A Visionary You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

I’m an industry analyst. I come from a tradition that was started by Howard Anderson, founder of Yankee Group and whom I once worked for. He taught me most of what I know about being an analyst. He sold himself as someone who could peer into the future of technology. His company would predict the future—be seers of the next new new thing. That’s what analysts are supposed to be good at.

Confession: It’s really hard, at least for me. The hard part is getting it right. You can’t go back in time and modify your predictions to fit with a future reality. You only get one shot. And I can say from experience that I usually miss. I once predicted that a storage interconnection technology called iSCSI would take over the computer storage world. It didn’t. Although I did recently buy a desktop that came with an iSCSI initiator that was just there when I bought it.

Trying to predict the future of computing technology is a fun exercise that everyone in technology does from time to time. We all see trends. We all try to imagine what the next generation will be doing with its smart phones – if they are still using smart phones. The problem is that there are now so many technologies interacting among themselves and with the humans that are inventing and using them, that it seems impossible to predict outcomes beyond a few years.

The future of technology is chaos. How can we know what will happen when quantum computing is unleashed to global networks that make it available to anyone of us with a credit card? How can we know what data sources will be converged by us and our machines to produce new insights?

What we can do is look backwards in time to see if we can discern some common threads and push them forward. One is the indisputable fact that computational machines will get more powerful. Another is the fact that that the cost of a unit of computing will go down every day and that these units of computing will become more accessible to each of us. What we do with them is up to us. And that’s where chaos enters. Its next to impossible to predict with any accuracy what we’ll do even five years from now with all the technology now available to each of us today.

I said “nearly impossible” because there are those who have in fact gotten it right. A case in point is J. C. R. Licklider. Here he is. He got it right.

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