Catch glimpses of the future … on YouTube

By Mark Milian, CNN

The future according to Samsung is embodied in a fictional boy named Zoll from a distant time.

At a news conference during the Consumer Electronics Show this year, the Korean electronics maker paraded  Cirque du Soleil-style dancers and Zoll, a cute kid wearing a 1920s pilot jacket and a wolf hat on his head. He was supposed to tell us about the future, but Zoll was met with confused looks and cocked heads from audience members.

Now Zoll lives on in the pantheon of inspired, or demented, creations from big-corporate futurists. On YouTube.

    Google's video site has become a platform for big companies to post their visions of what it will be like to live in the future.

    These concept videos aren't usually from Google. Many are posted by its partners, like Samsung, or competitors. For example, Microsoft dreams up a new one every few years. The most recent, posted above, is called Productivity Future Vision.

    In Microsoft's view, as illustrated in the 6-minute clip, more types of electronics will frequently communicate wirelessly, and desks and walls will have personalized messages pop up on them.

    Maybe that will happen. But why are the folks at Microsoft shooting Will Smith-style sci-fi flicks instead of actually making and selling this stuff? We asked a Microsoft spokeswoman this question, and she said that the company's Office division, which makes the ubiquitous Word and Excel, finds it valuable to explore and share with the world what things might look like five or 10 years from now.

    "Microsoft uses the vision video to share its long-term vision and ideas to spark conversations about the direction it want to take its products and services in the future, and how Microsoft sees technology helping people be more productive," Hannah Coan, the spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail. "It represents an integrated view of ideas gathered from both inside and outside the company, based on real technology."

    Nokia, the world's largest producer of mobile phones, has been releasing videos focused on the promise of nanotechnology, or tech on a microscopic scale. Among other things it allows for bendable displays, like the twisty watch from the company's three-year-old Morph video.

    Nokia released a new clip about a month ago, the creepily-named HumanForm. In theory, users of the phone, which looks like a shoehorn, would zoom in on photos and zip around menus by bending the device in certain ways.

    "Videos like this get the design and manufacturing community interested, and consumer reaction, of course, is important to know whether the concepts are interesting, too," Nokia spokeswoman Karen Lachtanski said in an e-mail. "The purpose is to find new ways beyond touch for interacting with devices. The nano stuff comes into play because electronics have to be able to bend."

    Will these future concepts someday become our reality? Hard to say. But some older futuristic clips have already proven eerily accurate. Witness the unsettling AT&T "You Will" commercials from 1993, which predicted a bold new world of e-books, video conferencing, online classrooms, GPS navigation systems, tablet computers and other tech that is commonplace today.

    Maybe we should pay attention when big companies tell us what the future will look like.