If you predict a future someone else has already predicted, is that really a prediction?
Recent “predictions” from Cisco’s “futurists” sound an awful lot like rehashes of stuff the communications industry has been planning for five years or so and sci-fi writers have been proposing for at least a decade.
As I read a report from Information Week covering last week’s session with Cisco’s augurs in San Francisco, absolutely nothing struck me as novel. Everything reminded me of something most of us will have read or seen somewhere else. Let’s take a look:
“According to Cisco’s Dave Evans, human life expectancy could approach 300 years within the next several decades.”
Sorry guys, Ray Kurzweil beat you to this one by about five years. (What it is with wealthy guys wanting to live forever anyway?)
“The biggest theme driving the prognostications, though, echoed what Intel CTO Justin Rattner recently shared with InformationWeek: an avalanche of information will become available as everyday devices are equipped with sophisticated sensors and connected to the growing Internet of Things.”
Uh…wait. So, the Cisco guys are predicting something the Intel guys already predicted and which IBM has been marketing heavily for 5 years or so and the entire communications industry already calls M2M and Big Data? That’s not a prediction folks. That’s just repeating what everyone else is saying, like the human loudspeakers that irritated us all during the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“Based on GDP statistics, Cisco estimates that more than 1.5 trillion existing devices have the potential to be connected to the Internet. “We — people — will become nodes on the network,” Evans said.”
Yeah, we’ve seen all kinds of numbers like this. So, okay, anything that can be networked will be. And it’s in Cisco’s best interest to see that it happens, because without an exponential increase in devices requiring connectivity, it’s awfully hard for companies like Cisco to drive their own valuations based on future growth. The Wall Street guys aren’t going to be nearly as interested in a story about a company that’s completely saturated its markets globally with products that are facing negative price pressure due to commoditization. Plus, the idea of everyone becoming a node on the network is awfully Orwellian…and therefore not a prediction, because Orwell pretty much beat everyone to that one too.
“Evans predicted that common bathroom mirrors will be able to give basic medical exams by measuring one’s pupil dilation, skin temperature, pulse and blood pressure. Such mirrors, he explained, will be only one example of a host of tools that constantly measure a user’s physical condition.”
Such mirrors will be common in whose home? Highly compensated Cisco execs? Maybe. Romulo, my office building’s custodian’s bathroom? Probably not any time soon. So, this prediction isn’t only creepy, it’s classist, bordering on insensitive. If it predicts anything, it’s that the gap in the accessibility of medical care between the “haves” and “have nots” in our society is only going to increase with technological advancements.
“(Cisco CTO of emerging technologies Guido) Jouret said this information will merge with other expected advances, such as the ability to sequence one’s genome in a single afternoon or the ability to create replacement organs with 3D printing, to help human lifespans extend to multiple centuries.”
Sequence one’s genome in a single afternoon? The movie Gattaca proposed this in 1997 boys.
3D printing to create replacement organs? Alex spoke about something like this at Subex’s user group conference a few months ago…and he doesn’t claim to have come up with it on his own.
“Evan foresees that doctors equipped with better data will be more empowered to both detect problems early and personalize treatment options.”
The problem with this statement is that as industries go, medicine is among the the biggest luddites. NPR recently ran this story pointing out that one of the big flaws in the Obama administration’s optimistic plan to improve electronic access to medical records is that medicine is almost hopelessly behind the curve in regards to IT and networking adoption. Medicine is highly advanced in terms of using new technologies for treatment and diagnosis, but conversely poor when it comes to sharing information about things as simple as blood tests.
“Jouret predicted that whatever new careers emerge in coming years, job seekers will need good levels of education. “[Tasks] that require brute force — even precision brute force — will not last for long,” he said.”
First of all, emerging careers have always required good levels of education. The first guys who operated computers were some of the best educated physicists and mathematicians in the world. As for brute force not lasting long…best not say that too loudly around the tire shop when its below freezing outside and you need someone a lot stronger than you to put your car on a lift and wail on your flat tire with a mallet until it comes off the hub.
So, here’s the overall point. If you’re going to call yourself a futurist, predict something interesting if you can’t predict something new. And, preferably, predict events that are perhaps less transparently beneficial to your business…at least a few of them anyway.
Here’s a thought: Thanks to massive advances in exoplanet science, we’re going to discover life on other worlds within the next decade. (And, if you’re lucky Cisco, those guys will want to buy networking gear, devices, and Big Data technology from you.)