native Australia , when, together with two other student's telecommuting through USC's database, he devised a system for a robot-driven lawnmower which could also scan soil and assess the possibilities for reseeding. It signaled the videos to be called up on your TC to show alternative uses for the soil in your garden. If you picked one video display that particularly suited your taste, you keyed in its number into the Robot Gardener and it signaled back, 'put such-and-such chemical into my tank and seeds 1234, 3456 (et cetera), plus software program 29387 - both orderable through your TC - into my reseeder.'
Clark and his two colleagues put their tentative ideas for this device on the researchers' database monitored by the University of Southern California. The entry numbers to the USC database were held by people who had promised to accept the computer's judgement of the value of any ideas they might contribute to projects entered on it. In all, 1213 people - domiciled from Hanoi through Penang and Capri and Bermuda back to Queensland in Australia itself - tapped in suggestions for improvements, of which 176 were accepted nby the computer as worthwhile. The payments recommended by the computer ranged from $42 ( for a cosmetic improvement recommended by an eleven-year-old schoolboy) to one tenth of the equity (eventually worth several million dollars) for a proposal by a research team from another telecommuting university which proved important enough for Clark to feel slightly guilty about calling the Robot Gardener after himself.
When the improvements suggested by these 176 contributors had been incorporated by Clark into the appropriate software program for making the Robot Gardener , it was advertised on USC's entrepreneur-browsing program available on any TC. Entry numbers for the lowest echelons of this can be bought for a very few dollars, but the Robot Gardener was put on a higher echelon because USC's computer had signaled this was a potential quick winner.
One of those who had paid for an expensive entry number into browsing among good 'proffered opportunity products' (POPs) was a Dutchman called Carl Schmidt. He had become a successful 'arranging producer' in an earlier venture, and now occupied himself browsing through his TC looking for a second bonanza. He made an offer to Clark to tale an option for launch in return for a fairly complicates programme of profit sharing, which in practice (because arranging is nowadays a more skilled job than inventing) eventually gave Schmidt more money than Clark. Clark accepted this and Schmidt produced a prototype within three days by reprogramming robots in an experimental plant. A video of the prototype was put on consumers' TC channels worldwide the next week, and most of the 400 odd gardeners' TC channels round the world picked it out within days as a 'best buy'.
Schmidt's video advertisement said 'If you key in your order now with your credit number, you can get a Robot Gardener for a bargain price (applies to the first 10,000 orders only). Tenders are also invited for part of the equity.' The advance orders and bids for equity made it possible to finance assembly of the Robot Gardener for early-bid customers within a few weeks...
Note that there was never any intention that Robot Gardeners Inc should grow into a huge and long-lasting company. Clark and Schmidt are already researching and browsing into other possibilities, on separate courses. About fifty of those who succeeded by early participation in this venture hope to become the equivalent of Clark and Schmidt in other things.
At no stage has this enormously successful manufacturing venture employed more than 1000 people. It is therefore true that the loss of nine-tenths of manufacturing jobs , which we saw has been highest in car-making in rich countries, has also been true there in manufacturing jobs as a whole. Where these countries had 20-40 per cent of their workforces in manufacturing in 1974, they typically have 2-4 per cent now.
This is not an unprecedented rundown. In the 1890s around half of the workforce in countries like the United States were in three occupations: agriculture, domestic service and jobs to do with horse transport. By the 1970s these three were down to 4 per cent of the workforce. If this had been foretold in the 1890s, there would have been a wail. It would have been said that half the population was fit only to be farmworkers, parlourmaids and sweepers-up of horse manure. Where would this half find jobs? The answer was by the 1970s the majority of them were much more fully employed ( because more married women joined the workforce) doing jobs that would have sounded double-Dutch in the 1890s: extracting oil instead of fish out of the North Sea; working as computer programmers, or as television engineers, or as package-holiday tour operators chartering jet aircraft.
The move in jobs in the past fifty years in the rich countries has been out of manufacturing and into telecommuting.
There has been a sea-change in the traditional ages on man. Compared with 1974 our children in 2024 generally go out to paid work (especially computer programming work) much earlier, maybe starting at nine, maybe at twelve, and we do not exploit them. But young adults of twenty-three to forty-five stay at home to play much more than in 1974; it is quite usual today for one parent (probably now generally the father, although sometimes the mother) to stay at home during the period when young children are growing up. And today adults of forty-three to ninety-three go back to school - via computerised learning - much more than they did in 1974.
