Predicting Future Technologies

Lee Gomes (WSJ) makes an interesting point about technology:

Technology companies are often described as “inventing the future.” Maybe they do. But they aren’t very good at predicting it. That’s how it is with the future: You never quite see it coming.

Let’s not discount out of hand the idea that something unforeseen might appear on the scene to change things. Just don’t expect to recognize it for what it is right away.

People in the technology world are forever searching for the “killer app” — the must-have sure thing that the whole world will want to buy. Invariably, though, they never find the killer app; it finds them. You wake up one day and realize that you can’t remember how you ever got along without, say, search engines.

It’s a problem for technology companies. Most of the really transforming technologies bubble up in unexpected ways. More often than not, they require some sort of existing infrastructure, which they gently nudge in the direction of additional usefulness. The Internet, for instance, would never have happened without a vast and efficient telephone network, not to mention tens of millions of powerful PCs.

And these technologies are almost never envisioned in advance, but instead are appreciated after the fact, like the laser printer. Name your favorite technology. I’ll bet it wasn’t introduced with a big product launch. The typical pattern is that by doing something useful, simple and slightly new, it attracted customers and programmers who then began investing it with ever-more uses, many of them utterly unforeseen.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.