The Road Ahead attempts to explain and predict the next major technological revolution, an interconnected, inexpensive global network called the information highway, the precursor of which is the Internet. Gates argues, "The information highway is a mass phenomenon, or it is nothing" (p. 256), a low-cost (but not free) means of sharing information among the majority of people around the world. Gates suggests that the term "highway" is not the most accurate word, since it implies actual movement, a sense of many people following the same route, and government-sponsored construction, all inaccurate concepts. He acknowledges, however, that the term has already been widely accepted; he suggests, "When you hear the phrase 'information highway,' rather than seeing a road, imagine a marketplace or an exchange" (p. 6).
Gates spends a substantial part of his book theorizing about the kinds of uses to which such a global marketplace would be put. Many of these uses sound as farfetched as did science fiction predictions of 30 or 50 years ago that suggested that late-twentieth-century technology would make flying cars and vacations on the moon part of the everyday fabric of life. While some of his predicted applications are likely to be commonplace in the relatively near future, they are blended indiscriminately with applications which appear to be impractical and unlikely.