Coding matters: Good and bad predictions

Fortune teller with a crystal ball

This week we’ve been discussing the specs for new computers for the virtual classrooms. If you’ve been buying hardware for many years, you’ll know how much it has changed. (If you haven’t, you can roll your eyes because I’ll sound like your parents.)

I remember when Renier bought his first 1GB SCSI hard drive. It was terrifyingly expensive. Based on an inflation calculator I found, it would cost the equivalent of almost R35,000 today. Now we can buy a 16GB USB stick for under R100.

Moore’s Law

In 1965, Gordon E. Moore, the co-founder of Intel, made a prediction that became known as Moore’s Law. He predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every 2 years, while the cost of production decreased. So the speed and capability of computers increases, while the cost decreases.

This has been a rule of thumb for the tech industry for over 50 years. That’s amazing when you consider how many other tech predictions have been hopelessly wrong.

Really bad hardware predictions

Here are a few of the worst predictions about hardware:

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
     —  Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

In all fairness, Watson was talking about the early machines that used vacuum-tubes and were the size of at least a room.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” 
    — Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977.

At the time of this prediction, early PCs like the MITS Altair were already on the market. And a few years later, IBM released their PC. Digital Equipment Corporation was later acquired by Compaq, which became one of the largest suppliers of PCs in the 1990s.

“No one will need more than 637KB of memory for a personal computer. 640KB ought to be enough for anybody.”
    — Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, 1981.

Gates definitely wasn’t paying attention to Moore’s law.

“The idea of a personal communicator in every pocket is a “pipe dream driven by greed.”
     — Andy Grove, then CEO of Intel. 1992.

Hmmm. Our gardener, who didn’t complete primary school and is only semi-literate, has a cellphone.

Other bad tech predictions

“Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the Internet’s continuing exponential growth. But I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”
      Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, 1995.

No comment required.

“Two years from now, spam will be solved.”
     —  Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, 2004

He didn’t get any better at predictions, did he? This is one prediction I wish had come true. I’ve seen estimates that spam makes up between 80-90% of all e-mail messages.

Old computers

I started writing about hardware and was side-tracked by the topic of predictions. Looking at new hardware reminded me of the collection of old computers we’ve acquired over the years. And by old computers, I mean really old. One day we’ll build a display for them. Here are photos of two of the computers:

Photo of a Macintosh Classic computer

My favourite (on the left) is a Macintosh Classic, manufactured by Apple between 1990 and 1992. It shows the gorgeous design that is an Apple trademark.

The other is a Philips P3002. There’s very little information about this. It seems to be a word-processor from the 1980s, and uses two huge floppy disks. This is very heavy and needs two people to pick it up. Which is one reason I’ve never worked out a design for a display cabinet.

Which are your favourite mis-predictions about technology? Please share your thoughts.

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