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The Future in 1995

An Extraordinary Example of Technology Forecasting


The Forecaster

Physicist Dr. Arno Penzias is co-discoverer of the cosmic microwave background radiation which confirmed the Big Bang theory of cosmology and for which he won the Nobel prize.


In 1995, Dr. Penzias published his book, Harmony, which was a forecast of emerging technology and its expected effect on our personal and business existence. Looking back almost 25 years at the forecasts in Harmony is enlightening as we look forward to the next 25 years of technology.


Even with his exceptional prescience, however, Penzias could not escape the limits of his imagination at the time to foresee the full expanse of capabilities we now have a quarter century later. That limitation reinforces the maxim that humans tend to be optimistic in the short term and pessimistic in the long term. Something to consider with respect to any technology forecasting.


I participated in an industry program with Dr. Penzias in 1996 and as a joke during my presentation said: “People want love, money, power and unlimited bandwidth”. He got the humor but made the point that in fact those really are the wants of people, and technology serves those wants. His understanding of humanity made Dr. Penzias a good predictor of technology futures.


The Forecast

In Harmony, Penzias predicts several technology based capabilities which exist today but in 1995 did not exist or were very embryonic. His predictions were based not on scifi imaginings but on extrapolation of specific developments which he describes in Harmony.

· The ubiquitous Internet and powerful search engines

· Smart watches and phones with personal video calling (e.g., Apple’s FaceTime)

· The Internet of Things

· Natural language control of electronic devices and machine vision (e.g., facial recognition)

· Bluetooth and WiFi

· GPS-based mapping and direction services

· Home assistants with integration (e.g., Alexa+Ring+iRobot+ADT+Pandora+Shopping)

· Social media including on-line customer reviews of products and services

· Uber-like ride sharing

· Business Intelligence coupled with Artificial Intelligence systems

· Web conferencing and collaborative applications


Two capabilities Penzias predicted, which have not materialized so far are:


· A single repository of electronic personal information in a standardized format under the control of each individual. This application would be used for insurance, education, financial, medical and other records. It would save billions of hours people waste completing often confusing and otherwise poorly designed paper and web forms and improve their accuracy.


· Universal smart traffic management to relieve the hundreds of billions of dollars of wasted productivity from traffic congestion.


Both these capabilities remain opportunities.


As you plan technology for your organization, start with the human perspective and base your plan on good technology information.

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