Forecasting is difficult
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Forecasting is difficult. H. Maurer Institute for Information Processing and Computer Supported New Media Graz University of Technology. Presentation for “ Gesellschaftliche Aspekte der Telematik ” Graz, March 21, 2001.

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Forecasting is difficult

Forecasting is difficult

H. Maurer Institute for Information Processing and Computer Supported New Media Graz University of Technology

Presentation for “GesellschaftlicheAspekte der Telematik”

Graz, March 21, 2001

Forecasting is difficult

Jacques Hebenstreit: “Any predictions about the future in 20 years are Science Fiction speculations.”

Why so difficult?

Forecasting is difficult

Reason 1: Rapid growth of knowledge. Half-decay time of knowledge keeps dropping.Murphy‘s law for computer science:

As soon as you have understood something it is obsolete.

Forecasting is difficult

Reason 2: Discoveries and inventions are by definition not predictable.Example: airplanes, atomic energy, packing density of external storage devices, ...

Forecasting is difficult

Reason 3: Application and acceptance of technical developments are not predictable.Examples: Edison‘s phonograph, atomic energy, supersonic travel, videodiscs, ...

Forecasting is difficult

Reason 4: Acceptance of technical developments dependent on external facts.Examples: Marketing, laws, economic trends (phone!), psychological phenomena, wars, growth of population, ...

Forecasting is difficult

Reason 5: A jump in quantity changes the quality of phenomena.Examples: Computer networks, cars, water, ...

Forecasting is difficult

So what is doable?

(1) Scenarios and the role of SF

(2) Try to work with lower bounds

Now to some predictions made in the past.

Forecasting is difficult

“There is a world market for at most five computers.”(IBM President Thomas Watson 1943)

“Computers of the future might at some stage not be heavier than 1.5 tons.” (Popular Mechanics 1949)

“It appears that we have reached the limits of what is possible with computer technology.”(John von Neumann 1949)

Forecasting is difficult

“I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won‘t last out the year.”(Editor-in-Chief, Business Books, Prentice Hall, 1951)

“But what is it good for?” (Employee of Advanced Computing Division, IBM 1968, about the microchip)

“There is no reason why people should have a computer in their home.” (Ken Olson, Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977)

“640.000 Bytes memory should be enough for everyone.” (Bill Gates, 1981)

Forecasting is difficult

“A computer will beat the chess world-champion by 1967.” (Various sources in 1958)“ 1977.” (Later sources around 1965)

“A computer will beat the chess world-champion by 1998.” (Kurzweil 1987)

Actually: Deep Blue beat Kasparov in 1998.

Forecasting is difficult

“The future belongs to reusable paper.”(Maurer 1992)

Digital Ink: 1998

“We will have books with pictures and movies that turn into others at will.”(Kurzweil 1998)

Nanobiotechnology prototypes: 2000

Forecasting is difficult

“Speech input for word processing will be as common in 2000 as word processing is today.”(Maurer 1985)

“Tourists will use electronic language translators with speech input and output by 2000.”(Maurer 1985)

Forecasting is difficult

“Reading and writing will have the same impact for communication in 2050 as the morse-code has today, or knitting has for the textile industry today.”(Maurer 1992)

“In the near future all people will have their own private telephone that they carry with them.”(Maurer 1994)

Forecasting is difficult

“By 1990 men will not wear ties anymore.”(Maurer 1962)

“Forecasts are difficult – particularly for the future.”(Niels Bohr)

- Einstein about horseshoe

- Dirac about horseshoe

Forecasting is difficult

“By 2010 you will feel more vulnerable without computer than without clothes.”(Maurer 1989)

“The computer will disappear as individual object. Things that think will replace it.”(Gershenfeld u.a. 1990)

“Wearing of hardware will be more and more fashionable!”

- Steve Mann

Forecasting is difficult

“3D copying machines will be common devices in the future. ” (Maurer 1994)

“PC‘s will be equipped with PF‘S (Personal Fabricators) before long.”(Kurzweil 1998)

- Stereolithography

- 3D Printers

Forecasting is difficult

“Realistic large-scale animated 3D scenes will be realizeable by 2041.” (Maurer 1994)

- 3D worlds

- Holography (the Cube)

- Omniview (TI)


“Swarms of nanobots will provide visual, audio and tactile environments by 2049.” (Kurzweil 1998)

Forecasting is difficult

“By 2029 a US $100 computer will compete with the human brain.”(Kurzweil 1998; also: )

“By 2099 human thinking will have merged with computer intelligence – immortality will be a concept without meaning – in the millennias to follow such intelligent beings will manipulate the fate of the universe.”

