Picks and Pans Review: The Road Ahead
When it comes to predicting the future of technology, you'd expect Microsoft chairman Bill Gates to paint the rosiest picture, and in his bestselling new book he does not disappoint. If the future is half as wonderful as Gates says it will be in this aggressively marketed, high-tech primer with its free CD-ROM—Windows only, of course—people will live longer, learn better and make more money faster than ever before, thanks to the massive historical changes the information highway will bring to our door.
Like any good tour guide, Gates is careful to sidestep potholes and detours and to keep the mood light as he points out the wonders of the coming Information Age, when all computers will be tied together, and they will be as cheap and ubiquitous as the little information "wallets" Gates says we will all wear—tiny magic Ginsu knives of digital intelligence, ready to open doors, adjust the lights, awaken us and tell us the latest news.
Don't want to be tethered to the net? Too bad: Within 10 years, says Gates, you'll be craving connection. "You'll know the information highway has become part of your life when you begin to resent it if information is not available via the network. One day you'll be hunting for the repair manual for your bicycle, and you'll be annoyed that the manual is a paper document you could misplace."
Gates's view of the future may not be particularly novel—after all, we've now had nearly a decade of hype about the information superhighway—but then, not every digital pundit can back up his predictions with a platinum hard drive. If there is gold in them hills, there may be no better way of getting to it than by reading Gates's own story, told here in mildly revealing asides about his visionary Seattle mansion, his old pal and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and Gates's new wife, Melinda French, a former Microsoft executive. Gates's folksy tone may help readers overlook the bumps along this road, but others may see more than a touch of the Wizard of Oz in this occasionally brilliant self-portrait of a high-tech billionaire as a young man. (Viking, $29.95)