Friday, May 27, 2005

Creationism: Why No Single Entity is Capable of Dictating the Future

How do you predict the future? That's easy. How do you create the future? That's hard.

Over the years, I've probably written a dozen columns about how to predict the future. The process is pretty simple, really. Just look for a logical vector from the past to the present, then use a bit of English to predict a second vector from the present to the future, because there is always a kink precisely at the point we call "today." Recalculate occasionally so the vector turns into a curve and converges on some date you've chosen in the future. What makes predicting the future easier than creating it is that only observation and thought are required, and that vector is the sum of all forces, seen and unseen. Creating the future, in contrast, requires lots of work, and all the forces generally have to be summoned or at least enticed by the creators, which makes it a combination of engineering, marketing and voodoo. Unseen forces, rather than being automatically integrated, are what kill you.

In high-tech, we like to look back at the days of Xerox PARC in the early 1970s as an idyllic period of future creation. Within three years, fewer than 100 people invented computer networking, client-server computing, graphical user interfaces, and laser printing. They did so by literally living in the future -- using Moore's Law to anticipate the probable performance of hardware 10 years in the future, then building that hardware, no matter how high the cost, and creating for it applications that represented the best way to get work done. Xerox PARC created many things, but one of the most important was a creative culture that was software-based because it had to be. The hardware was all cobbled from eyes of newt and sealing wax -- materials that probably wouldn't be used in real products a decade hence - but the software was real. And it changed the way technologies were developed.


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