Innovation Technology

The one predictable thing about tech markets…

Originally posted on Always-On

… Is that they’re unpredictable.

Making predictions about anything is a tricky business. It’s often fraught with problems and compounded by two factors: too many variables and too many people.

Making predictions in the world of technology is about as rough as it gets. You see a trend, fad, or new craze, jump on it, extrapolate, and then go and get it all totally wrong.

As an example, at the turn of the 20th century, it was predicted that passenger air balloon travel—pioneered by the likes of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin—would be commoditized and become the pre-eminent means of mass transit. In fact, it would be so popular, by the 1980s, people would have their own personal air balloon as their primary method of conveyance.

Obviously, this gaze into the future didn’t take into account the airplane, which put an end to that pearl of foresight.

The main problem with looking forward is that people do it in such painfully straight lines, as the previous example demonstrates. The telephone is another useful example; who could have predicted mobile phones at the time Alexander Graham Bell was fussing around with the technological equivalent of paper cups and wet string?

No one could have. Furthermore, how could anyone have predicted that these mobile telephones would one day have cameras built in? Or that you could send written messages on them? You only have to go back 10 years, and such ideas would be derided as foolish drivel.

The future is a curly thing, and in the wonderful world of information technology, the driving force behind much of the confusion is convergence.

Now there’s a buzzword if I ever heard one. And this becomes the next big problem with predicting future trends in technology: let’s get two really cool gizmos and merge them; people’ll love it!

Err, no! What drives desire is anyone’s guess. What drives need is utility: two very different parts of the brain are being exercised: here, one more than the other!

If something doesn’t fulfill a practical purpose, then it’s neither use nor ornament.

This future-predicting thing is even harder these days, but in a way, even the most outlandish theory could have its day. Things are changing so quickly that new technologies are emerging literally overnight. And given that people’s needs are also changing, evolving, and emerging, who knows?

Going back even further, desire, need—call it what you will—has a common source. The very engine of change is people, society, lifestyle, and a requirement to manage, re-route and/or if need be, delegate all of this data and information.

The Apple Newton was way ahead of its time. A bunch of clever guys ‘n’ gals sat in a room and made a remarkable prediction about how people would “consume” data and information, and they were right on the money—the only problem being that they were over 10 years early!

Now, people are on the move. People work on the go, hold down long-distance relationships, work with colleagues across time zones, and manage bank accounts in a cafe while drinking a cup of chai.

The only certainty is the same one that has been pontificated upon since time immemorial: things change. Things often come together in intriguing, mysterious, and eminently useful ways.

So here’s my prediction: things will never be small enough, big enough, fast enough, cool enough, or cheap enough! Am I wrong?

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

9 replies on “The one predictable thing about tech markets…”

“The future is a curly thing”

FAB catchphrase, pithy, earthy, and so true 🙂

Things will get small enough when we’re all (everyone who wants it) cybernetically and/or genetically enhanced to provide us with all the technological advantages we want/need within us.

For example, (here’s another starter for 10 blog post), currently you can get a chip implanted in your pets ear so that if they get lost they can be identified as yours. Same chip can contain health information about the pet so that the vet can scan it and know it’s health records.

So if you’re worried about your dog getting lost, what about your child? Wouldn’t you like to be able to have your child/baby identified as yours and returned? Simple, very small incision, very small chip, back of the neck, instant security.

Scary? Maybe, but you can surely see the benefits. No?

Well I’d like to be able to have access to my music collection anywhere – how about a chip implanted behind your ear that’s connected up to your hearing so that you can ‘plug yourself in’ to your pc, download music to the chip, unplug, press play (remote control) and go. Scary? Too far into the future? The technology exists now.

Things will get small enough – when you have so many nanotech robots inside you that you are effectively your own walking pc/media centre/etc.

That’s my prediction.
But I’ve been known to be wrong!

“So if you’re worried about your dog getting lost, what about your child? Wouldn’t you like to be able to have your child/baby identified as yours and returned?”

There was even talk of using RFID (radio frequency identification) tags for both children and criminals.

Setting aside the obvious privacy invasion issues, there’s also the more worrying possibility of tracking children.

The implications of this being the empowerment of already clearly organized and technically literate roving bands of pedophiles.

As for other kinds of implantations, well, this is a societal thing.

Before people become accepting of such ‘out there’ ideas, they have to be presented with a long, long line of good news stories.

At the minute, the main stay of implantations is within the healthcare industry.

Let’s not forget the humble pace-maker!

Then you have neurological implantations for people with motor-disruptive illnesses, such as Parkinson’s Disease.

Then you have people with certain types of blindness where they are having implantations into the back of their eyes which replace the damaged or lacking parts of the eye that would otherwise function to transmit the visual input to the brain.

Also, you have Japanese scientists who have figured out how to extract energy from the blood stream. While at the moment, the amount of power is piffling, in time the power derived from the blood stream will be easily enough to power any device attached to your person.

Once people have seen the good that comes of such things, then the worrying content of sci-fi films and television shows will be seen in the correct context.

There’s no doubt in my mind that in years to come, humans will be physically augmented for tasks that would otherwise be harmful of just plain lethal.

Whether this augmentation is performed at the cellular level, or by means in implantations would be specific to the task, but the reason for being so sure is actually quite simple: there is a need for this kind of thing.

Where there is need, then a solution is soon to follow.

That’s just human nature…

So, in thinking about the personal air balloon I am saddened. I want a personal air balloon. How much fun would that be-how about hover crafts?

Hi Emily, and thanks for posting!

A personal air balloon would be pretty cool, there’s no doubt about that…

I dunno about the technological future being unpredicable. I recently unearthed a bunch of stuff I’d prepared for rôle playing games, and found references to various things that have come to market. A device similar to the new Nintendo console with two touch screens; a bang-on-the-money description of Java; and other oddments like high-capacity CDs for movies and the choice-of-colours iMac. I didn’t predict the cellphone or the iPod.

Steve Jackson has a game called ‘Car Wars’ where vehicles are powered electrically by hydrogen fuel-cell. Wheels are the motors, just like the E-Traction bus. Hydrogen fuel cells were invented in 1839 by Sir William Robert Grove.

I wouldn’t say William Gibson predicted the Internet’s future with Neuromancer, but rather that he shaped it. Almost like Wintermute crawled out of the book to give us USB flash sticks…

So, not unpredictable: you’ve just got to be kinked the same way the future is, keep an eye out for bullshit like the household nuclear reactors that would power our kitchens, and don’t imagine that business failures like the C5 and the Newton are the end of the line.

Hovercraft are all well and good, but would you trust something invented by someone called ‘Cockerell’? I want ground-effect planes!

“Hovercraft are all well and good…”

Look at the road safety merits of the hovercraft — you’ll never knock anyone down, you’ll just run them over and give them a blow dry!

Seriously though, the best way to predict is to ignore the technology itself and concentrate on the needs of people.

Technology is merely a means to enable stuff, that’s all.

I’ll keep coming back to Apple because they ‘get it’ better than anyone.

Let’s face it, most people are a bit thick when it comes to technology.

But that’s not because they’re some kind of latter-day Luddite, it’s because they just don’t care enough to want to learn technology.

And why should they?

We’re pay for a solution to a problem, not a problem in and of itself.

So you have the likes of Apple who just make stuff that just works the way you’d expect it to.

Wasn’t it Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who said that form follows function?


I’ve had reason to note that your signal to noise ratio has plummeted, Rich.

If you stick around long enough, you might even realize I’m not the eviscerated underbelly of humanity that you imagine me to be…

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