May 21, 2024

Predictions for 2004

Happy New Year! This time of year, journalistic convention requires even micro-pundits like me to make predictions for the upcoming year. This goes for the rest of you bloggers too – let’s see your predictions!

Like everybody else’s predictions, some of my predictions are obvious, some will be hilariously wrong, and all of them will be conveniently forgotten later. Also like everyone else, I’ll look back at the end of 2004 and wonder how I left out the year’s biggest story. But here goes anyway.

(1) Some public figure will be severely embarrassed by an image taken by somebody else’s picture-phone or an audio stream captured by somebody else’s pocket audio recorder. This will trigger a public debate about the privacy implications of personal surveillance devices.

(2) The credibility of e-voting technologies will continue to leak away as more irregularities come to light. The Holt e-voting bill will get traction in Congress, posing a minor political dilemma for the president who will be caught between the bill’s supporters on one side and campaign contributors with e-voting ties on the other.

(3) A new generation of P2P tools that resist the recording industry’s technical countermeasures will grow in popularity. The recording industry will respond by devising new tactics to monitor and unmask P2P infringers.

(4) Before the ink is dry on the FCC’s broadcast flag order, the studios will declare it insufficient and ask for a further mandate requiring watermark detectors in all analog-to-digital converters. The FCC will balk at the obvious technical and economic flaws in this proposal.

(5) DRM technology will still be ineffective and inflexible. A few people in the movie industry will wake up to the hopelessness of DRM, and will push the industry to try another approach. But they won’t be able to overcome the industry’s inertia – at least not in 2004.

(6) Increasingly, WiFi will be provided as a free amenity rather than a paid service. This will catch on first in hotels and cafes, but by the end of the year free WiFi will be available in at least one major U.S. airport.

(7) Voice over IP (VoIP) companies like Vonage will be the darlings of the business press, but the most talked-about VoIP-related media stories will be contrarian pieces raising doubt about the security and reliability implications of relying on the Internet for phone service.


  1. Felten’s crystal ball

    Ed Felten made some interesting predictions for 2004, including DRM technology will still be ineffective and inflexible. A few people in the movie industry will wake up to the hopelessness of DRM, and will push the industry to try another…

  2. During recent travels, I found free WiFi in the Fort Lauderdale and Pittsburgh airports. I’m not sure it was publicized, but it was a painless connection–just turn on the card, and you get close to half a megabyte per second up and down. I would think Pittsburgh should definitely count as a “major U.S. airport.”

  3. Here’s my $0.02:

    (1) Professor Felten, I think you’re right that the studios will not be satisfied with the Broadcast Flag and will want another drink at the FCC well (digital watermarks). However, don’t count on the FCC Commissioners to recognize the problems with digital watermarks. I believe that the FCC over the past 20 years has wanted to be more like the SEC. The commissioners don’t seem extremely excited about dealing with those tedious and involved technical regulation cases. They also don’t like that those nasty little things like Maxwell’s Equations, Ohm’s Law, and propagation behavior are not suitably malleable. They tend to work exactly as described and NOT ONE BIT DIFFERENTLY. Lawyers don’t like systems with firm rules that don’t allow for argument, and we are long past the time when the commissioners were chosen from the ranks of technicians and engineers who truly understood the nature of the beast.

    (2) Cypherpunk, I can’t agree that the Broadcast Flag will become less of a problem, nor can I agree that DRM will evolve towards “DRM Lite.” The content cartel will oppose any attempt to ease DRM control standards and will advocate more drastic controls as they will constantly develop “evidence” that existing controls are not adequate. The expense of consumers and the consumer electronics industry is far and away a secondary concern to content control. SCMS killed DAT, and the content cartel shed nary a tear.

    That’s it for me.

  4. Not cool, bbphone. As a Packet8 user I cringe every time I see one of these self-promoting (bbphone gets kickbacks from that link) posts, as opposed to actual topical conversations.

  5. If you like Vonage. Check out Packet8. They are the same service but Packet8 is a lot cheaper. For more info on Packet8 and to get $20 off when signing up for Packet8, visit

    [I considered removing this comment as it’s only marginally connected to the topic and it seems like an ad. For now, I’m leaving it here, though I did remove a clickable hyperlink. — Ed Felten]

  6. WiFi is already free in my (small) city and (with minimal tax dollars) it will become a valuable public service for bringing in additional revenue to local businesses. However, I’m not certain this technique will work in the captive markets of airports.

  7. Cypherpunk says

    I’d counter-predict on several of these. We’ll see increasing acceptance of DRM in the consumer music services, which will compete on DRM terms and evolve towards “DRM lite”. These services will also lead to an emerging consensus that downloading music without permission of the creators is wrong. P2P growth will level off and may even peak in the 2004-2005 time frame. Record companies will see the P2P threat abating, back off on their lawsuits and launch a new PR effort to improve their image.

    As for WiFi, I predict the free services will go away, as the upstream providers tighten licensing terms in order to capture more revenue, and use technology to detect customers who are running unauthorized public access points. The only businesses which might offer free WiFi would be high-margin services like luxury hotels.

    The Broadcast Flag will become less of an issue as consumer device manufacturers commit to time shifting and home networking in next generation DVRs which include HDTV compatibility.

    Microsoft’s NGSCB (Palladium) technology will continue to be much discussed, but its release date will be pushed out and as the details are revealed it will be seen more as a complex piece of technology and not as an evil bogeyman.

    Going out on a limb, I’ll predict an iPod-like device will be announced that records everything that you say, 24/7, with some kind of phoneme based search. (Or maybe this has already happened?)

  8. err… that’s “Rosenblatt”. A different perspective in the sense of DRM in new media and enterprise contexts with some negative developments in 2003.

  9. Rosenbladt on “DRM in 2003”: .