A World of Opportunity
FORECASTING TECHNOLOGY: FIRST PRINCIPLES
- The future can be anticipated
Anticipating the future correctly is not about guessing, gambling or genius;
it is about a strategy which logically and aggressively commands the laws
of probability in the pursuit of a time-distant vision.
Useful forecasting is not about a single brilliant insight in a narrow
specific domain; the complexities of human society and the physical world
make such insights true only by random luck. Instead, the objective is a
well-crafted series of decisions within which there is a high probability
that the truth will be found.
It is about setting your net broadly; what you will catch and where you
will catch it are unknown; that there will be a catch is reasonably assured.
- You must have a goal
You and your goal are part of the future. Without its specification you can
never know the future. And the more you know yourself and your goal, the more
you know the future.
You construct and position your own net for your own purpose, to help you
see what you could and would create.
- The future is created, not predicted.
Forecasting can only describe what might or could happen. In this sense, the
future is an array of contingent probabilities. And the principal contingency
is the goal and talent of the individual innovator. At this moment an innovation
which will affect half of the industrial world is being created in a basement
by an unknown researcher who is about to do . . . something.
- Beware the fantasies.
But a vision of what might or could be is by definition bound by the rigours
of reality. Wishing does not make something true, does not make it work, does
not make it marketable. Dreams and visions are cheap; most are fantasies.
The challenge is to see what is not there, but which could reasonably be created.
Hence, all forecasts should be deeply rooted into today's reality. That is
the antithesis of a forecast which is a simple trend line surfing the surface
or which is based on a single discipline, technology or industry.
- The fundamentals rule.
Marshalling the full scope of reality does not mean accessing every relevant
fact, since this is impossible. It means canvassing a vast selection of data
to discern the underlying fundamentals, the sustaining principles. It is from
the interaction of these principles that the broad unfolding of events can
be anticipated. Of course, a key set of these principles are those of basic
When all is chaos on the surface, far below the massive tides run sure
and steady, deflected from their course only over the centuries or with
- Reality is indivisible.
Science is a seamless whole, especially with respect to innovation which can
and does occur anywhere. And human society connected by the global economy
is equally a single entity. Categories and classifications are intended to
be conveniences for thought, not limits to thought. The narrowness of technical
specialization is a principal enemy of innovation.
- Technology is applied knowledge of every kind
Technology is our knowledge of how to do and make thing, whether good or a
service. It consists of directions, procedures, recipes, approaches, methodologies,
formulations, techniques, capabilities and expertise. Essentially technology
is an instruction set.
Often it is embodies in a machine; often it is not. Computer software is
almost all instruction, technology in its purest form.
What is not defined correctly cannot be anticipated.
- Technology changes the future because it is the ultimate competitive
In the past competitive advantage was bestowed by the ownership of natural
resources, later by the command of plant, machinery and equipment. Today knowledge
rules. An innovation, an advance in our knowledge, can and does make existing
plants inadequate, or irrelevant. And some of these advances come ever more
- The past is our guide to the future.
Today's reality is the culmination of everything which has happened. Today's
technology is the culmination of all the innovations of the past. Tomorrow's
technology must be shaped by the weight of the past. Therefore, the past must
be mined as aggressively as today's reality and as broadly.
We search not for facts, but for lessons.
- Beware the Noise.
Looking into the future must proceed from the understanding that today's society
is far from informed and even farther from educated. Both the fund of knowledge
and the dataflow are badly corrupted; fact, rumour, theory, gossip, assumption,
slander, hypothesis, truth, supposition, speculation and falsehood are mixed
into a brew that can be deadly. The corruption of information inevitably generates
unnecessary mistakes of great commercial consequence, even as the likelihood
of error and the severity of its consequences mount.
- Beware the bias.
Any technology forecast must address the fact that society has a profound
bias against truly new ideas. Even evolutionary improvements, slightly new
ideas, are absorbed slowly and often grudgingly. This the history of science
teaches us emphatically, even though some new ideas when actually embodied
in goods or services are rapidly adopted by the marketplace. The power of
conformist, conventional thought should never be underestimated.
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