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This 1981 BYTE Magazine Cover Explains Why We're So Bad At Tech Predictions

Unknown Lamer posted about 5 months ago | from the futuristic-but-not-too-futuristic dept.

Technology 276

harrymcc (1641347) writes "If you remember the golden age of BYTE magazine, you remember Robert Tinney's wonderful cover paintings. BYTE's April 1981 cover featured an amazing Tinney image of a smartwatch with a tiny text-oriented interface, QWERTY keyboard, and floppy drive. It's hilarious — but 33 years later, it's also a smart visual explanation of why the future of technology so often bears so little resemblance to anyone's predictions. I wrote about this over at TIME.com. 'Back then, a pundit who started talking about gigabytes of storage or high-resolution color screens or instant access to computers around the world or built-in cameras and music players would have been accused of indulging in science fiction.'"

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It was a "joke" back then (4, Funny)

Joce640k (829181) | about 5 months ago | (#46754687)

Imagine that Cray computer decides to make a personal computer. It has
a 150 MHz processor, 200 megabytes of RAM, 1500 megabytes of disk
storage, a screen resolution of 4096 x 4096 pixels, relies entirely on
voice recognition for input, fits in your shirt pocket and costs $300.
What's the first question that the computer community asks?

"Is it PC compatible?"

(Source unknown...)

Re:It was a "joke" back then (2)

jellomizer (103300) | about 5 months ago | (#46754743)

The question would be IBM compatible, back in the early 80s

Re:It was a "joke" back then (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 5 months ago | (#46754909)

Good catch...

Re:It was a "joke" back then (5, Interesting)

Cryacin (657549) | about 5 months ago | (#46755155)

This reminds me of Isaac Asimov's Elevator Fallacy. If we imagine ourselves back in the 1800's when buildings were no taller than 10 stories, and then talk about how towering behemoth buildings stretching 100 stories high exist, a science fiction writer would talk about how there would be sky lobbies so that meetings can be held along the way up the building, and that at the end of the day, to avoid the long trek back down the endless stair case, a slide would allow those at the top of the building to travel all the way down in a matter of minutes.

That, or the elevator would be invented.

It's exactly these unforseen technological changes that make us laugh at the predictions from earlier, as the pain points back then are completely irrelevant and solved today, only to have new ones exposed that were never even thought of. Who would have considered it abnormal back in the 80's to need to add and remove media constantly from their system, but would even have thought of software needing to be efficient because of power consumption?

Re:It was a "joke" back then (5, Funny)

zippthorne (748122) | about 5 months ago | (#46755241)

The slide would still be pretty neat, though...

Re:It was a "joke" back then (4, Informative)

DrXym (126579) | about 5 months ago | (#46755339)

Some buildings do [topmanagementdegrees.com] have slides

Re:It was a "joke" back then (4, Insightful)

NotDrWho (3543773) | about 5 months ago | (#46755595)

I like the elevator analogy. The fact is that even when prognostications get something right--they inevitably get the context, implications, and effects all wrong. That's because they get one invention or innovation right, but every invention and innovation has to be understood in the context of the million other inventions, innovations, and social changes that surround it.

So one person guesses in the mid-19th century that we will have horseless carriages in the future--but also thinks they'll run on steam engines and cause great depletion of our wood and coal supplies. Another person forsees the internal combustion engine, but thinks its only practical use will be in industry. Another person forsees high-grade steel, but thinks it will be used just for girders. Another person forsees an interstate highway system, but thinks it will be used for giant horse-drawn land trains. No one person truly predicts the automobile and its actual effects and implications. No one person puts it all together.

That's why all these reports that come out predicting the future (beyond the obvious) always crack me up. Such arrogance. About the only prediction guaranteed to be accurate is that the future will be far different than any of us can possibly imagine.

Re:It was a "joke" back then (4, Insightful)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 5 months ago | (#46755605)

I also laughed when Asimov described spaceship controls as so complex, that only a robot with a positronic brain could handle them. Yep. a "computer" using levers and pulleys to steer a starship. :-)

Re:It was a "joke" back then (1)

dingen (958134) | about 5 months ago | (#46754753)

So sad we still don't have 4K square screens available for the general public. Everything else has exploded, but pixels are still lacking.

Re:It was a "joke" back then (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | about 5 months ago | (#46754779)

You don't need 4K^2 pixels. Your "retina" can't see them anyway, apparently. At least if you're hardware is "iPC" compatible.

Re:It was a "joke" back then (2)

narcc (412956) | about 5 months ago | (#46754871)

That would depend on the physical size of the display and your distance from it.

Re:It was a "joke" back then (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about 5 months ago | (#46754925)

You don't need 4K^2 pixels. Your "retina" can't see them anyway, apparently. At least if you're hardware is "iPC" compatible.

Sure, and your retina can't see VGA resolution resolution either.

Not if you stand far enough away from the screen...

