Ever wish you could see into the future? I’d love to have known about Bitcoin eventually hitting 17k back when you could pick one up for a dollar. A $200 dollar investment at the time would make for a nice retirement today. Too bad foresight isn’t 20/20.
Even if you don’t want to know everything that happens in the future, you make predictions everyday. You predict that you’ll get paid regularly (if you’re a salaried employee). You make certain assumptions about your health and abilities. You likely predict that the technologies you’re currently learning will be useful in the future. The skill of predicting the future is essential.
It’s also a skill that most of us aren’t very good at. To improve my own prediction skills, I’ve read several books over the past year about prediction and how to discern the future. Here’s a few of the better reads.
Kevin Kelly lays out 12 different technological trends that will shape our world in the coming decades. I found this to be an interesting look ahead. Different trends include the dissolution of specific versions of software, increased personalization through automation, and the rise of virtual reality.
Nate Silver one of the top predictors of election outcomes and other events. His book talks about some of the difficulties in creating useful models. He emphasizes the importance of probabilistic thinking and enumerating your own inclinations.
In Black Swan, Taleb talks about the need to prepare for unpredictable events which he calls “black swans”. Even in situations that look stable (ie. the real estate market), certain system shocks can suddenly appear and destroy the fortunes of the unprepared. Only one of these black swan events can cancel out the gains of all previous years. Black Swans work both ways though. You can profit if you can jump onto a positive Black Swan event.
Ray Kurzweil is regarded as one of the most accurate futurists in the industry. Age of Spiritual Machines was written in 1999 and contains predictions for 2009 and 2019. While he credits himself with being mostly right, I laughed out loud at some of the predictions while I was listening to the book in my car. Even the best futurists often fail.
One of the major themes throughout all these books is the need to write down your own predictions and see how well (or poorly) you did. People have self-serving biases that distort past predictions. Writing them down prevents you from forgetting how awesome you thought MySpace and Betamax were going to be. Learning about your own fallibility makes it easier to correct your judgement and improve. To improve my own prediction abilities, and provide my future self with some entertainment, I’m going to make a series of predictions. I put a reminder in my calendar to check back over the next few years to see how well I did.
Disclaimer: Don’t bet the farm on this stuff.
We won’t see a major new JS framework this year. The market has stabilized around React, Angular, and Vue
Rationale: Web frameworks have reached a stability point. Each framework generation has offered diminishing returns and the time to learn them isn’t getting any shorter. Unless something major comes along, we probably aren’t going to see any major new web frameworks.
Web Components will move towards the mainstream
AI is over-hyped.
Rationale: With the advent of commoditized AI, people are freaking out about various doomsday scenarios. While I think AI is important, it’s probably not going to be all that different from every other major technological shift.
XR (augmented and virtual reality) will continue to advance, but people won’t find the “killer app” for it yet
Rationale: There’s a ton of long-term potential with XR, but I don’t think we’ve figured out the “killer app” yet. We’re still in the phase where people are experimenting and building stuff that’s not useful.
Analog technologies will continue to grow in popularity.
Rationale: During the late 1800’s and the 1900’s, people began to go to the woods for recreation. This was a reaction to urban life of the time. The urban populace wanted to get away from the concrete jungle. As cities incorporated more green elements (parks, gardens, etc…), the desire to camp has flattened. As technology advances, people tend modernize past activities into modern forms of recreation (camping, hunting, hiking, fishing, etc…). The current trend towards analog books, vinyl records, and table top board games is an offshoot of this broader trend.
3-4 Major cloud service providers will reach feature parity and crowd most of the other contestants out of the market.
Rationale: Most major technical markets tend to settle on 3-5 competitors. Every major technology category tends to have a large number of competitors at first who get acquired or go out of business. Cloud providers will be no different. AWS is the current champion, but I think Azure and Google will also be in the top three. I also think each cloud provider will copy the features of its main competitors so there’s not a huge difference between platforms.
The Bitcoin / crypto bubble will burst, but prices will be higher than they were before the bubble.
