Why do we always get it wrong?
I bought my first digital camera in 1998, a Fujifilm finepix MX-700. I was an early adopter. The moment I saw it, I knew it was going to be the future of photography. It seemed obvious to me that people would prefer digital over film. For those of you too young to remember, film was messy, expensive and slow. You had to buy the film, in sets of 12, 24 or 36 photographs, insert it into the camera, shot very carefully (only one shot per pic), no feedback and finally take it to the shop to develop which also costed money. It was clear it was a bad system…but not to everyone.
When people saw my Fujifilm, (notice the irony about the word “film”) mostly they were impressed, but quite a few said to me: “there is no future in digital”. I wonder if they still have film cameras now.
I’m not bragging about my ability to see the next trend but sometimes it is so obvious and yet, most people don’t see it.
And it is not just your sister in law or your uncle, it’s big companies with a huge budget in research and marketing. Kodak didn’t see it coming either, nor did Blockbuster, Nokia, or even Microsoft.
In 1994 Bill Gates predicted that the internet had no commercial potential, Blockbuster started an international expansion renting DVDs in the late 90’s (when people were already downloading movies) and Nokia said, in 2007, the Iphone would appeal only to a few gadget freaks.
I know, hindsight is 20/20, but still…
Any teenager could have told them these changes were going to happen for sure, it was self-evident if you think about it.
Why do we get it so wrong?
There is a cognitive bias called- fallacy of extrapolation- that causes us to assume that a current trend will continue into the future. That’s why we used to think in the 80’s, that fax machines would be a lot faster in the future. We tend to think that things are going to be like now, just faster, bigger and brighter.
Again, our psychology is to blame, our monkey brains are not designed to see and predict such changes in the environment even when they are undeniable.
There are two reasons why it’s so difficult to predict: Disruptive technologies and exponential growth.
Horses went, and cars came
The VHS video recorder went, and DVDs came
Blockbuster went, and Netflix came
Nokia went, and the Iphone came
Do you see a pattern? Technologies don’t disappear because they are bad per se but because something better comes along and replaces them.
Disruptive technologies are impossible to predict beforehand but once they are here and have some traction it’s much easier to see the trend. But even then, most people decide to stay blind to it, it’s like they are in denial.
Disruptive technologies we are seeing right now (but most people decide to ignore)
- Solar energy
- Electric cars
- Self-driving cars (and trains, ships and planes)
All of these are going to be huge, in fact they already are, but most companies, governments and the public seem oblivious to it. Better catch up quick, the future is not only disruptive is also exponential.
Most technologies take a long time to develop and until they do, you hear nothing from them. Some fail, and other succeed but once they start being visible they accelerate exponentially.
Cell phones and the internet were around in the 60's but only got traction in the late 90's, so for 30 years the growth rate was flat and then suddenly shot through the roof. Nowadays the incubation period has gotten much shorter, so in some cases is less than 10 years before they become exponential. All the technologies mentioned above have been around for more than 10 years, just saying.
Back to the future
It’s true that sometimes we err on the other side — we should have flying cars and teletransportation by now- like it was inferred in some movies. But that weren’t real predictions made by scientists or technologists, they were more like byproducts of the fertile imagination of sci-fi writers.
Mostly, we err in the conservative side, we think we have reached the end of history and things are going to remain the same more or less for the next 100 years.
We couldn’t be more wrong!
The combination of disruptive technologies and exponential growth are going to bring changes at a speed that we have never seen before and that speed is accelerating all the time.
The only reason this not happening even faster is legislation and human psychology but even these won’t be able to stop what’s coming.
“Nobody can slam the brakes, and nobody knows where all the pieces are”
My predictions for the future
Based on what I learned from observing reality in the last 30 years and accounting for my bias, I bet my money on the following predictions:
- Electric cars are going to be the main (only) form of transportation in 2030.
- Oil is dead. Run away from it as fast as you can or you will lose money.
- Self-driving cars will be in our roads in 10 years and in 20 years there will be no human drivers of any kind of vehicle.
- Uber and the like, will kill the taxi industry and many others.
- Cryptocurrencies are going to be huge for trade and as store of value.
- Solar energy combined with hydrogen will be the only source of energy in less than 10 years.
- A.I will replace many jobs, especially those very specific or data driven. There will be a significant reduction in the number of doctors, lawyers, pilots and air traffic controllers just to name a few.
Despite all this, I remain an optimist.
For every job that disappear, another one will be created, and this new job will be more human friendly than the one it’s replacing. We’ve just been doing the jobs that the machines couldn’t do yet. Nobody is going to miss dangerous, dirty, alienating jobs that used to drive us crazy like driving a taxi or looking at dots in a screen. The future jobs will be more creative, more human and more fulfilling and the sooner they come the better.
Also the environment is going to benefit for the advent of clean technologies.
Thanks to A.I there will be no car accidents, no human error and no negligence. This alone will save millions of lives.
A.I will also improve the way we detect and cure diseases, correct negative trends with the environment and increase the efficiency of most processes.
Hunger, disease or war will disappear thanks to the increase efficiencies in production and distribution, better prediction models and a the fact that it’s pointless to have conflict in a world governed by data and technology.
So, get ready for the future, it’s happening as we speak… and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.