back to article Microsoft's futurologists virtualise the poor

Beggars will still be with us in the future, according to a futuristic video by Microsoft's Office Labs team - but at least technology will be able to keep our distance from them. The video is called "Microsoft Productivity Future Vision" and the blurb invites us to "Watch how future technology will help people make better use …


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  1. John G Imrie

    The rich peoples guide to giving

    1) Rip off your customer base with overpriced tat for 10 + years.

    2) Set up a charitable foundation.

    3) Ensure that all donations by said foundation mean that the recipients have to buy more of your tat.

    4) Claim the donations back as tax deductible allowances, thus ensuring that the people receiving your larges are in fact the ones paying for it.

    5) Get a PR company to leak to the waiting press stories about how much good you do, but you are too modest to talk about it.

    Cynical, moi?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Don't forget to add the usual future-sleaze robotic female voiceover: "Thank you for your donation! Your money will be spent on giving Microsoft products to those who need them most!" Where "most" is in reality "least", of course.

      1. John G Imrie


        I don't recall mentioning Microsoft in the above post.


        All scheming, bespectacled, megalomaniacs and their chair throwing sidekicks appearing in the above post are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living, dead or borged, is purely coincidental.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Cynical, moi?"

      No you're not, you're being realistic.

    3. dogged

      Hold on....

      are you telling me that the 7billion dollars worth of HIV and malaria medications so far distributed since 2008 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were made by Microsoft?

      I think you may be mistaken.

  2. JimC

    Just like all those Science Fictional Dystopias

    Where the poor masses are kept out of sight and in the ghetto...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Which is

      ... where they should be, I plan being the elite!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Thumb me down...

        "where they should be" ... all good at detecting the sarcasm this week aren't we!

        Armando is right, we're all ready there, it's bad enough already.

    2. Armando 123

      And this is different from today ... how?

      You'll notice there aren't a lot of the poor masses portrayed on tv, unless the middle-class-income news people need to make you feel bad about your own success.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    These MS visions of a dystopian future

    Make me shudder.

    They're disgusting and depressing. Not only will human suffering and want be with us in the future -- so will Microsoft technology. And that's enough to make anyone want to cry.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    sounds good

    I think we can extend this technology to keep the unwashed masses off public transport. We need a sniff device that will check everybody trying to get on a bus or train, haven't had a wash in the last two days? Sorry, not letting you on. Carrying fried chicken? Walk tubby. Suddenly the future does look, or at least smell, slightly brighter!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Someone at Microsoft has been reading Mencius Moldbug

  6. Brian Miller

    That beggar didn't get squat

    Everybody does realize that the beggar in the photo didn't get a penny from any of that, right? Really, what beggar would have a smart phone and a web page? Believe me, the homeless whom I've seen outside a company in Redmond don't have an expensive phone *or* donations from passing people.

    This is the Web 2.0 adaptation of, "Adopt this kitten or we'll blow its brains out."

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Using a computer will be tough in the future

    I guess we will just be tapping semi-randomly on our fondleslabs and crossing our fingers that they show us the information we want.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The interactive "Benefit Concert" poster looks like its for one of those fundraisers that the one percent like to organize.

    And the guy in the poster isn't poor, he's a professional musician wearing "traditional dress" to promote the benefit concert :P

  9. Piro
    Thumb Down

    The future still uses QWERTY?

    Good god..

  10. Franklin

    I am reminded of billg's book The Road Ahead, which barely mentioned the Internet on its launch and was hastily rewritten after the fact. microsoft's view of the future has always been "it's just like the present, only longer," and they have a history of coming late to the party for any disruptive technology.

    This video is more of the same--tech of the future being basically more of the same, only glossier and with more swiping. Displays mounted to walls, rather than displays BEING walls; people using 3D displays on tablets and cell phones, rather than the 3D displays being integrated with, say, contact lenses; "computing devices" still being distinct from "other devices." Somehow, I can't help seeing this as a George Jetson future, where instead of making a robotic vacuum cleaner you make a humanoid robot that pushes around a regular vacuum.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    MS Panhandling

    C'mon, we know whats going on here...