Re:It was a "joke" back then (2)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 5 months ago | (#46755611)

That's not going to stop them from doing it. In the next couple of years, a phone with a 4K display [extremetech.com] could be a real possibility. It won't be 4K^2, because the screens aren't square, but it will have the same effective resolution. They have to upgrade something to keep people paying high prices for devices. As technology improves, the same old stuff gets cheaper, and this creates lower profits for manufacturers as the barrier to entry gets lower. This is why you can now buy a laptop for under $300, and won't need to be updated before it dies. Contrast that to 15 years ago when I bought my first desktop machine, which cost close to $2000, and even then had to spend money on upgrades within a couple years.

Re:It was a "joke" back then (4, Insightful)

Jahta (1141213) | about 5 months ago | (#46755081)

If you Google "Byte magazine covers", you'll see that the covers often took a certain amount of artistic license. They were designed to be eye-catching on news-stands. But the content was always very good. I'm sure I'm not the only one who was sorry to see it go.

Re:It was a "joke" back then (5, Insightful)

Dogtanian (588974) | about 5 months ago | (#46755263)

If you Google "Byte magazine covers", you'll see that the covers often took a certain amount of artistic license.

I'm not even sure that one needs to excuse it as "artistic license".

To me- and I suspect almost anyone at the time- that looks as if it were quite clearly intended as a non-literal but eye-catching metaphor for "one day we will have wrist watches as powerful as today's personal computers".

I honestly don't think for a second they were suggesting that such a machine would *actually* resemble a ludicrously miniaturised PC...

(Skims the actual article)

Okay, so even the article itself understands that the original image was tongue-in-cheek; something the summary doesn't make so clear. And I do understand the point it's trying to make about predictions of the future looking like the present with high-tech bells on. But at the same time it slightly weakens the point being made, as there are probably many seriously-intended examples of "future tech" that are almost as silly!

Re:It was a "joke" back then (4, Insightful)

gsslay (807818) | about 5 months ago | (#46755369)

The cover image is obviously not supposed to be an attempt at predicting what a real working computer on your wrist would look like. If it had attempted this, most readers at a glance would probably not recognise what it was suppose to be.

So the artist simply took a recognisable object (early 80s computer) and shrunk it onto a wrist. Job done, eye catching cover that the reader can immediately understand.

That micro-floppy (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46754699)

...isn't too far removed from a micro-SD card.

Re:That micro-floppy (1, Informative)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | about 5 months ago | (#46754809)

In appearance maybe, but the technology itself is not even close.

Re:That micro-floppy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46755213)

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Re:That micro-floppy (1)

Cryacin (657549) | about 5 months ago | (#46755287)

Thank you, Captain Anonymous.

Re:That micro-floppy (1, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 5 months ago | (#46755479)

Forget the tech - that's the least important part. The function is exactly the same: removable storage. So in that respect it works just fine.

You also have to remember that the cover (and all articles about "the future") are written for a contemporary audience. Therefore all the stuff mentioned or described has to be acceptable to those people. If the artist had just drawn a small plastic chip, it would have been meaningless. A floppy disc, although nobody who could ever claim to be a Byte reader would consider it viable, signposts the idea of miniature storage.

In that respect it was prescient.

Re:That micro-floppy (4, Informative)

silentcoder (1241496) | about 5 months ago | (#46755575)

> signposts the idea of miniature storage.

Indeed, it is still the standard icon for "Save file to disk" almost 2 decades since the most likely disk destination became "the hard drive".

I remember back in 1998/1999 somewhere one computer magazine ran an article on "what will replace the floppy disk" ? Many ideas were touted, in subsequent letters most readers were betting the farm on ever-cheaper and faster rewriteable optical media as cd-burners got cheaper too.
Nobody saw the USB flask coming until it was upon us - let alone it's more recent offspring like the MicroSD.

Re:That micro-floppy (4, Insightful)

plover (150551) | about 5 months ago | (#46755243)

I think he drawing showed a miniaturized typical computer of the era primarily because the artist wanted it to be recognizable as a computer on the wearer's wrist. A drawing of a Pebble would have shown a smooth featureless slab; it would also have been hard to represent an RF data connection replacing physical data transfers, even if such things had been envisioned 33 years ago. (Although not impossible: Dick Tracy comics showed lightning bolts coming from the "2-way wrist radio" back in the 1950s.)

Surely ironic (4, Insightful)

Trapezium Artist (919330) | about 5 months ago | (#46754729)

C'mon, it's entirely obvious that that "PC on a watch" painting is a rather clever piece of irony or even satire, not a meaningful prediction of an actual future piece of technology.

That doesn't mean I disagree with the point of the discussion, namely that we're not that great at predicting the directions of future tech, but using this magazine cover as a direct illustration of that is, IMHO, rather disingenuous.

Re:Surely ironic (3, Interesting)

Trapezium Artist (919330) | about 5 months ago | (#46754747)

OK, now having read the linked article (oops), I do see that the author (Henry McCracken) realised that the cover painting had a humorous intent (not least that it was the April edition of BYTE), satirising the conservative opinion that future tech was likely to be an extension / miniaturisation of the then-prevalent PC paradigm.

