May 30, 2024

2004 Predictions Scorecard

A year ago, I offered seven predictions for 2004. Today, as penance for sins committed in 2004, it’s my duty to exhume these predictions and compare them to reality.

(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.

The Abu Ghraib images seem to fit the bill here: pictures taken by a phonecam that severely embarass a public figure. When I made this prediction, I had in mind pictures or recordings of the public figure in question, but what the prediction as written wasn’t too far off.

Verdict: mostly right.

(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.

E-voting technologies did lose credibility as predicted. The Holt bill did gain some traction but was never close to passing. Republicans did feel some squeeze on this issue, and it became a bit of a partisan issue. (Now that the 2004 election is past, there is more hope for e-voting reform.)

Verdict: mostly right.

(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.

P2P tools did evolve to resist technical countermeasures, for instance by using hashes to detect spoofed files. The recording industry is only now starting to change tactics. The big P2P technology of the year was BitTorrent, whose main innovation was in dispersing the bandwidth load required to distribute large files, rather than in evading countermeasures. Indeed, BitTorrent made possible a new set of countermeasures, which the copyright owners adopted near the end of the year.

Verdict: mostly right.

(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.

The studios did seem to want a watermark-based system to close the analog hole, but they were held back by its total infeasibility. My main error here was to misjudge the time scale.

Verdict: mostly wrong.

(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.

DRM technology was nearly useless, as predicted. We’re starting to hear faint rumblings within the movie industry that a different approach would be wise. But, as predicted, the industry isn’t paying much attention to them.

Verdict: right.

(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.

Even some New Jersey diners now offer free WiFi. The Pittsburgh airport has offered free WiFi for nearly a year. And some airline clubrooms offer free WiFi that is accessible from nearby terminal areas.

Verdict: right.

(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.

VoIP got plenty of attention, but these companies were not “darlings of the business press”. Security/reliability contrarian stories didn’t get much play. This prediction went too far.

Verdict: mostly wrong.

Overall score: two right, three mostly right, two mostly wrong, none wrong. I’m a bit surprised to have done so well. Obviously this year’s predictions need to be more outrageous. I’ll offer them later in the week.

[UPDATE (1:15 PM): I originally wrote that the first prediction was wrong. Then an anonymous commenter pointed out that Abu Ghraib would qualify. See also the incident in India referenced in the comments.]


  1. I tried my best to make you right on #7, at least as far as raising the questions of VoIP reliability and security to Cynthia Webb, who writes the “Filter” column for the Washington Post online edition. I just think you were a little ahead of your time on this, because if VoIP becomes more widely adopted by really large numbers of people for day-to-day use, to the point that it actually replaces (as opposed to supplementing) traditional phone service — that creates the conditions for a real hoohah. The first time some VIP can’t get in touch with their lawyer or broker or doctor or publicist because their VoIP has keeled over and there are no functional landlines around, the rest of the world will suddenly think it’s an important question. OK maybe that’s a little over the top, too, but my point is that maybe the inevitable eyebrow-raising Big Glitch just hasn’t happened yet.

  2. Las Vegas has free WiFi access now. Total cost to provide it: $70k. Maybe it is so dirt cheap that every airport will do it.,1759,1746563,00.asp

  3. I would differ with two of your conclusions.

    1) I think electronic voting gained credibility in the 2004 election. Evidence is mounting that people perceived e-voting to function normally. And the number of e-voting citizens will continue to climb at a quick clip.

    2) I commented on the WiFi prediction in 2004 and said that I doubted that free WiFI will work in the captive markets of airports.

    I still doubt this conclusion applies broadly and I think Pittsburgh is an outlier because the airport has been devastated by the drop in passenger traffic. USAirways (their major carrier) pulled out 90% of their flights (from their peak).

    Although free WiFi will increasingly be offered as an amentity because it is cheap to provide, markets like airports will continue to resist the move to “free” for as long as they can.

  4. Ed Felten’s Predictions for 2005

    Edward Felten gazes into the crystal ball, providing 12 predictions for IT-related developments in 2005. They include the prediction that in deciding the Grokster case, the Supreme Court will fail to replace the Betamax rule with something sufficiently…

  5. Way to go for rating yourself on your predictions. At all.

    I’ll pipe up and say that #6 is increasingly true. Where I work, my boss is starting to get itchy about the fact that we don’t offer free WiFi to our guests. “I’d hate for someone not to like us just because they can’t check their email in our waiting room,” he said. And he’s no techie.

  6. Kudos for going back and rating yourself. Unfortunately, I’d have to call you wrong on #’s 1 and 2, and mostly wrong on #6 – my own experience has been the opposite, but I am allowing for wide variances in experiences. I bet you would find that both free and for-pay services are increasing and for-pay services are increasing at a higher rate.

    I look forward to your ’05 predictions.

  7. Freedom to Tinker’s 2004 predictions rated

    Edward Felten at Freedom to Tinker, a blog I’m enjoyed reading this year, has posted a scorecard for his 2004 predictions. Some are a little off, but overall many of his predictions developed into at least some sort of fact. I’m looking forward to read…

  8. Cypherpunk says

    You’re being too generous to yourself. Neither Abu Ghraib nor an Indian kiss satisfies number 1. The key to the prediction is that the incident should lead to a public debate about privacy in the face of camera phones, which hasn’t happened. (There have been some privacy debates about use in locker rooms but that has nothing to do with a public scandal.)

    For number 2, you missed the big (and obvious) e-voting news, which is simply that this is the first year where most people used the systems. There were complaints, to be sure, but most people were happy and the systems are likely to grow in use. The Holt thing was totally off base, the issue you predicted never arose. Actually I think the most interesting e-voting story is the ongoing credibility collapse of Bev Harris and, one of the main critics of the technology.,1367,65928,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_5

    For number 3, what exactly was the new generation of P2P tools that would resist RIAA countermeasures? There wasn’t any! As you say the only significant new P2P tool was Bittorrent which has no resistance and is being shut down right and left.

    For number 5, contrary to your predictions the movie industry is pushing DRM harder than ever, with the new HDTV disks being totally loaded with DRM. They are absolutely depending on this technology.

    For number 6, you were right on Pittsburgh, but it wasn’t much of a prediction since it must have been in the works at the time you wrote. Where I live, free wifi doesn’t exist, you need to pay for t-mobile access at Starbucks.

    Sorry to be so negative. If you were grading on a curve you’d probably do OK since I doubt that many other people made better predictions.

  9. Regarding prediction number 1, what about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal? I believe most of the photos were taken with soldiers’ cell phone cameras, and it triggered a debate about whether soldiers should be allowed to carry such devices. I give you a ‘mostly right’ on number 1.

  10. Greg Phillips says

    Actually, you got prediction 1 right, in India at least. That ups your score to 3-2-2-0.