Do we still need human experts to make predictions about technology?
After all, we do have AI and predictive analytics. I’ve written my fair share of stories about what those technologies can do. When it comes to forecasting big picture stuff, however — like what’s going to happen in technology next year — I look for traditional forecasts from human experts, thanks.
Why? Because when people make predictions — like astrology or picking stocks or betting on the Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup — they can incorporate data, but their predictions are imbued with emotion, bias and gut feelings: the stuff that makes us all human. That’s also the stuff that makes human predictions interesting and fun to explore.
First, we’ll look at whether some of the technology predictions made for 2019 actually panned out. Then we’ll flash back 10 years to check up on some tech predictions made for 2009, including two that turned out to be eerily bang-on.
1) 5G would (finally) go big.
BDO Insights predicted 5G would “become the new standard,” proclaiming 2019 as “the year (5G) enters its prime time.”
False: This prediction came true … in South Korea. But in the rest of the world? Not so much. Beyond the first truly widespread rollout in South Korea, 5G service got stuck in the limited pilot project phase this past year. On the hardware side of things, there were even slimmer pickings, with very few 5G handsets hitting the market during 2019.
2) Foldable phones would be hot sellers.
The foldable smartphone was expected to be a quirky breakout gadget in 2019.
“Foldable phones … while likely to be expensive, will offer a very clear value benefit that I believe consumers will find even more compelling” than 5G handsets, Bob O’Donnell predicted on TechSpot.
False: If 2016 was Samsung’s year of exploding phones, 2019 will go down as its year of broken foldable ones. Tech journalists reviewing the Galaxy Fold reported that its screen broke right after they peeled off the temporary protective covering. Oopsie: Samsung forgot to mention the screen protector was a permanent fixture that shouldn’t be removed.
Since retooling and re-launching the Fold in September 2019, Samsung has set an ambitious target to sell 6 million units of the bendy handset in 2020.
3) Customers would revolt against chatbots.
“Human resistance against ineffective chatbots is on the way, and a groundswell of jaded customers will crowdsource tips for end runs around chatty chatbots,” Forrester predicted for 2019.
True (sort of): Customers may not be protesting against chatbots in the streets, but they are less likely to buy stuff when they know they’re talking to one. Although research suggests chatbots are four times more effective at selling products than inexperienced human workers, one study found sales dip by 80 per cent if a chatbot’s identity is disclosed to consumers up front.
4) Blockchain would hit a roadblock.
Forrester VP Martha Bennett warned that a “continued absence of miracles and revolutionary developments” in blockchain could set off a “blockchain winter” that would stifle enterprise investment and development in the sector during 2019.
True: Bennett’s prediction proved prescient, as annual VC flow into blockchain startups was on pace to fall from a record $4.1 billion in 2018 to just $1.6 billion in 2019. Many blockchain startups also shifted from developing ledger-based enterprise solutions to focusing on cryptocurrency or token-related security applications.
An avalanche of bitcoin thefts and hacks certainly didn’t help the sector in 2019, including a scam that saw €24 million stolen from 4,000 bitcoin users in 12 European countries.
5) Technology ethics would become a huge issue.
Many IT analysts predicted ethical issues surrounding technology use would heat up in 2019. As Gartner put it, “enterprises that don’t pay attention are at risk of consumer backlash … The conversation should move from ‘are we compliant?’ toward ‘are we doing the right thing?’”
True: You know a seismic shift could be imminent when Borat publicly accuses Google, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook of running “the greatest propaganda machine in history.” Besides actor Sacha Baron Cohen, governments around the world also began probing the role played by digital tools like AI and social media in the creation and distribution of fake, misleading or potentially harmful content. They also began asking how much responsibility should lie with companies developing, selling and profiting from those technologies.
Flashback to 2009 technology predictions
Among the predictions made back in 2009:
1) Huge netbook sales: CNN Money predicted netbooks would sell like hotcakes in 2009 because they were more affordable than laptops, yet more portable than desktop PCs.
False: Remember netbooks? Not many people do.
2) The iPad revolution: Speaking to Wired at the end of 2008, technology author and columnist Farhad Manjoo predicted 2009 would bring the world “a flat-panel, touch-screen tablet that can do photos, music, movies, email, games and full-function Web browsing.”
True: Manjoo was just a little off on the timing; the first iPad didn’t debut until April 2010.
3) The Twitter tide: In a 2009 column for Time, author Steven Johnson boldly predicted Twitter would not only rival traditional media outlets but widen gaps in public opinion as well.
“A customized newspaper will be compiled from all the articles being read that morning by your social network,” he wrote. “This will lead to more news diversity and polarization at the same time: your networked front page will be more eclectic than any traditional-newspaper front page, but political partisans looking to enhance their own private echo chamber will be able to tune out opposing viewpoints more easily.”