    This is the first step towards MS Panhandling. The big advantage here is that instead of running them over (see below) or otherwise killing them, this will allow Microsoft to simply turn these people off. Thus avoiding any negative publicity...

    Microsoft Panhandling, an idea stirring from the Windows 95 era:

    "The idea came to me the other day when a homeless man asked me for money,"recalls Gates. "I suddenly realized that we were missing a golden opportunity. Here was a chance to make a profit without any initial monetary investment. Naturally, this man then became my competition, so I had my limo driver run over him several times."

    Microsoft Panhandling will be automatically installed with Windows 95. At random intervals, a dialog box pops up, asking the user if they could spare any change so that Microsoft has enough money to get a hot meal. ("This is a little lie," admits software engineer Adam Miller, "since our diet consists of Coke and Twinkies, but what panhandler doesn't embellish a little?") The user can click Yes, in which case a random amount of change between $.05 and $142.50 is transferred from the user's bank account to Microsoft's. The user can also respond No, in which case the program politely tells the user to have a nice day. The "No" button has not yet been implemented.

    "We're experiencing a little trouble programming the No button," Bernard Liu says, "but we should definitely have it up and running within the next couple of years. Or at least by the time Windows 2014 comes out. Maybe."

    Gates says this is just the start of an entire line of products. "Be on the lookout for products like Microsoft Mugging, which either takes $50 or erases your hard drive, and Microsoft Squeegee Guy, which will clean up your Windows for a dollar." (When Microsoft Squeegee Guy ships, Windows 95 will no longer automatically refresh your windows.)

    But there are competitors on the horizon. Sun Microsystems and Oracle Corporation are introducing panhandling products of their own.

    "Gates is a few tacos short of a combination platter, if you get my drift," says Oracle Head Honcho and 3rd degree black belt Larry Ellison. "I mean, in the future, we won't need laptop computers asking you for change. You'll have an entire network of machines asking you for money." Gates responded with, "I know what you are, but what am I?" General pandemonium then ensued.

    I take no credit for this Panhandling joke, I merely found it online, like many others most likely.

  12. Al Jones


    Get over yourselves - it's an updated version of a QR code on a Charity poster. You don't complain that Oxfam is dystopian because they put up posters in Tube stations, rather than importing real live starving babies from Africa when they do a famine appeal, do you?

    Charities are already soliciting donations by SMS short code, (even though the service provider will take between 30% and 70% of the donation) because there's an audience that will make an immediate donation that way, but will never get around to signing up for a pledge any other way.

    There's nothing particularly dystopian about the example in the Microsoft demo - it's an example of how mobile technology allows a user to react at the point of solicitation, rather than wait until later when they may have forgotten or been distracted. Whether having an "interactive" poster will actually make passers-by more or less likely to donate is something that we won't know until the technology is more commonplace.

    1. teebol
      Thumb Down


      And MSFT will collect a royalty on each license of Panhandler (tm)?

  13. Gannon (J.) Dick

    A Modest Prior Art

    Swift got there first. What's MS to do ?

  14. Mediocrates

    The two things that impressed me

    1. The Wall of Moss in the otherwise sterile work environment.

    2. The replies to viewer comments seem to have been written by slightly retarded robots.

  15. Arctic fox

    This is simply the kind of sanitised vision that most examples of "BigCorp" like to punt out.

    Not just Microsoft. A future where "we" (because none of "us" are going to be losers are we?) are all "middle class" and the underclass is held at arms length and out of sight. In fact you can see plenty of signs of the development of this trend all around us - especially in the larger cities, in the UK, Europe in general and in the US. The whole issue is a damn sight bigger than MS and far more important. It deserves a more thoughtful discussion than knee-jerk comments about Redmond - they are *part* of the problem because they are part of the system. Maybe we should be addressing *that* issue, the system?

  16. Microphage

    Where the beggar is

    > A professional .. points his Porta-phone at the advert and makes a pledge ..

    Begging will be made illegal in this brave new world, so there will be no more beggers. All poor people will be relocated to resettlement camps far far from the professional class. So once the pledge is made, funds are transfered from the professionals account to the charity where it's spent on expences, overheads and salaries - just like it is now.

