Predicting the future is a very tricky business


future (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Predicting the future is a very tricky business. Probably because the rate of change in our lives means that by the time you have made the statement or written the article, time has moved on. Because of this, only the foolhardy or the charlatans make such predictions. Here are some famous quotes about the future to give you the idea;

“There are many methods for predicting the future. For example, you can read horoscopes, tea leaves, tarot cards or crystal balls. Collectively, these methods are known as nutty methods. Or you can put well-researched facts into sophisticated computer models, more commonly known as a complete waste of time.”
Scott Adams

“There is no need for any individual to have a computer in their home”
Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corp

“640K [of memory] ought to be enough for anybody”
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

“Computers of the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons”
Popular Mechanics Magazine

“One-hundred million dollars is way too much to pay for Microsoft.”
IBM 1982

“It would appear that we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology — although one should be careful with such statements, as they tend to sound pretty silly in five years.”
John Von Neumann 1949

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
Prentice Hall business book editor 1957

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”
Western Union memo 1878

“We will never make a 32 bit operating system.”
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.”
The president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903

After Obama’s victory in the US elections, I thought that now is a good time to make some predictions about what the world might look like at the end of his 4 year term. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether I’m foolhardy or a charlatan.

My version of the future goes something like this;

After  nearly a decade since the banking crisis, the world economies are booming once more. Growth is positive just about everywhere, but some countries are doing better than others. Africa is the new powerhouse of manufacturing with a constant flood of cheap consumer goods flowing both into the Western economies but also Eastwards into the burgeoning Chinese and Indian middle classes. Living standards are improving in Africa but there are many stories of exploitation, low wages and child labour.

After a long period of inflation in India and China coupled with stagnant wages in the Western world, Western companies are busy either repatriating their offshore operations or moving them to the much cheaper African continent.

The European union now operates two separate currencies; the Northern Euro (or Neuro) and the Southern Euro (or Seuro). The whole world is involved in a massive aid operation for Greece which is now a third world country thanks to the austerity measures and constant recession of the last 10 years.

Screens are rare and have largely been replaced by worn screens in the form of virtual reality spectacles and contact lenses. Keyboards are rarely seen, all input is carried out either via voice or gestures. Wireless networking is now free and universal so cables are a thing of the past.

Scientists are in the advanced stages of testing genetic treatments which render cancer an innocculable condition and treatments have been developed to cope with the effects of obesity and alcoholism.

Someone else will have invaded Afghanistan. The Israelis and Palestinians will still be at each other’s throats although peace talks will be looking promising. There will have been 3 gun massacres in the United States by crazed gunmen. After the last such incident in which a huge number of schoolchildren were gunned down, the USA are seriously considering new gun control laws.

Oil is now running at $20 per gallon and people have abandoned petrochemicals at an ever increasing rate. Renewable energy is the new oil and companies leading the field are booming. Most town and city centres have outlawed petrochemical powered vehicles. Global warming has stabilised and the Northern ice cap is starting to grow back once more.

Do I seriously believe my version of the future ? Well – no, 4 years is far too fast for some of the things on this list, but I live in hope that the more positive items in the list do become true and that we wake up in time to prevent the negative items.


Window replacement

Microsoft Windows 95 operating system cover shot

Microsoft Windows 95 operating system cover shot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Microsoft has always been an adaptable beast, constantly reinventing itself to adapt to whatever technology landscape is the current order of the day. Sometimes they are slow to adapt, such as when Bill Gates initially dismissed the internet, but they are quick to catch up.

This week, 18 years after the fanfare of Windows 95, comes the launch of Windows 8. Back in 1995, Take That and Blur were fighting for the number 1 spot in the charts. Sweden, Austria and Finland had just joined the European Union and Netscape had just gone public.

The computing landscape was very different back then. Pretty much every desktop in the world ran Windows, so Microsoft found a ready supply of customers eager to upgrade from the limitations of Windows 3.x up to the ultra modern Windows 95 with its plug and play, 32 bit support and long filenames. Although, even the ultra modern Windows 95 didn’t even come with a web browser. You had to download the “plus” pack in order to get the fledgling Internet explorer. Thus began the browser wars that led to the downfall of Netscape.

The mood of the launch was very different for Windows 95. Microsoft was very much a company in the ascendancy. They dominated the desktop with Windows and Office and there was absolutely no doubt that the new version of Windows would be a success. They chose “Start Me Up” from the Rolling Stones as a theme tune for the launch campaign as a reference to the brand new start button that nestled in the bottom left of the screen. Wisely, they recorded a new rendition where they removed the words “you make a grown man cry“.

Windows 95 was a runaway success with 1 million copies selling in the first 4 days, 40 million in the first 12 months. Microsoft will be hoping for similar commercial success with the new version of Windows. But the competitive landscape is very different. Windows 8 is not just a desktop operating system, it is also aimed at the very crowded tablet market. It’s quite a battlefield with Android and iOS holding the high ground. Also – Windows 95 was a big step forward from Windows 3.x. Windows 8 comes after a very capable Windows 7 which had little to fault.

Windows 8 has been publicly denounced by Tim Cook, the Apple CEO as an unholy union not unlike a toaster combined with a fridge. Apple have approached the market with separate operating systems for tablet and desktop and see any operating system that tries to cater to both platforms as a compromise too far.

With the cash cows of Windows and Office looking decidedly venerable, Microsoft need Windows 8 to be successful and the move to a completely new paradigm is brave (even though the old look and feel is still there if you need it). I think they deserve plaudits for that bravery and there is a good chance that just like the ribbon toolbar that came with Office 2007, people will get used to it and come to love it.

Either way – Windows 8 is a landmark event in computing history.