Yes, that rule 34. I thoroughly enjoy Charles Stross’ ability (and confidence) to extrapolate the near future consequences of today’s technology trends. This ability makes for a wonderfully fast-paced novel that, while light on plot, is filled with delicious and delightful references to geek culture. From 3D printers to AI run amuck, Rule 34 offers an intense glimpse at a future ruled by technology without the typical boring and tedious exposition: if you’re not up to date on modern geek culture, fully 75% of the references will be lost on you. And while the plot, overall, feels like a watered-down version of a classic Tom Clancy international crime syndicate / espionage thriller, on the whole Rule 34 is quite a good read.
John Gruber linked to this piece critiquing Microsoft’s new future vision video:
Why Microsoft’s Vision Of The Future Is Dead On Arrival
What “future of” tech/design videos need is a little less Minority Report and a little more Alien. Director Ridley Scott famously told his production designers to make Alien’s spaceship and costumes look roughed-up, slightly messy, and above all, lived in. Otherwise, it just isn’t believable enough to see yourself in–which is a design problem that both horror movies and corporate promos need to solve. Microsoft’s film is probably going viral as we speak, but imagine how much more reach it would have if it dared to depict a guy stuck in a meeting that sucked, or using his smartphone in an airport that was full of noisy assholes and long lines, or searching his touchscreen-enabled smart refrigerator for a quick meal because his kids are bouncing off the walls and he’s bone-tired from a long day at work?
And while there are many things worth criticizing in Microsoft’s video, a future that is too pristine is not one of them. The video isn’t a movie, it’s a sales pitch and it exemplifies the purest form of advertising: the selling of an idea—the idea that Microsoft is a forward-looking company that intends to build tomorrow’s technology. The film needs to depict a perfect future because that’s the future that Microsoft wants its customers to yearn for. To suggest that they should have made that future rougher is to suggest that Apple should include iPhones with cracked screens in its commercials, or the frustration of having no cell service.
Movies require realism to be believed. Products need idealism to be desired.
Honestly, as much as I enjoyed the previous Future Vision video, this one is kind of a disappointment. It is beautifully produced, and there are a couple of interesting ideas, but ultimately It’s just more of the same. Instead of feeling like a vision of the future, the video feels like a vision of an alternate reality where Microsoft makes products that people actually want to buy (rather than the products they have now that people begrudginglyhave to buy). Instead of seeing these concepts as something slightly out of reach, I see them as bizarro copies of things that Apple and Google have already achieved. In the first scene I couldn’t help but think, “The car doesn’t drive itself? Google has self-driving cars now, why doesn’t Microsoft have them in the future?” And in the closing scene, the girl with her tablet I instantly thought, “Oh, she has an iPad,” not, “Oh a future tablet from Microsoft.” Where is Microsoft’s iPad competitor? Windows Phone 7 is barely out of the starting gate and apparently only for phones while Windows 8 won’t be released for at least another year.
It’s been 4 years, I think, since the last video, and you have to start to wonder, who is actually delivering this future? How many MS Office products are gesture enabled, designed for touch, optimized for mobile, enable remote collaboration, or have voice assistance? How about Google’s productivity suite, how about Apple’s? It’s pretty clear that this future, if it is that, won’t be delivered by Microsoft.