As you laugh at those ridiculous predictions from 50 years ago, ponder how today’s predictions will look 50 years from now

Everyone knows those silly predictions from the 1950s are so ridiculously wrong.

There’s the old line about the world only needing a few computers. The quote as it usually provided is mentioned by friend John Bredehoft in his post Why Bad Predictions Happen (the ‘five computers’ prediction).

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

John questions who actually made the comment and whether it may have been made in the ’50s instead. Regardless, the point stands.  Do we really need more than 5 of those machines?

Since there are at least five computers in just my home that are more powerful than what was available in the 1950s, we can all chuckle away.  How silly he was.

John suggests we pause for a moment in our merriment:

Now some people like to look at bad predictions and laugh at how stupid the predicter was. In my case, I’d rather put myself back in the shoes of the person who made the bad prediction, and try to understand what motivated the person to think as he or she did.

When you consider the size, cost, and air-conditioning requirements of a computer in the 1940s and 1950s, how much need is there for such a machine?  See this post for description of a computer then and now.

The radical advance in technology includes drastic increase in speed, astounding reduction in size, and radical drop in cost. Sort of changes the equation on how many computers the world needs doesn’t it?

Read his post for an extended discussion of why such a prediction wasn’t so ridiculous at the time.

That leads me to wonder…..

How ridiculous will today’s predictions and expectations of the future look 50 years from now?

Everybody knows that the old Star Trek stuff of warp-speed travel, transportor (“beam me up Scotty”), replicators, and tricorders are pure fantasy.  Everybody knows such things could never happen.

It would be silly, if not downright stupid, to predict that such things will ever be.


Take a look at 3-D printing.

Look at “lab on a chip.”

3-D printing in the near future could result in your repair shop printing the part needed for your car instead of waiting a week for it to arrive from a regional warehouse. Printing replacement kidneys or livers is no longer a totally stupid idea. 

I currently need to wait about 60 seconds after paying to have a copy of a book in my possession so I can start reading it.  (I was initially thinking of my Kindle, but see my related post here.)  Who would have dreamt of sending a book cross-country in a minute 50 years ago?

Is a “lab on a chip” that far removed from a tricorder? Is it that big of a jump to go from home cholesterol tests to having an entire blood lab in a hand-held device?

Everybody knows that the laws of physics will absolutely prohibit faster than light travel.  Laws of physics say that is absolutely, categorically impossible

Just like everybody knew that supersonic travel was impossible.

If 3-D printing of car parts and replacement hips become normal, every doctor issues a “lab on a chip” to patients for all blood work, and some science whiz figures out how to break the light-barrier just like someone figured how to break the speed-barrier, will people in 2062 chuckle at us like we chuckle at the guy who said the world would never need more than five computers?

One thought on “As you laugh at those ridiculous predictions from 50 years ago, ponder how today’s predictions will look 50 years from now”

  1. Our predictive capabilities are based upon what we know and understand. And, as you point out, the miniaturization of things has led to computers that are much more powerful than the early ones.

    I wonder how many people could have predicted that the technological changes of the late 20th century would help contribute to a national obesity problem?

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