Forecasting the Future of Technology

Computer technology has changed a lot sense its inception in the 1940s. There have been both changes in software and in hardware. Clearly, the technology has advanced. It has changed our quality life and improved many of the ways we have done business. All of this was accomplished through numerous successes and failures. What is equally clear is what technology looks like today is not the same as what it will look tomorrow. How it will look is anyone’s guess. Here again we will likely see many successes and failures; right guesses and wrong guesses.

You talk to a software developer, a hardware manufacture, or the average person on the street; you have a different view on what will change and how it will change. I am a software developer. I have been in many presentations and participated in many conversations concerning the future of technology. I have been particularly interested in the advancements of software languages and tools. Some people are quite insightful; others less so.

When it comes to technology: nobody has a crystal ball, nobody can definitively predict the future. A couple of failed predictions that come to mind are:

  • Microsoft predicted Silverlight would replace JavaScript. Microsoft has since discontinued support of for Silverlight.
  • JavaScript is predicted to take over the world, replacing all other computer languages. The marketplace has started to retract and minimalize the number of 3rd party frameworks used in a given application.
  • Html5 is predicted to quickly replace all mobile platforms though an 11-year roadmap. It would unify the browsers to look, feel and behave the same.

With Silverlight, Microsoft failed to anticipate the advancements JavaScript and mobile integration. JavaScript has gained prominence, yes; but it seems increasing unlikely that it will replace all programming languages. JavaScript’s biggest strength, it’s easy of development in a way may also be it’s biggest obstacle. The ease of developing 3rd party tools and frameworks has introduced new integration and upgrade challenges that never existed at this level. Html5 is a great technology and was long overdue. However, there is very little incentive at the organizational level to standardize all browsers to look the same using Html5. What would be the purpose for multiple browsers if they were the same? As for an 11-year roadmap, how does that work with Agile?

Each of these predictions can be heard being passionately argued by very intelligent people in the industry. However what is missing from each of these predictions is a fundamental understanding of the marketplace. One must look at the needs of the customers and the incentives to individuals and organizations to provide complementary solutions.

Some of the success stories may not have been as easy to spot at the time, but they were free from some of the fundamental problems seen in the previous examples.

  • Apple’s technologies propelled the Supreme Court decision on music sharing, AKA Napster, introduced a tremendous need in the marketplace for the dissemination of music.
  • Microsoft’s introduction of the .Net Framework for years has greatly enhancing development technologies.
  • The rise of the JavaScript as a way to develop technology at a low cost of entry.

To be clear, these technologies were not absolutely destined to succeed but if one hadn’t succeeded another likely would have. Market dictates the direction of innovation. If one innovates in a direction that the market doesn’t require failure is all but certain. Short term trends and fad must be distinguished from genuine market need. Perhaps the best example is the Dot-com bubble in the 1990s. The Dot-com bubble introduced a new hot technology, the internet; but eventually the true needs of the marketplace won out. It’s not enough to be accepted by a developer, you have to solve an actual need. Value over vanity. While it may be impossible to pick winners from losers with 100% accuracy, where innovation meets market demand, look out! You may have just found a winning combination.