The deluge of end-of-year related media seems to take two forms: recaps of the past year and predictions for the future. (Interestingly, there aren’t a lot of year-end reports along the lines of ‘and here’s what I’m doing RIGHT NOW’) Many predictions involve technology: will 2014 be the year of the 3-D printed, cloud-neural network quantum-computing autonomous cars?!?!?! (Answer: No.)
For everybody who thinks fusion powered utopia is just around the corner, it seems there are at least ten naysayers who think technological optimists are just indulging sci-fi daydreams. Although anecdotes aren’t proof, many very smart people, through their own pessimism, have inadvertently offered up counter-evidence for a pessimistic viewpoint. Check it out:
- "A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth's atmosphere." -- The New York Times , 1920.
- "There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom." -- Robert Millikan , winner of the 1923 Nobel Prize in physics, 1928.
- "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." -- Scottish mathematician and creator of the Kelvin temperature scale William Thomson, Lord Kelvin , 1895.
- "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." -- Ken Olsen , founder and president of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977 .
(Quotes from this long article on the Motley Fool)
The anecdote usually mentioned in this context - the patent officer claiming in 1902 that everything useful had already been invented - is apocryphal.
You should be skeptical of any tech prediction more than five years down the road, and ‘never’ is about the most far-off prediction there is.
So how do you strike a balance between deluded optimism and stick-in-the-mud pessimism? Don’t just predict a future, choose the one you want the most. Work backwards to the actionable item for the next year to make your future a reality starting in 2014.