In most of the rich countries in 2024 children are not allowed to leave school until they pass their Preliminary Exam. About 5 per cent of American children passed their exam last year before their eight birthday, but the median age for passing it in 2024 is ten-and-a-half, and remedial education is generally needed if a child has not passed it by the age of fifteen.
A child who passes his Prelim can decide whether to tale a job at once, and take up the remainder of his twelve years of free schooling later; or he can pass on to secondary schooling forthwith, and start to study for his Higher Diploma.
The mode of learning for the under-twelves is nowadays generally computer-generated. The child sits at home or with a group of friends or (more rarely) in an actual, traditional school building. She or he will be in touch with a computer program that has discovered , during a preliminary assessment, her or his individual learning pattern. The computer will decide what next questions to ask or task to set after each response from each child.
A school teacher assessor, who may live half a world away, will generally have been hired, via the voucher system by the family for each individual child. A good assessor will probably have vouchers to monitor the progress of twenty-five individual children, although some parents prefer to employ groups of assessors - one following the child's progress in emotional balance, one in mathematics, one in civilized living, and so on - and these groups band together in telecommuting schools.
Many communities and districts also have on-the-spot 'uncles' and 'aunts'. They monitor childrens' educational performance by browsing through the TC and also run play groups where they meet and get to know the children personally...
Some of the parents who have temporarily opted out of employment to be a family educator also put up material on the TC s for other parents to consult. Sometimes the advice is given for free, sometimes as a business. It is a business for Joshua Ginsberg. He puts a parents advice newsletter on the TC , usually monthly. Over 300,000 people subscribe to it, nowadays at a 25-cent fee per person, or less if you accept attached advertisements. Here's an entry from the current newsletter:
"Now that TCs are universal and can access libraries of books, 3-d video, computer programs, you name it, it is clear that the tasks of both the Educator and the Communicator are far more stimulating that ten years ago.
One of my recent lessons with my ten-year-old daughter Julie was in art appreciation. In the standard art appreciation course the TC shows replicas of famous artists' pictures, and a computer asks the pupil to match the artist to the picture. Julie said to the computer that it would be fun to see Constable's Haywain as Picasso might have drawn it. The computer obliged with its interpretation , and then ten more stylised haywains appeared together with the question 'who might have drawn these?'. I believe we are the first to have prompted the TC along this road, but it may now become a standard question when the computer recognises a child with similar learning patterns to Julie's.
It is sometimes said that today's isolated sort of teaching has robbed children of the capacity to play and interact with other children. This is nonsense. We ensure that Julie and her four year old brother Pharon have lots of time to play with children in our neighbourhood . But in work we do prefer to interact with children who are of mutual advantage to Julie and to each other. The computer is an ace teacher, but so are people. You really learn things if you can teach them to someone else. Our computer has helped us to find a group of four including Julie with common interests, who each have expertise in some particular areas to teach the others.
The TC also makes it easier to play games within the family. My parents used to play draughts, halma, then chess with me. They used to try to be nice to me and let me win. This condescending kindness humiliated me, and I always worked frenetically to beat my younger brother (who therefore always lost and dissolved into tears.) Today Julie, Pharon and I play halma together against the graded computer, and Julie and I play it at chess. The computer knows Pharon's standard of play at halma and Julie's and mine at chess. Its default setting is at that level where each of us can win but only if we play at our best. Thus Pharon sometimes wins his halma game while Julie and I are simultaneously losing our chess game, and this rightly gives Pharon a feeling of achievement. When Julie and I have lost at chess, we usually ask the computer to re-rerun the game, stopping at out nmistakes and giving a commentary. As it is a friendly computer it does a marvelous job of consoling us. Last week it told Julie that the world champion actually once made the same mistake as she had done - would she like to see that game?
I intend to devote the next two letters to the subjects I have discussed here , but retailing the best of your suggestions instead of droning on with mine."
While the computer's role in children's education is mainly that of instructor (discovering a child's learning pattern and responding to it) and learning group matcher, its main role in higher education is as a store of knowledge. Although a computer can only know what Man has taught it, it has this huge advantage. No individual man lives or studies long enough to imbibe within himself all the skills and resources that are the product of the millennia of man's quest for knowledge, all the riches and details from man's inheritance of learning passed on from generation to generation. But any computer today can inherit and call up instantly any skill which exists anywhere in the form of a program.
This is why automatically updated databases are today the principal instruments of higher education and academic research. It is difficult for our generation to conceive that only forty years ago our scientists acted as tortoise-like discoverers of knowledge, confined to small and jealous cliques with random and restricted methods of communicating ideas. Down until the 1980s the world has several hundred sepaate cancer research organisations with no central co-ordinating database.