Forecasting is difficult

  • Planetory engineering• Grass on the moon (Maurer 1992)• Water on Mars from Oort‘s Cloud

“Interplanetary travel is certainly impossible.” (Piccard 1937)

“Intercontinental rockets are certainly impossible.” (Vannevar Bush 1945)

“Landing on the moon ... Many problems ... 200 years to solve them.” (Science Digest 1948)

“The first hotel on the moon will be opened by 2030.” (Maurer 1992)

Forecasting is difficult

“Some day the number of humans born in space will be larger than the number born on earth.”(Al Globus 1988)

“Visitors from space will be microscopically small ... that‘s why we have not discovered UFO‘s yet.”(Kurzweil 1998)

  • Mapping of human mind into machines• Minsky• Moravec (Turing Test by 2030)

Forecasting is difficult

“Computers are our kids. We should be proud that our kids will be superior to us in intelligence in the foreseeable future.”(Chip Maguire 1995)

“If we are lucky, computers will keep us as pets.”(Minsky)

“Biology is not destiny. It was never more than a tendency. It was just nature‘s first quick and dirty way to compute with meat. Chips are destiny.”(Bart Kosko)

Forecasting is difficult

“The danger for computers is not that they will eventually get as smart as men, but that we will meanwhile agree to meet them halfway.” (Bernard Aviskai)

“Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning.” (Rick Cook)

“Computers are useless. They can only give answers.” (Pablo Picasso)

Forecasting is difficult

“The telephone is too errorprone. It will never be used for serious communication.”(Manager Wester Union 1876)

“Radio waves will never be useable for serious communicational purposes.”(H. Hertz, discoverer of radiowaves, 1884)

“Radio waves can never cross the Atlantic.” (Poincaré 1901)

Marconi, Dec. 12, 1901: Cornwall to St. John‘s!

Forecasting is difficult

“It is absurd and misleading to state that the human voice can be transmitted by telephone accross the Atlantic.” (US Attorney 1919)

“While theoretically and technically, television may be feasable, commerically and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.”(de Forest 1926)

“Television sets will be standard in everyone‘s home by 1985.” (Popular Mechanics Magazine 1950)

Forecasting is difficult

“The Internet will collapse in 1996.” (Robert Metcalfe, Inventor of the Ethernet, 1990)

“There will be 100 million WWW Servers by 2002.” (Jacob Nielsen, SUN Chief Engineer, 1998)

“There are three kinds of death in this world. There is heart death, there is brain death and there is being off the network.” (Guy Almes)

Forecasting is difficult


„ ... and then one day the Internet collapsed“

Forecasting is difficult

In general:

Do believe Hebenstreit!

Do not believe general statements like:

The fundamental laws of physics have been discovered; It is very unlikely that new break-throughs will occur (Michelson 1903)


A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing opponents but because the opponents will finally die (Max Planck)

Examples: e.g. Alfred Wegner – continental drift!1912 – 1930 – 1955 - 1970

Forecasting is difficult

Final prediction:

By 2099 our society will be one with completely distributed knowledge but universal access to it(H. Maurer, 2001: The Societal Role of Knowledge Management)

Forecasting is difficult

The Societal Role of Knowledge Management

Primitive (cave men) culture:Everyone could do almost everything

Continous historic development: Production more and more distributed

Today: Production completely distributed („arbeitsteilig“) yet access is universal!

Forecasting is difficult

Primitive (cave men) culture:everyone knew almost everything

Continuous historic development: knowledge more and more distributed

Today: knowledge very distributed, but access gets easier

Future:knowledge totally distributed („wissensteilig“) yet access is universal!

Forecasting is difficult


  • Individual knowledge supplementd by huge pool of knowledge

  • Complex knowledge used like complex machinery

  • Humans as individuals stop to exist: More and more cells of a new living being: humanity!

Forecasting is difficult

Thanks for listening. This talk was prepared while at Maurertown.

URLs:, email: [email protected]

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