Think about how sad our current telephone system is:
- When you pick up the phone you get a dial tone.
- You dial in a totally arbitrary number. And which number do you dial? The person's home? Office? Cell?
- The phone at the other end rings. If it is plugged in, the phone will ring even if it is 3AM and you are sound asleep. Even if it is a wrong number, it rings.
- If the person is not there, you get a generic answering machine greeting. You can leave a message if you want.
- If the person is there, you can speak over a 3 kilohertz voice-only channel.
- If you are on a cell phone or a long distance call you get billed by the minute.
- And let's not even get started on telemarketing...
At the other end, you will get Tom's AI secretary. The secretary may know you, will know whether or not Tom would want to talk to you, will know which channel to communicate on with Tom (home, office, cell, computer, whatever). If Tom is asleep or busy, the secretary will not even bother him. If Tom is available, the phone will not ring -- the secretary will say, "Tom, Marshall is on the line. Do you want to take the call or would you like me to take a message?" If Tom is busy or blowing me off, I will leave a message with the secretary. If it is an emergency I will be able to tell the secretary that and interrupt Tom.
Video phones? Probably. Webcams and things like Apple's iSight make that possible and easy today. It is interesting that a long-distance video call with the iSight camera is FREE, while a normal long-distance or cell call costs money. All phone calls should be free in the not-too-distant future because of the Internet.
Going out to 2050, the idea of a telephone is a total anachronism. People will laugh at the concept. They will be meeting and greeting each other is fully immersive 3D environments all the time. It is quite likely you will be able to give your friend a hug. If Wired magazine is correct, virtual sex will be commonplace. See Manna for a description of where we end up with Vertebrane.