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On Predicting the Future of Science and Technology

March 9, 2010
We must be wary not to overestimate the progress of science and equally wary we not underestimate the progress of technology.

Just a thought that occurred to me today. People are always eager to predict that science will be ‘pretty much done’ in the next 30 years, answering all the hard questions and progressing at a steady pace. It usually falls short of our expectations and take huge right turns we weren’t expecting, recasting the question in a different form, creating new insights but mostly illuminating how little we truly know (dark matter, dark energy, climate change, neurobiology)

Similarly, people are generally very bad at predicting how far technology will advance in the next 30 years, to the point where often the technology that seemed unrealistic becomes merely mundane by the time ‘the future’ has arrived. And we are usually very bad at predicting exactly what technology will be available.  (cellphones, airplane industry, computers, internet, brain scanning)

So technology predictions should be: I don’t know, but probably nothing anyone has thought of and sooner than you’d think.
While scientific predictions should be: We seem close to solving this so you, know who know’s how long it will take, it may turn out we’re asking entirely the wrong question.

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