Good to see I got it, though :-)

Re:Surely ironic (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | about 5 months ago | (#46755293)

Quite how much it was "satire" upon that point or that it was simply a catchy- but still obviously non-literal- visual metaphor (as I commented above) is open to question.

Either way, it's definitely not meant to be taken straight. I mean, I doubt this computer magazine [computinghistory.org.uk] is literally suggesting that one can squeeze more data into their computer by robot hand forcing it in!

Re:Surely ironic (1)

njnnja (2833511) | about 5 months ago | (#46755315)

The BYTE editorial that the cover was based on was about how new technologies were shrinking computing, such as the 3.5" disk and the Osborne 1. The toshiba "tv-on a watch" was a fail but it's interesting that they noted 2 products of actual historical significance. The editors also made the astute observation that "Osborne is currently seeking approval from the FAA to operate the unit on board a plane". Only took 3 decades!

That's the point! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46754771)

"is a rather clever piece of irony or even satire"
Yes it was, it was a joke back then, now with smart phones we have even more functionality in a small package that they even dreamed of and made jokes about back in 1981

Re:Surely ironic (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46754859)

> That doesn't mean I disagree with the point of the discussion,
> namely that we're not that great at predicting the directions of
> future tech

I think that depends who "we" are, most technologists understand the principles of technological advancement - the rate at which computing power increases, the tendancy towards miniaturisation, increasing battery capacity in smaller space, convergence of devices, areas of research. Given this, most technologists know what's coming.

The people who aren't very good are journalists, and casual users. Take this gem:

"(One classic example: When it became clear that Apple was working on an âoeiPhone,â almost all the speculation involved something that was either a lot like an iPod, or a lot like other phones of the time. As far as I know, nobody expected anything remotely like the epoch-shifting device Apple released.)"

It's just complete nonsense, anyone working with smartphones at the time was completely unfazed by the iPhone - the first edition wasn't entirely dissimilar (and was notable underfeatured compared to) offerings from companies like Nokia, and HP with their iPaq phones. It was a game changer in America, but America was for some obscure reason completely behind on phone technology - when I used to visit in the early 00s it was like I was from the fucking future because I had a phone that could play Doom, music, and so forth on it, and this is why commentary from Americans about how incredibly "epoch-shifting" the iPhone was looks like complete drivel to Europeans and Asians, or even Americans who had some understanding of our mobile markets.

The article is an illustration of a journalist discovering the fact that as a journalist he knows not the slightest fuck what he is on about when he starts talking about the future of tech. It says nothing else about how the rest of us understand the future of technology though.

yes (1)

globaljustin (574257) | about 5 months ago | (#46754993)

The article is an illustration of a journalist discovering the fact that as a journalist he knows not the slightest fuck what he is on about when he starts talking about the future of tech. It says nothing else about how the rest of us understand the future of technology though.

right?

TFA barely talks about actual technology or issues of "futurism"...

so much of what everyday people see in the media about tech is utter bullshit...IMHO it measurably costs us $$$

Re:Surely ironic (2)

Trapezium Artist (919330) | about 5 months ago | (#46755073)

Good point; I did use the word "we" in a rather catch-all manner there, and I'd also agree that technologists are likely to have a much better record at predicting the future than journalists.

But I'd then turn the tables and say that it depends on the timescale implied by "future". On a ten-year horizon, I'd agree that technologists are likely to have a pretty good idea what's coming, in part because they're likely to be working themselves actively on new technologies and products for release on similar sorts of timescales.

But on a 100 or 50 or even 30 year horizon, as this article refers to? It seems clear to me that on some timescale, even technologists are unlikely to be that close, if only because they're probably called "futurologists" at that point, or "science fiction writers" :-)

On some timescale, almost everyone is going to be pretty much guessing ...

Re:Surely ironic (2)

RDW (41497) | about 5 months ago | (#46755171)

"It's just complete nonsense, anyone working with smartphones at the time was completely unfazed by the iPhone - the first edition wasn't entirely dissimilar (and was notable underfeatured compared to) offerings from companies like Nokia, and HP with their iPaq phones.

Though 'nobody expected anything remotely like the epoch shifting device' is over the top, the main point is hardly complete nonsense. Most of the speculation was indeed heavily influenced by the iPod and older style smartphones:

http://www.businessinsider.com... [businessinsider.com]

Apple was seriously considering a clickwheel-based design 15 months before the iPhone was unveiled:

http://www.idownloadblog.com/2... [idownloadblog.com]

Re:Surely ironic (1)

zippthorne (748122) | about 5 months ago | (#46755259)

The game changer of the iPhone wasn't features. It was UI and updates. Prior to iPhone, you typically would never receive software updates for your phone. After all, why bother, it doesn't sell more phones. The opposite, even. Bug frustration was a reason why people would "upgrade" by buying new phone whenever they hit the end of the contract period.

