Predicting Technological Development

It seems to me…

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”  ~ Niels Bohr (1885 – 1962).

Pundit’s predictions that supposedly forecast what will occur in the near future (rather than what might only be possible) are quite popular – especially toward the end of every calendar year.  Some predictions are obviously relatively quite safe since much of what is noted already is possible.  How many of the remaining will ever become available is questionable (remember the Jetson’s jet packs?).

There are a number of “rules” anyone inclined to make technological predictions should follow if they wish to be considered geniuses and noted by historians for their accurate foresight.  The first rule about making predictions is to only predict what will become available, not what never will be[i].  If you are not correct, you always can say “not yet”.

The second rule is history will repeat itself and that certain trends are virtually inviolable – analog will go digital; what is not online, soon will be…

And only predict a demise by extrapolating from obvious trends.  Consider what graduate students are doing and assume they represent the future:  a decrease in newspaper subscriptions, fewer landline phone connections, digital downloads on demand rather than hardcopy purchases…

A problem we have in making predictions is that we have built-in biases preventing us from fairly assessing future possibilities.  Everything always seems simpler after it has been accomplished.  Remember that whatever seems new to us is just something anyone still young always will know.  Which brings up another quote:

Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.”  ~ Alan Kay (Hong Kong press conference in the late 1980s).

The very idea of taking a class to learn how to use a computer is a concept totally alien to most of the younger generation.  It would be similar to someone from my generation taking a class on how to use a telephone or television.

Most crystal balls frequently malfunction.  Some predictions, such as those related to technological convergence, though occurring, have not proceeded in the way anticipated.  Some past predications have in fact occurred when no one was watching: the so-called “big switch” where what previously had been directly connected; e.g., the telephone; is increasingly becoming wireless – that which had been wireless; e.g., television; is now wired.  Other widely anticipated changes have not happened with the rapidity expected:  television still is dominated by major networks rather than only being available over the Internet.

There have been many opportunities to exploit beneficial advances that have not happened though the obvious advantages are generally recognized.  One example is the tangled web of incompatible cables used to connect electronic components.  Ethernet, standardized as IEEE 802.3, is a family of computer networking technologies for local area networks (LANs) initially developed at Xerox PARC between 1973 and 1974 by Robert Metcalfe and commercially introduced in the far distant past (1980).  Ethernet has largely replaced competing wired LAN technologies but why are we still connecting electronic devices using some probably infinite number of those incompatible cables?  The USB (Universal Serial Bus) helped – some – though it actually seems to have resulted in giving us a greater number of, not less, devices to connect.  It was hoped that a wireless technology standard called Bluetooth (the name is an anglicized version of the Scandinavian Blåtand/Blåtann) would unit communications protocols into one universal standard and finally provide us with relief from rat’s nests of interwoven cables.  (Regardless of how carefully I try to arrange cables behind a desk, they malevolently manage to tie themselves into a reasonable reproduction of a Gordian knot the very next time I look at them.)

If anyone would like some idea of what the future has in store for us – don’t ask me.  My prediction record has been notoriously faulty.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[i] Pogue, David.  The Future Is For Fools, Scientific American, February 2012, p29.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Bluetooth, Ethernet, LAN, Local Area Network, Predictions, Robert Metcalfe, Technology, Universal Serial Bus, USB, Xerox PARC and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Predicting Technological Development

  1. test1234 says:

    With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright infringement? My site has a lot of completely unique content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my agreement. Do you know any techniques to help reduce content from being ripped off? I’d truly appreciate it.


    • lewbornmann says:

      I’ve always felt plagerism to be most sincere form of flattery so consider it a complement rather than a problem. As a professor, failure to give proper credit was considered grounds for dismissal so try to be very careful. Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way.


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