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A much-lambasted forecast proves out

AT&T Tech Channel

In 1995, Clifford Stoll, an infectiously enthusiastic astronomer who mildly resembles Emmet Brown, Marty McFly's wild-haired scientist friend in Back to the Future, forecast our Internet miasma, one not of carefree democracy but "handles, harassment, and anonymous threats." For that, he was sent into scientific purgatory, forever to be mocked and trolled. As we know now from fake news bots, the 2016 U.S. election, and the fully-blocked Chinese internet, Stole was right, per Rob Howard at Medium.

Not entirely right, mind you: Stoll, for instance, could not foresee the reasonably safe transfer of money through cyberspace, or the cratering of malls. But he was sufficiently accurate to deserve a massive apology from the scientific and tech community, including:

  • "A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee."
  • "Who'd prefer cybersex to the real thing?"
  • "What's missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact."