How Fast Does Technology Change?


How fast does technology change? What is its impact?

It is something like the hour hand of a clock. If you keep staring at it you would feel that it always remains stationary. If you go away and come back after sometime, you will see that it has moved a lot.

The same thing is true with technology.

Amara’s law

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”Roy Amara was a researcher, scientist and past president of the Institute for the Future.

[The photo of Roy Amara is taken from Pete Steege ‘s blog]

Many people including Bill Gates have repeated these words but my search result points to Roy Amara as the originator of this statement. [See Wikipedia]

Joseph Licklider, who is considered by many as the person who brought the idea of cloud computing to the forefront also said something similar – “…People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years…” [See Wikia].

Look at Gartner’s Priority Matrix

Along with the hype cycle of emerging technologies, Gartner also releases a priority matrix which ranks all the listed technology on 2 dimensions – “benefit” and “years to mainstream adoption”. The top left corner indicates transformational technologies which will go mainstream in next 2 years. Here is a snapshot of the priority matrix for 2009, 10 & 11.

Most curious thing about these priority matrixes is the empty square at the top left corner (2009 contains almost defunct term web 2.0).

What is being said loud and clear is that:

For last 3 years there has been no technology which is expected to have a transformational impact in next couple of years.

Looking 10 years back

However, if you step back 10 years and rewind to beginning of 2002, you will see a picture which was quiet different.

  • Wikipedia was still an experiment – for serious stuff you looked into Encyclopedia Britannica
  • The term Web 2.0 had not yet been coined
  • There was no Gmail
  • Social Media or Social Networking was not invented – so obviously no Facebook
  • The terms Cloud Computing, SaaS, IaaS, PaaS where still 5 years into the future
  • Google IPO was still 2 years away
  • Apple had just reported a loss of 25 million USD in 2001
  • iPod has just been launched – iPhone and iPad where nowhere in sight
  • The leader in mobile phone was Nokia, Motorola, Samsung & Siemens – no BlackBerry yet

Here is a collection of mobile handsets from that era – taken from In Pictures: A History of Cell Phones

Look at some of the technology related predictions made by Gartner for 2002 (full detail here):

“…across industries, geographies and businesses, the use of IT as an engine for efficiency, growth and opportunity will remain undiminished in 2002, although it will be accompanied by healthy skepticism and smarter planning…”

  • Consumers will go online, finally, with the number using online account management doubling by 2005
  • Through 2004, businesses will continue to view the discipline of CRM as a critical component of corporate strategy
  • More than 50 percent of mobile applications deployed at the start of 2002 will be obsolete by the end of 2002
  • By 2004, Web services will dominate deployment of new application solutions for Fortune 2000 companies
  • During 2002, leading-edge businesses will exploit application integration to generate business innovation

Compare it with the 2012 list:

“…Gartner defines a strategic technology as one with the potential for significant impact on the enterprise in the next three years. Factors that denote significant impact include a high potential for disruption to IT or the business, the need for a major dollar investment, or the risk of being late to adopt…”

  1. Media Tablets and Beyond
  2. Mobile-Centric Applications and Interfaces
  3. Contextual and Social User Experience
  4. Internet of Things
  5. App Stores and Marketplaces
  6. Next-Generation Analytics
  7. Big Data
  8. In-Memory Computing
  9. Extreme Low-Energy Servers
  10. Cloud Computing

Are we living in the same world?

Therefore…

If you are into predicting technology change, it is very safe to make a prediction for next one year. You can confidently say that thinks will remain the same … well more or less. Only exception is when a “Black Swan” event like iPhone launch happens. Anyway, Black Swan, by definition cannot be predicted.

But, if you want to make prediction for next 3 to 5 year, you will be in much more difficult wicket (for those of you who do not care about cricket, the game – it means it would be much more difficult to predict). Try predicting for next 10 years…

However, the moral of the story is to step back and put every change in proper context – and not to “Miss the wood for the trees”.

Comments
4 Responses to “How Fast Does Technology Change?”
  1. Kyla Vinluan says:

    The technology is indeed changing so tremendously. Technology is progressing faster than the ability of humans to understand more on a complex one. This is already evident that technology seemed to be so aggressive that change is really perceive in its constant way. Just like cellphones who easily decreases its worth and need to be change because there are new models in the market.

  2. helen says:

    Nice writing. Thanks.
    I think, naming or appearance of a device or tool is not essential. Phone may no longer look like the appearances you have shown in your blog at the turn of the century if the concept “phone” is not disappearing entirely. Soon enough, everyone knows that we can talk with anyone anywhere via connected device. The concept “computer” will be displays plus input devices to users with whatever cool names, imho.
    ~Helen

    • Udayan Banerjee says:

      I am more inclined to believe that the phone will become your computer which you will be able to plug into any large display unit (with a keyboard) for more serious work.

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