  17. multipharious

    Some see a beggar

    I watched this video ages ago, and it took me a while to figure out what you lot are on about. I saw this as a cultural preservation benefit concert and everyone else sees it as a dude that barges into your car on the Tube with his mini-amp, car battery, and guitar to make your ears bleed between stations while having his greasy assistant shake a cup at you.

    I guess this difference in perception is the classist equivalent of the vase or two faces. Perhaps glass half full/empty. I feel you all are missing some valuable cues that are plainly obvious in the video.

    Maybe my propensity to listen to a free concert on the street for one or two songs comes from some good experiences. If they miss notes, repeat popular verses, or make serious tempo mistakes, then I carry on, but when you hear someone good it enriches your night to slow down a bit, listen, and donate. So again, pardon me for not seeing a filthy person panhandling, but rather someone with a pleasant face playing a unique instrument with a cleanly groomed beard in his local costume.

    Try watching the segment again with different eyes so you at least see my point of view after you sullied mine with your subjective idea of a beggar.

    1. Keep Refrigerated

      Some see Santa Claus

      Look at it through my eyes.

      The chap with the phone is just uploading his Christmas gift list. The virtual Santa smiles, checks his profile Naughty&Nice Database, automatically bills the guy via NFC, then sends all the gifts out to his friends and family from a central depot manned by robot monkeys somewhere far away from the professional class.

      In this future, the homeless problem was dealt with around the same time as world famine... Soylent Green for everyone!

    2. Al S Cook

      Not hearing much compassion for the poor here

      Finally someone (multipharious) speaks up with some common sense.

      I assume that everyone who objects to this technology routinely goes out of their way to help reduce poverty and leaves a coin in the hand of every beggar who accosts them.

      If that's not the case, then recognize that that, thanks to urbanization and technology itself (e.g., home-based workers like me), the poor are pushed even further out of the public space and most important, the public eye. I regularly use my computer to contribute to causes I believe in. I also drop coins into outstretched hands. I don't really care how it gets there.

      I agree that the latter approach ensures that the money gets into the hands of the people who need it, much of the time, but frankly, for time reasons I'm not going to go way out of my way to find beggars that I can personally help if there are organizations that help them that I can contribute to.

  18. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    I want my soma

    What is soma in these times: iPhones? Windows 7?

    And who are the beggars: those sleeping outdoors in early winter in front of financial institutions?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prolonging the problem

    These marketeers, they know how to do that. Just like too many charities, by the by. Most aren't very efficient, having trouble getting even half the donations at the right place. Just recently the dutch pink ribbon bunch turned out to have spent... exactly zero, nada, zilch, nothing of what it got donated on actual breast cancer research or helping patients or somesuch. But they certainly aren't the only ones with a poor track record. No wonder billy g likes being "philantropic" so much.

  20. ZankerH


    If I can't have my posthuman extropian weirdtopia, I at least want to not see poor people in the future. Although not having to put up with MS products would be pretty high on the priorities list as well.

    See no evil, hear no evil...

  21. johnwerneken

    No Dystopia here

    I suspect the actual future will involve vastly more inequality...because most people will no longer be poor, but the stratasugnificantly above the great mass will extend almost infinitely upweards from there in a steep narrowand extemely tall IQ does, except with thefloor raises to today's European levels or maybe higher. Fewwill contribute much of anything to goods and not may more to other than personal services but averageand usual wealth wiill beastoundingly high. In 4 generations or maybefar less if the NIMBY safety traditionalist and green fanaticsare defeated (if not there shall be a final war, with thesame sort of pyramid, except the bottom will by at short life poor health starvation, and thepopulation a few millions).

    In either setting, the display makes perfect sense. Except the transportationwill by unimaginably different, fast continuous and automated.

  22. Sam Adams the Dog

    The truth behind the virtual beggar

    He is most likely a front for a multinational company trying to make a quick buck in order to become just solvent enough that the gummint will give them billions to avoid bankruptcy....


  23. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    It would seem that in the future

    Beggars will be cleaner, tidier and more polite than now. Why has everyone assumed he's a beggar, rather than a charity fund raiser? Or a someone working for the chairty in the field, or at an organisation the charity supports?

    Dare I suggest closet racism? "He's wearing funny clothes - must be a foreign beggar!"

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