Apple was big enough to force the phone companies to allow updates to happen.

Re:Surely ironic (1)

perryizgr8 (1370173) | about 5 months ago | (#46755505)

Symbian got updates ALL the time.

Re:Surely ironic (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | about 5 months ago | (#46755553)

Unfortunately, IFAICR, the updates did not appear to add features or remove bugs - they visibly added more and more DRM. Signed by Synmbian made it was insanely difficult to get apps installed from the start.

I still have, and use, Symbian 60 phones - the upgrade process means that I cannot actually move to a newer version. There have been no updates for years - and unfortunately - I cannot install any apps (or even re-install the old ones) because the signatures have expired and no one maintains them.

Disclaimer: I am a happy Cyanogenmod user.

Re:Surely ironic (2)

sunderland56 (621843) | about 5 months ago | (#46755047)

Why satire? Given the current smartphone - is the prediction far off? Sure, the screen can do graphics *and* text, the keyboard is usually on-screen, and the removable storage is flash instead of floppy - but the basics are all there.

Plus, everyone is saying that the smartwatch is the 'future of wearable computing' - if true, the Byte prediction will be even closer to the truth.

Re:Surely ironic (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | about 5 months ago | (#46755205)

Because typing on that tiny keyboard looks impossible with out some kind of typing needle.

Re:Surely ironic (2)

Johann Lau (1040920) | about 5 months ago | (#46755557)

With a dual-purpose typing needle [wikispaces.com] it could be pretty killer though.

Re:Surely ironic (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | about 5 months ago | (#46755599)

Gentlemen - I bring you the Samsung Stylus!

Ironic and Iconic (4, Interesting)

Tatarize (682683) | about 5 months ago | (#46755059)

Does anybody else want a mini-sd card form factored to look like a mini-floppy disk? I sure do. And now since I've mentioned it, you do too.

Re:Ironic and Iconic (1)

bytesex (112972) | about 5 months ago | (#46755257)

I guess this is what that moment is called just before somebody makes a million bucks off of a simple idea.

Re:Ironic and Iconic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46755517)

Yes I would, while they are at it perhaps they could make a small USB reader that looks like a disk drive too. With a choice of shells being Apple IIe disk drive or the Commodore 64 1541.

Fair point but. (2)

thechanklybore (1091971) | about 5 months ago | (#46754735)

Looking at the image it's totally clear to me that it's just visual metaphor. Clearly the artist was not suggesting that this was a workable idea, simply that watches would soon be like computers. This rather makes the rest of your analysis seems fragile.

Re:Fair point but. (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 5 months ago | (#46754769)

The article makes it abundantly clear that this it's satire.

I'm guessing the submitter didn't bother to click his own link.

Re:Fair point but. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46754813)

The submitter is the author of the article, you dimwit.

I guess you didn't bother to read the summary.

Re:Fair point but. (1)

thechanklybore (1091971) | about 5 months ago | (#46754817)

True. However the article goes on to use the cover as a springboard for ideas on how bad we are at predicting technology advances. Given that the point of the picture is to show watches becoming computers, and the current trend for "smart" watches, I'd say that shows the complete opposite. We may be bad at predicting the specific form-factors of technology, but the prevailing idea of miniaturization seems spot on.

"it's also a smart visual explanation of why..." (4, Insightful)

Arduenn (2908841) | about 5 months ago | (#46754745)

FTFA:

"it's also a smart visual explanation of why the future of technology so often bears so little resemblance to anyone's predictions"

No, it's not an explanation at all. It was intended as a metaphor for miniaturization of electronics. Noone in their right mind would take a full QWERTY keyboard with keys the size of pin heads literally.

Re:"it's also a smart visual explanation of why... (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 5 months ago | (#46754875)

Noone in their right mind would take a full QWERTY keyboard with keys the size of pin heads literally.

Do you mean these guys [firstpost.com] ?

Re:"it's also a smart visual explanation of why... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 5 months ago | (#46754915)

Casio did. Well, it was an alphabetic order rather than QWERTY, but they did put it in their organiser line of watches.

Re:"it's also a smart visual explanation of why... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46755007)

Casio did. Well, it was an alphabetic order rather than QWERTY, but they did put it in their organiser line of watches.

Damn I had one of those watches. Super cool, although I prefer the ones that had games.

Re:"it's also a smart visual explanation of why... (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 5 months ago | (#46755225)

Noone in their right mind would take a full QWERTY keyboard with keys the size of pin heads literally.

Obviously. I mean, there are much better input methods for such things, namely Dvorak.

It is art (5, Informative)

art6217 (757847) | about 5 months ago | (#46754755)

It is art, no prediction. It is obvious from the first glance. And the article confirms it:

If you're tempted to assume that the image was actually a serious depiction of what a future wrist computer might look like-well, no. Inside the magazine, which only had a brief editiorial about future computers, the editors pointed out that it wasn't a coincidence that it happened to be the April issue of Byte.