Rationale: This has happened several times before and will likely happen several more times. The end game will either be crypto stabilizing at high price or tanking. I’m guessing it’s going to eventually stabilize.
Crypto-currencies will move away from proof of work algorithms because they consume too much power.
XR will become commonplace as people figure out what to do with it. Augmented reality glasses will replace cell phones.
Self-driving car technology will mature, but won’t be commonplace due to regulatory issues
There will be a 1 trillion-dollar tech company.
The market capitalization of social media companies is going to tank
Rationale: The centralized nature of the big social media companies has led many people to criticize them. They are a huge target for anti-tech criticism. Social media in general will fall out of favor as more people learn about the abusive practices of the social media companies. Once enough people leave the network, it’ll trigger a spiral where the whole network tanks. Look at MySpace for reference.
Social media will fragment as people realize that they don’t want to be exposed to the whole public.
Rationale: Our society is becoming increasingly polarized while major social media companies are creating arbitrary content filtering policies. Platforms like Discourse and Diaspora allow people to build decentralized communities that can cater to their users needs.
There will be a wave of rapidly falling prices on things that were once labor intensive as AI makes labor far more effective.
There will be at least a few big crypto bubbles before crypto-currency settles on a stable valuation.
Bitcoin will lose out to another crypto-currency like Ethereum or Litecoin.
Rationale: I think Bitcoin is the Apple Newton of crypto-currencies. I think that other coins are going to innovate past Bitcoin and render it obsolete.
Analog and digital will merge due to technologies like 3d printing and the Internet of Things.
Rationale: Things that are analog will become digital and digital things will be able to become analog very easily. A big part of why analog product are succeeding in the modern age is because of technology. Just as cars and lightweight materials made camping a recreational activity, things like easy customization through automated manufacturing and platforms like Etsy will make analog products more appealing. The Internet of Things also gives us the ability to embed intelligence in our analog items.
The web will decentralize as a response to abuse by large technology companies.
There will be at least one major industry shock on par with the financial crash of 2008.
Rationale: At least one highly regulated industry will melt down. There are several industries that have consolidated power and become ossified over the past few decades. Government regulations tend to push industries into a consolidated oligarchy because larger companies are more able to bear the cost of regulatory burdens. When there aren’t many competitors to pick up the slack if one company fails, the whole industry becomes fragile. That fragility exposes the industry to “black swan” events that can cause major damage. Candidates for explosion include: banking (again), telecom, energy companies, and health insurance.
AI and other automation technologies will trigger major political shifts within the next 10-15 years
Self-driving cars will be commonplace in 10-15 years
Rationale: The technology is close today, but cultural and regulatory factors are going to slow down the adoption of self driving car technology.
Major medical breakthroughs will increase health-span and lifespan
Rationale: Life expectancy will climb to new highs and retirement will be a financial goal as opposed to something that happens due to disability. This has major political implications as social security will become even less viable.
Basic income will be standard in most industrialized countries.
Rationale: Technology creates asymmetric effects where small numbers of people can command extremely high amounts of wealth. Technology can also melt down entire industries and leave lots of people scrambling for work. While I think that we won’t have the crazy waves of unemployment that most tech skeptics portray, governments will need to simplify their welfare systems to account for people having to take regular career breaks to retrain in new skills.
The American University system will be replaced by new technology enabled educational processes
Rationale: The American university system has ever-increasing prices for ever decreasing value. Getting a college degree used to guarantee a well-paying job. Now it only guarantees a large amount of debt. People are going to look for more vocational skills training along with shorter times to marketable skills. Since people will likely be retraining several times over their careers, traditional institutions won’t be able to keep up. The technology industry is almost there today. Platforms like Pluralsight, Udemy, and Safari allow technology professionals to constantly train in new skills.
While it’s fun to make random speculations about the future of technology, it’s an important skill to be able to predict major shifts and prepare for them in advance. I’m sure I’ll come back to this post in a few years and have a good laugh at some of these predictions.