AT&T’s Internet Predictions from 1993

In 1993, several years after the commercial Internet was started by non-telco ISPs, AT&T produced the video “AT&T’s vision for the Internet”:

Picture phones on the ground and on airplanes. That’s in part 1 of Paleo-Future’s six part (OK, 9 part) series showing clips from the AT&T video. Watch the rest for a voice-actuated video-still-CAD phone tablet, plenty of virtual reality, and online shopping. In other words, a sort of visual AOL. Plus artificially intelligent agents and real-time voice translation with subtitles.

Maybe I missed the parts about individual publishing, group-forming, political activists, or even links to whatever documents you like. It does show video teleconferencing, but that’s not quite the same as blogs, YouTube, or wikipedia. Online shopping happened, but it wasn’t the telcos that made it so. Camera phones are ubiquitous these days, and they did come from telcos (although I think mostly starting with non-U.S. ones), but they’re not very well integrated into the Internet. The picture sites that are well integrated (Flickr, YouTube, etc.) weren’t started by telcos.

Sure, nobody can predict the future very well. But AT&T’s vision of the future was clearly basically different from the Internet we know now: centralized, not participatory.

Someone who was inside AT&T at the time confirms that interpretation:

Mike Robins, a retired AT&T/Bell employee sez, “At this point in time, AT&T was talking about THEIR network. All of these services and future ideas were a vision to provide these services to anyone using their telephone network. In 1993 there was even a large thrust from the executives to deny that the Internet would ever be something useful to AT&T. We were always discouraged from even using the word (Internet) when making presentations. If we used the word Internet, whatever we were talking about would get an immediate negative connotation. We did manage to use the word Intranet, and that meant that it could be something ‘controlled’ and ‘managed’ for businesses, unlike the ‘wild’, ‘uncontrolled’, ‘insecure’, and ‘unreliable’ Internet.”

AT&T’s vision for the Internet in 1993, posted by Cory Doctorow,, 18 April 2007

The big telcos use the word Internet now, but they’re still talking about THEIR network. This is why we need net neutrality or more competition or both.