QWERTY Keyboard (2)

phizi0n (1237812) | about 5 months ago | (#46754757)

Anyone with half a brain could realize that watches would never have keyboards so tiny that the only button you could press using your fingers (more-so your nails) would be the space-bar. The rest of the image is plausible and not far removed from what we have now.

Re:QWERTY Keyboard (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | about 5 months ago | (#46754795)

I remember, in the 80s, some of the kids at school had smart watches with a keyboard on them. And yes, the keys were basically little round buttons 1mm in diameter, and you had to use your nails to press them. I think they were made by Sharp, maybe.

Re:QWERTY Keyboard (1)

Megane (129182) | about 5 months ago | (#46755295)

Calculator Watch [wikipedia.org]

GIS for calculator watch [google.com]

I particularly like the one built around a generic 2x20 text LCD.

iPhone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46755469)

That's kind of how I feel about the "keyboard" on the iPhone.

will smart watches ever catch on? (1)

pr100 (653298) | about 5 months ago | (#46754759)

I'm not sure what the killer argument for smart watches is. That's not to say that there won't be a market for smaller devices that smart phones. But the real issues are display size and input method. Current smartphone sized displays can't be strapped to your wrist, and its not clear that a smaller display is useful in a general purpose device. If glass-type devices take off then it's possible then you solve the display problem, but then why would you want a watch too?

Re:will smart watches ever catch on? (1)

mlk (18543) | about 5 months ago | (#46754873)

The Rufus Cuff [indiegogo.com] is tempting. I could see the move from my current Galaxy Note 2 to one of these and tablet with stylus. Mostly for running and convenience to look stuff up. I love my Note but it is big when whipping it out, but note quite big enough to write on. If I'm to deconverge I'd want the "quick glance" thing to be quick-glance-y and that is a watch or Glasses.

Re:will smart watches ever catch on? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 months ago | (#46755051)

Arguably, the existence of such a device is an argument against the utility of the 'smartwatch' notion: Both are wrist-mounted; but that cuff-thing is basically an entire phone (at least before the horrors of the Phablet Era) strapped to your wrist, science-fiction-communicator-widget style. A direct refusal to sacrifice the screen size, computational and battery power, and other advantages of a larger device.

There's certainly an argument to be made for such things; but as an alternative to just storing your phone in your pocket, not as a different class of device.

Re:will smart watches ever catch on? (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 months ago | (#46755087)

My judgement is probably biased, because I loath my phone and its interruptions; but 'smart watches' appear to be devices that you attach to your wrist because your phone is configured to bother you so often that you need a second, more easily accessible, device to provide a summary of the incoming demand on your time and attention in order to see if you should follow through with taking your phone out of your pocket.

Maybe I'm just getting bitter in my old age and shouting at those damn smartphones to get off my lawn; but if something isn't important enough to take my phone out of my pocket for, the fact that I'm being alerted to it is a software configuration defect that should be solved by my phone shutting the hell up, not by it phoning my watch to demand attention.

Clearly a joke (1)

DrXym (126579) | about 5 months ago | (#46754791)

It's pretty obvious that it was a visual joke rather than a serious representation of a computer on a wrist. Anyway no smart watch has managed to sell well so it's not like what we call a smart watch today is what people want either.

Something lost (4, Interesting)

guises (2423402) | about 5 months ago | (#46754815)

Ugh. Every once in a while I'm reminded of just how much we've lost (and continue to lose) with the death of print media. Byte was shut down before its time, but there used to be so many good zines like it.

I guess 2600 is still around, maybe I should get a subscription before I forget. Are there any other decent zines still in print? I should do an Ask Slashdot instead of just posting a comment...

Re:Something lost (1)

Viol8 (599362) | about 5 months ago | (#46755061)

Agreed. Byte was shutdown for unknown reasons buy its publisher - its circulation at the time was still way higher than most tech magazines. It could easily have still made a ton of money and still be going.

Re:Something lost (1)

Megane (129182) | about 5 months ago | (#46755381)

Byte was dead by 1993. There was some kind of Computer Shopper clone magazine that took its place (and name) for quite a few years thereafter, but it wasn't Byte. They even managed to get Pournelle's column into this doppelganger of Byte.

Prediction fail (2)

Bazman (4849) | about 5 months ago | (#46754821)

The prediction fail with that watch is the idea that you need any form of input. These days, phones, tablets, and smartwatches are purely consumption devices, designed to pump content into your brain, force you to watch ads, and take money from your pocket. At least, that's what the big corporations want. How many futurists saw that coming?

Re:Prediction fail (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 5 months ago | (#46754965)

You could plug a smartphone or tablet into a screen and with a bluetooth mouse and keyboard quite happily create things.

Re:Prediction fail (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 months ago | (#46755035)

Depends on how much credit you want to give for predictions that correctly interpret the purpose and effect of the shift; but provide no technical detail whatsoever.

