This genius might have invented the iPhone years before Steve Jobs

Jake Hall
Thursday 29 March 2018 11:15
Science and Tech
(Pictures: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for AOL Inc / SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images)

Most of us take tech for granted. Not only do we plan our lives, Google our problems and engage in drunken one-way conversations with Siri, we largely rely on technology to keep the cogs of our existence turning seamlessly.

Rewind back to 1999 and things were very different. Dial-up internet connections took forever (remember begging mum to hang up the landline so you could play Neopets in peace?) and, in terms of mobile phones, Snake was about as advanced as things got.

Earlier, a series of eerily accurate 1999 predictions made by Bill Gates in his book Business @ the Speed of Thought began recirculating online. As well as foreseeing the creation of sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, he also hinted at the rise in ‘smart marketing’ and even Siri. The mega-rich tycoon has been hailed as a genius for his predictions.

But wait! A recent viral tweet shared by former tech writer and editor Esther Schindler reveals that Star Trek writer David Gerrold was similarly ahead of the curve, essentially imagining a fully souped-up iPhone years before Steve Jobs.

In 1999, Gerrold declared we would all soon be using something he called ‘Pita’ – which, let’s be honest, is hardly the catchiest name. But his predictions were, again, surprisingly accurate. As well as hypothesising that this new, pocket-sized device would include the expected gadgets – microphone, camera, phone function – he also said the wondrous ‘Pita’ would have speech recognition.

Most important of all, it will have both speech recognition and speech synthesis. It will listen and respond in English or whatever language you need, and yes, it will be a translator, too. It will be an agent, going out and doing cyber-errands for you.

For instance: I need a Japanese restaurant in Tulsa, near the Ramada Inn. Book a reservation and arrange transportation. If there’s no Japanese restaurant, try for Italian.

Surely, in 1999, these hypotheses must have sounded like distant fantasies but, in the heads of Gerrold and Gates, truly anything seemed possible. Twenty years later, it’s amazing – and, frankly, heartening – to see their wildest predictions come true.

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