Prank or Prognostication? Some 2013 April Fools’ jokes that could become reality

The tradition of fake news coming out of the tech world every April Fools’ Day can be a bit tiresome.  After you’ve been through a few cycles of stories about phony new products and fake M&A activity, the humor wears a bit thin.
But sometimes April Fools’ jokes can get interesting — like when a gag starts to look more like a prophesy about our changing industry or a foreshadowing of a future product or service. Here are three April Fools’ jokes from this year that we think may, unwittingly, have more than just a hint of truth to them.

A broadband connection in every alley

Google(s goog) is famous for pulling out all of the stops each April 1st, and this year is no exception.  There’s Gmail Blue and a new levity algorithm. One of its biggest pranks, Google Nose, actually has some grounding in real technology, as my colleague Barb Darrow pointed out earlier today.
But the one that really caught my eye this year was Google’s video advertisement of its fake new broadband service fiber-to-the-pole in Kansas City, where Google is building high-bandwidth optical connections to homes and businesses.
“We thought a lot about what we do to enable this kind of ubiquitous connectivity throughout our fiberhoods, and we realized that the answers were all around us: utility poles,” the on-screen spokesman says. “I mean, we’re already invested in building a fiber network using these utility poles so we thought: why not make them even more useful.”
To be honest, the humor falls a little flat: Google pictures people gathered around poles plugging their laptops into Ethernet ports. But the idea of Google providing ubiquitous broadband in its fiber cities is probably far from a joke. Google of late has pursued a wide range of initiatives related to building better mobile and wireless broadband networks: it’s experimenting with high-capacity, long-range Wi-Fi gateways, it’s testing new small cell mobile network architectures and it’s been an active proponent of using TV white spaces spectrum for broadband.
I don’t know for certain what Google plans to do with those technologies, but all of them could easily ride on the back of its pole-mounted fiber infrastructure.

Your kid’s first 3D printer

Millions of future artists and draftsmen began their careers on Etch A Sketches. Maybe the next generation of sculptors and industrial designers will get their starts on 3D printers. ThinkGeek is advertising the world’s “most economical and fun entry-level 3D printer on the market” for just $49.99. Its media? What else: Play-Doh.
Play-Doh 3D PrinterMany of you are already thinking this would be an incredibly handy gadget to own (and not just for your kids)– and it might not be too long before something like it appears on store shelves.
Once the purview of sophisticated engineering shops, 3D printers are becoming much more accessible to the everyday creative classes. Companies like Shapeways are providing 3D printing services for artisans. Today my colleague Kevin Tofel wrote about a 3D printing kiosk at Virginia Tech University available free of charge to any student – just insert an SD card with your 3D design code and out pops your object.
Of course, there are still plenty of technological and economic obstacles in the way of a $50 3D printer. But keep in mind Play-Doh is a much more forgiving material than steel or ceramics (and you don’t need a laser to bond layers of Play-Doh together). Our toddlers might have trouble figuring out the ins-and-outs of Autodesk’s computer-aided design software, but if the market for home-brew 3D printing develops you can bet more novice-friendly software will follow.

The selective vision of Guardian Goggles

Leave it to the U.K.’s liberal mainstay The Guardian to add some wry political humor to the April Fools’ mix. Its gag is a sendoff on Google Glass: Guardian Goggles, a set of spectacles that filters everything through the Guardian’s prism.
“And then there are those times your willpower falters,” goes the Guardian’s promo video as a reader reaches for a discarded copy of competing – and right-leaning – paper The Daily Mail. “It happens to the best of us. But Guardian Goggles can help keep you on track. Our proprietary anti-bigotry technology automatically protects you from harmful opinions before they even reach your eyes.”

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Here are my colleague Mathew Ingram’s thoughts:

“The Guardian’s Goggles are obviously designed to lampoon Google’s version, and play on the newspaper’s reputation for leaning to the left. But Augmented Reality devices could be programmed to exclude or blur out content that a user didn’t want to see, such as that involving offensive words or imagery.

We already filter what information we expose ourselves to by selecting the type of media we consume – whether it’s The Guardian or Fox News. Technology helps us refine those filters further. Augmented reality could actually insert those filters directly into our lines of sight.