Would the grim ruminations of the marxists concerning the distribution of the means of production qualify? They tend to either be writing about smokestack industry or broad historical trends, specific implementation unspecified; but some of them would probably feel pretty well validated by the (substantial) shift from computers that provide programming tools by default, to computers that don't ship with any; but can run some if you obtain them elsewhere, to computers that explicitly and artificially forbid essentially all program production(on the device itself, if you SSH into a real computer Apple and friends don't much care what you type on their shiny tablets).

I don't think that the sort of techies who like techology enough to enthusiastically prognosticate about the future of it would have guessed "In the future, computers will be opaque closed boxes. And consumers will fucking love it with the same intensity and in far greater numbers than you did your obscurantist geek box. Where is your god now, nerd?"

Re:Prediction fail (1)

kamapuaa (555446) | about 5 months ago | (#46755175)

Plenty of futurists imagined watches that functioned as one-way radios or one-way TVs.

Short of a two-way radio, I can't think of anybody imagining a wristwatch would be a great way to create content.

Re:Prediction fail (1)

Tokolosh (1256448) | about 5 months ago | (#46755585)

"It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future." Apparently an old Danish saying, but attributed to various people.

Reader Service Card... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46754845)

How many of us remember using those as a kid to get info about stuff...

That drawing was a joke, but (4, Interesting)

Beck_Neard (3612467) | about 5 months ago | (#46754867)

We genuinely are bad at predicting the future of tech, but it's usually not because we're too fanciful. It's usually the opposite. Tech predictions usually fail because we're way too conservative. That's partly the reason behind this joke drawing in 1981. Now predictions about almost everything else - society, politics, and social adoption of tech - are usually way too optimistic. But tech predictions are way too pessimistic. Here's my effort at a perhaps better future prediction: We'll have much better AI than we do today and it will know everything about everyone. Yet it will not be google, or anything like google, but a service catering to intelligence agencies. Poverty and destruction of the ecosystem will continue at a worse pace than it is going now. We will have the capability to cheaply explore other planets, but we won't actually have a colony on any planets. We'll have the capability to feed everyone in the world yet global hunger will still exist and maybe even be worse than it is today. Rich nations will be richer and poor nations will be poorer. Strong AI will eventually come about then promptly proceed to kill everyone. Not because it hates us, just for liebensraum. Have a nice day.

Re:That drawing was a joke, but (1)

khakipuce (625944) | about 5 months ago | (#46755411)

I think you need to look at what drives innovation, i.e. making money. This in general this is done by making things more efficient, which has been going on since at least the industrial revolution and selling things that people need or want which has been going on at least since people started building towns.

Going to other planets takes a lot of energy an is expensive, how does it make anyone money? Until someone finds a big return on investment from space travel, either because it makes something more efficient than the cost of traveling to space or produces a good that people want, there will be no incentive to develop the tech to cheaply explore other planets.

AI is perhaps more likely, especially since it can make things like intelligence gathering and health care much more efficient. BUT, and this does seem a bit curious, society seems to optimize for efficient use of human resources. Think about clothing production, it is still all sewn by people on sewing machines, why? Because the cost of setting up and running CNC machines to do it out-weighs the cost of just getting cheap labour.

Already out of date (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46754903)

Casio released the C-80 calculator watch in 1980 which is almost identical to this but a better design. The floppy was (and still is in word processing) a universal symbol for portable storage so it would be a micro SD card today but other than that I don't think he was far off.

instant access to computers around the world (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46754941)

instant access to computers around the world

Actually, in 1981 the internet existed, you could FTP and use email, as long as you knew the bang path routing.

It wasn't for 2 more years after 1981 that I learned of it, but I knew people that were using it in the late 70's even. Contrary to what seems to be the popular public belief, the internet didn't start in the 1990's. That's just when the masses became aware of it, largely due to the influx of AOLers.

Granted it was much smaller then as far as number of connected machines.

Re: instant access to computers around the world (2)

Viol8 (599362) | about 5 months ago | (#46755093)

Quite. Its amazing how many people today still think the internet = the web. Mention stuff like ftp, gopher, archie or WAIS and you just get blank looks.

Re: instant access to computers around the world (1)

deadweight (681827) | about 5 months ago | (#46755465)

In the early-mid 80s it was no sure thing your email and your friend's email addresses could find their way to each other. I do remember gopher and archie being very cool. The "web" was annoyingly slow to me when I first started playing with it. Also remember USENET! It still exists I guess - haven't looked - but rec.xxx had awsome "forums" and who can forget their first furtive foray into alt.binaries....

Re: instant access to computers around the world (1)

Viol8 (599362) | about 5 months ago | (#46755551)

Yeah , usenet is still around. There arn't many servers that still carry it even for a price, but there is one good free one - aioe.org though how much longer it'll be around is anyones guess. Google seem to be doing their best to stuff up google groups however.

