We are clueless about the future

I just wanted to share this image. Honestly, I kid you not, this is what scientists may once upon a time have expected a “home computer” to look like in the year 2004. As I sit here amidst a heap of cushions typing this on a laptop in the year 2012. Since writing this initially, I’ve now been informed that actually this image is a mockup and not a real prediction from the 1950s, but given the level of technology they had at the time, the points I make in the rest of this post are still valid.

The thing is that obviously those people, nearly 60 years ago, had no clue about what to expect in the future. From their perspective, things like compact disks, retina screens, trackpads and webcams weren’t even considered. Those things were far too unrealistic by the thinking at the time. If you went back in time 60 years and talked about how you could someday own a computer which fits in your pocket, has no buttons, and has more computing power than the whole planet did at the time, you’d just be laughed at. Outright. On the other hand, I’m still waiting for someone to invent me a hoverboard.

The point to this brief tirade is that no matter how we might try, we have no idea what future technology is actually going to be like. We can try and make predictions. But they’ll probably be wrong. Someone will probably invent something which will radically change technology and give rise to something completely unexpected. Or, conversely, they won’t, and something won’t change much at all.

If you ask me, that’s the most exciting part. Let’s just wait and see…

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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6 Responses to We are clueless about the future

  1. J. Smith says:

    That’s not actually a real image from the 50s, it was a contest entry on somethingawful for “past visions of the future” and it hit the nail on the head for how most of the (real) predictions come across now, so really your point still stands. Old predictions are often not wild enough. It’s rather hard to guess at revolutions.

    • invaderxan says:

      Oh, really? Dammit. I thought that monitor looked Photoshopped…

      Though you’re right, it is still true that most predictions fell quite a long way short. And it’s certainly true that in the 50s, computers were typically that sort of size, and used fortran with punch card inputs. Or massive magnetic tape reels in the more advanced models.

  2. trkendall says:

    I love this kind of stuff. Just imagine in a sci-fi setting – you get this installed in half your house and the scary man is there to answer all your help questions. Like what does the big wheel do? My guess – it’s a safe and all your ancient magtapes are in there. Data security!

    • invaderxan says:

      From back in the days when copyright infringement literally was theft! :P

      I don’t think the guy’s that scary though. Actually, I’d quite like to make him a cup of tea so we could have a chat about the future…

  3. Baribal says:

    From what year is the picture? If it’s ~1950, consider tah ENIAC went “online” 1946, so a shelf-sized computer actually isn’t that far of. At least when considering size. Yes, the user interface has developed in bounds and leaps in the last few years. Then again before 2007 Smartphones were exotic.

    • invaderxan says:

      The model is intended to be in 2004 and they talk about “50 years from now”, so I assume it’s circa 1954. And let’s be honest, computers have been desk sized since the 1970s. Don’t forget, this was from over 10 years before Moore’s Law was coined. They couldn’t possibly have predicted how rapidly technology would advance…

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