Naive Predictions 1  

Some naive predictions of the future, given on 2000 October 21st.

In the fall of 1984, just about 16 years ago, I went to my high school during a leave term from college (Dartmouth, which has an odd year-round quarterly schedule) and worked as a volunteer doing computer programming primarily for the administrative department.

I got to talking with my music teacher one day about computers and the near future. I told him that within about 20 years, the speed and storage capacity of computers will increase to the point where it will become practical for everyone to make digital copies of all their recorded music, and distribute it essentially free of charge from one person to another. The music will sound just as good as the digital optical disks that are coming out soon (I was referring to audio CD's, which we didn't have yet). People will no longer have to use the radio or the music stores to get their music and there isn't anything that the music industry will be able to do about it.

He didn't believe me. He found it difficult to conceive such a massive change to something that comprised such a large part of his life. Nevertheless, he couldn't provide any reasons why it wouldn't happen, provided that my technical (megabytes and megahertz) predictions were true. I was only wrong in one respect — I overestimated the time by about 4-5 years, because I didn't anticipate that data compression would play a role. The 10:1 compression capability of MP3 caused the prediction to come true some years sooner than I expected.

A few weeks ago I looked back at this and decided it was about time to predict again. What's going to happen next? I don't know for sure (who does?) but I feel about as certain as I did back in 1984, and my hunch is that it will look something like this:

Further Reading

The ideas stated above are largely my own. Many cannot be found in books. However, the following books give many good predictions that follow the theme of what I have written here.

James Gleick, "Faster", 1999 (Pantheon) (how history, and daily life, keep getting faster)

William Mitchell, "e-topia", 1999 (MIT Press) (effects on daily life and society)

Bart Kosko, "The Fuzzy Future", 1999 (Harmony) (various trends involving the replacement of absolute black-or-white decisions with complex compromises)

Douglas Robertson, "The New Renaissance", 1998 (Oxford) (how computers are causing a revolution in the arts and sciences)

Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger, "The Cluetrain Manifesto", 2000 (Perseus) (how the changes in communication and readily available information are forcing companies to change how they do business)

Ray Kurzweil, "The Age of Spiritual Machines", 1999 (Viking) (society, technology, and artificial intelligence)

Hans Moravec, "Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind", 1999 (Oxford) (artificial intelligence)


1 : you : In 2010, I was asked who or what was meant by the pronoun "you". I believe I was speculating about any agent from a single individual person up to those with resources typically employed by a large corporation (including money, legal help, etc.). I did not know much about Freenet or any of its design details (and still do not today) — but when I learned about Freenet I got the impression that their designers had intended it to successfully maintain availability of information even when that information is being actively suppressed by a group such as the Church of Scientology.

Note that the above predictions were made in October 2000, about a year before the events of 2001 Sep. 11th, and shortly after those events, attitudes towards the right to freely communicate information have changed. For example, suppressing information about hijacking and bombing techniques now garners far more support than suppressing the scriptures of the Church of Scientology.

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