Re: instant access to computers around the world (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | about 5 months ago | (#46755571)

And before tools existed to automate it, cut/pasting the various alt.binaries files (1/6, 2/6 etc) together prior to feeding it to your uudecoder.

Reason (1)

should_be_linear (779431) | about 5 months ago | (#46754945)

If we imagine society as noise of randomly colored dots, for example, blue dots can represents people currently connected to Facebook. There are so many blue dots in current society, that highly intelligent person could easily predict this even 20 years ago, right? Well, problem is, this color first appeared couple of years ago, there was no blue color among dots we see *at all*. Breakthrough events that forms society like this comes like explosion, and brings new colors that was never seen before. We can predict and imagine only in colors we know, not in colors we've never seen.

Sci-Fi? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46754953)

I find this statement very ironic:
"I wrote about this over at TIME.com. 'Back then, a pundit who started talking about gigabytes of storage or high-resolution color screens or instant access to computers around the world or built-in cameras and music players would have been accused of indulging in science fiction.'"

Especially when you consider, science has a hard time predicting future trends and technologies, yet Science Fiction seems to have been fairly accurate in predicting, if not outright influencing, future technological trends.
For example: the waterbed, the waldo (as in glove, not Where's Waldo), cell phones, data pads (also called tablets). Even Kubrik's protrayal of space flight was more accurate than any other sci-fi of it's age, and certainly more realistic than what little was being released by the professional scientists.

If you want to see what is going to be trending in ten or twenty years, check out today's science fiction.

Re:Sci-Fi? (1)

nblender (741424) | about 5 months ago | (#46755491)

I remember seeing Captain Piccard signing daily status reports on something that I now recognize as a 10" tablet.

Gene Roddenberry was a time traveller from 2030. He was a washed up historical fiction screen writer so he procured a trip on a black market time machine and came back to the era he loved the most and wrote Star Trek.

*Sigh* the cover was symbolic art (4, Insightful)

carlhaagen (1021273) | about 5 months ago | (#46754977)

The cover art was delivering the message of the "wrist-worn/hand-held computer". It was neither joke nor prediction; it was symbolism.

Re:*Sigh* the cover was symbolic art (2)

auric_dude (610172) | about 5 months ago | (#46755097)

Can it or should it be considered as Prior Art?

I think it's quite spot on after all (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46755003)

Well, if we generalize that floppy to "secondary storage" we can observe it's pretty much in line with the physical size of a Micro-SD card (or a nano-SIM, if we wanted to use cloud storage) and while small keyboards have gone from physical buttons to touchscreens, we're still using QWERTY. Even though smartwatches of today might support graphical interfaces, their "killer apps" are mainly text-centric things like "show notifications", "pedometer" and "send template-based SMS".

So, while certainly meant as a pun back in 1981, I can't help but think of how unnervingly spot on it seems to be.

Gartner should have Roddenberry's know-how (1)

BillBrains (1686056) | about 5 months ago | (#46755049)

If anyone wants to predict what technology we will be using, would have been using and have been using, then all you need to do is watch the original Captain Kirk series. All of the gadgets and tech used are more or less what we have adopted and are adopting. From the cell phone to the 3d laser printer. Listen to Gene Roddenberry, not Gartner

Explains? (2)

zhrike (448699) | about 5 months ago | (#46755187)

"This 1981 BYTE Magazine Cover Explains Why We're So Bad At Tech Predictions"

No it doesn't. Even if the image was a depiction of a serious prediction (which it was/is not); it "explains" nothing. There is no "why" inherent in the image.

Re:Explains? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46755371)

Exactly this. At best you could punningly say it "illustrates".

These viralnova-style headlines are so depressing.

Most unlikely technology in 1981: Handheld GPS (5, Interesting)

dtmos (447842) | about 5 months ago | (#46755253)

I always thought the most unlikely technological development in my lifetime was the handheld GPS device. It would be "most unlikely" because it required tremendous, simultaneous, and largely unforeseen advances in several different technologies, each of which was hard to predict in 1981. The list is at least:

1. Low power, low voltage, low noise L-band receivers, sensitive enough to be compatible with the weak signal coming from the internal antenna of a handheld device;
2. Stupendous amounts of digital signal processing, also at low power and low voltage;
3. Digital map databases of (substantially) every road in the world, accurate to a few meters;
4. A substantially world-wide, wideband wireless data link to get the digital map into the handheld device in the first place;
5. Low power, low voltage, high resolution, multicolor flat panel displays;
6. Gigabytes of low power, low voltage data storage memory; and
7. High energy density, high power density batteries capable of supplying the whole thing.

And, perhaps most impressive of all, the manufacturing technology to make all of the above small enough to fit in a handheld device, at a price low enough to sell by the zillions.

Of the list above, probably only #2 could have been predicted, and then only if one were willing to extrapolate the then-relatively-new Moore's Law by a very large amount. (Recall that Mead and Conway had only written their Introduction to VLSI systems the previous year; until then it was not clear that such complex chips could even be designed on human time scales, let alone built for a profit.)

