INTERACTIVE television seems to be the flavour of the decade with everyone who is anyone in the telecommunications and information technology arena. But as has become perfectly normal with every new technological theory, the practical issues and the actual user needs are not necessarily driving the development. It is amazing to me that technologists repeatedly make the same mistake - ignoring what the user may want or need and blithely inventing and producing technological wonders which are, in fact, solutions looking for problems. Sometimes these products come from ''technocrats' dreamworld'' and endeavour to satisfy a demand which will only come into being because of the presence of the given innovation. It would be hard to imagine any speculation greater than that concept. I do not intend to denigrate technological pioneers, innovators or even simply adventurers when I make these comments, but I do believe that the hype surrounding interactive television needs some crystalisation. About 15 years ago, the Hongkong Telephone Co entered into the field of interactive television by grasping a then-new technology which it called Viewdata. The concept was that a large percentage of the population would double-use their domestic telephone lines and television sets to enable them to instantly access stock exchange quotes, book airline tickets or restaurant tables and order all manner of consumer goods. The theory was that students throughout the territory could use the service to obtain information relevant to their homework, and even play a game or two. Such was the confidence in this concept that the British Post Office not only released a local service in the UK, but spent millions of dollars trying to promote an international Prestel, as Viewdata was known there. Although Viewdata still exists both in Hong Kong and the UK, and a few other locations around the world, it has been nothing short of a dismal failure in the home market. Many pundits were proven correct in their predictions that the average domestic user would find it inconvenient to have one's sole telephone line and/or television set being occupied by a single family member. Added to this was the fact that one needed a little black box with a key pad to operate the thing and people simply did not like it. Now things have changed dramatically and the stage is set for an enormous revolution in information distribution. There are not many homes without personal computers. A great many PC users are familiar with data communications and connect to the telephone networks on a regular basis. In Hong Kong, we are fortunate because Hongkong Telecom has always investigated market requirements, and produced services and facilities to match. For example, the joint efforts of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club and Hongkong Telecom brought about a world first in personal betting terminals and a betting network. Often the company has pioneered services and not always with immediate pay-back. The completion of the fully digital network earlier this year provides the facility for a vista of new information services. The net result of this exposure is that the average Hong Kong citizen can now appreciate the value of sophisticated electronic information services probably more than his counterpart in any other part of the world. Because of this, Hong Kong is being watched closely as a test case to prove what type of home delivery will be the most popular. Steve Dickinson, Hongkong Telecom CSL's leader of value-added network services, believes that until that home-connection end is established, the home market will be slow to grow. But he sees a massive growth as soon as the method, or ''black box'', is standardised. In a couple of months, when Wharf has had a public reaction to its initial cable TV offerings, there should be more to tell on the demand for new services. Perhaps the clearest indicator comes from PC software monolith, Microsoft, which is in the process of a 5,000 home trial of interactive television in conjunction with Time Warner. Microsoft's Bill Gates has formally announced his intention to include interactive television as a standard feature of Microsoft Windows in the not too distant future. If that happens, the home PC will take on a whole new practical image for every family member.