The fact that a handheld GPS device is now an anachronism, since the technology is now small enough and low-power enough to be integrated into other handheld devices, like smart phones, pleases me no end.

Re:Most unlikely technology in 1981: Handheld GPS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46755457)

Fine, but a 747 flying across the Atlantic still takes 6 hours and burns 20000 gallons of kerosene. Just like in 1981. OK, so maybe it burns a bit less fuel. What annoys me no end are people who then think that all technologies progress at the same rate. The GPS receiver deals in information, something that theoretically doesn't take that much energy at all. The last 30 years have been about getting our manufacturing technology to scale down far enough.

But things like moving mass? There's nowhere to go. We're there already.

No one's colonizing Mars because we got better at making smaller bits.

I wonder what would happen if we looked at space predictions from 1981? Oh all of a sudden they're not "bad", they're rigorous engineering proposals that must be followed to the letter for the benefit of the species. Hilarious.

http://www.thespacereview.com/... [thespacereview.com]

Oh no, suddenly we're no longer bad at making predictions! Uuuhh, it's the evil gubment, it's the species, it's because of this or that! It's never that it simply makes no sense. Weird.

Re:Most unlikely technology in 1981: Handheld GPS (1)

m00sh (2538182) | about 5 months ago | (#46755467)

I always thought the most unlikely technological development in my lifetime was the handheld GPS device. It would be "most unlikely" because it required tremendous, simultaneous, and largely unforeseen advances in several different technologies, each of which was hard to predict in 1981.

All of these are not necessary for GPS. Most people use GPS in their cars and low voltage, low power stuff doesn't matter there. Also, gigabytes of data also doesn't matter because you could have city-wide maps only that you could swap in and out. There have always been maps of every road and digitizing it isn't that big a deal.

Users Don't Dream Big Enough (2)

azadrozny (576352) | about 5 months ago | (#46755319)

From the article:

We tend to think that new products will be a lot like the ones we know. We shoehorn existing concepts where they don’t belong. Oftentimes, we don’t dream big enough.

I have found this to be a serious problem for system designers. When gathering requirements we often ask users what they want, or what they need. They then give us narrow response like "a button that does X" or "a screen that shows me Y". This can be valuable input, however these requests are based on their knowledge of what can be designed with "yesterday's" technology. A better question to ask is "what do you do?". I have found that responses to this question (purposefully open ended) give the system designers the freedom to streamline the users job, and tools that will actually make them more productive.

The glory days of computers (2)

Flytrap (939609) | about 5 months ago | (#46755341)

Paging through that magazine reminded me of why I got into computer engineering to begin with... I remember looking forward to each magazine, for the various programming quickies... I remember waiting for my first PCB etching kit so that I could design my own circuit boards...

Sigh.

When men were real men and computer engineers were real engineers.

Technology isn't just computers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46755353)

Take a look at a 747 in 1981, and look at one now. Heck, look at a 747 from 1969. Some things just can't change all that much.

and yet.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46755361)

Here we are still running a Unix derivative and processors dereived from the instruction set on the first IBM PC. A lot of linear extensions still exist, but the commercialization of things link LCD screens and cellular radio make more possible.

For me, watching the development of the microprocessor has been the most interesting - the amout of processing power I can through at a problem is boggling.

Car Shapes (1)

nukenerd (172703) | about 5 months ago | (#46755387)

One thing that sticks in my mind from when I was a child was artists' impressions of "The Car of the Future". They had shapes like half-sucked wine-gums - fug-ugly I thought.

That has come true.

That issue is pretty notable for: (2)

RealGene (1025017) | about 5 months ago | (#46755405)

1. Introduction of the Osborne I portable.
2. Introduction of the Sony 3.5" floppy disk (875K!).

Even Heinlein got it wrong (2)

John Jorsett (171560) | about 5 months ago | (#46755423)

I remember reading one of Robert Heinlein's novels in which a character (Slipstick Libby, perhaps) was on a rocket ship and dealing with a computer. Via punch cards.

The smartwatch is not a new idea .. (1)

DTentilhao (3484023) | about 5 months ago | (#46755453)

"First, it reminds us that the smartwatch is not a new idea. Even in 1981, tech companies had been trying to build them for awhile:"

`Consider the wrist radio introduced in Tracy on January 13, 1946. No other single aspect of Dick Tracy has received more press and coverage in newspaper and magazine articles than the wrist radio' - "Dick Tracy and American Culture: Morality and Mythology, Text and Context" by Garyn G. Roberts

powerpoint schematics (1)

tommeke100 (755660) | about 5 months ago | (#46755519)

Looks like they already had Powerpoint in '81, judging from the schema-art in the advertisements :-)

Explanation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46755531)

The cover is not an explanation. It's an example of poor prediction. Fuck, people, these words matter. How the hell can you communicate if the words you use don't mean what you want to say?
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