Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

 

A Future Full of Surprises…

For a moment or two, let’s take ourselves back about fifteen years to the middle ‘90s, and let’s pretend that our job is to try to predict what new technologies and products will be available in 2011.   If we are correct, we will become rich and famous.  However, if we miss, we will also be rich and famous because we will write books about how computers will soon be smarter than humans and how we will achieve immortality by 2020 because of medical technology advances.  So even though there is no way to lose at this game, let’s give it a try anyway.

In the mid-90s, would you have predicted the ubiquitous presence of search engines in 2011?  Type the name of any product, part number, software routine, or generic language term into your computer and instantly find out everything that anyone may know about it.  If you did anticipate this capability, you were probably one of the early participants in the founding of Google.  Would you have predicted the evolution of multi-touch technology?  Would you have imagined the capabilities currently available from cell phones and tablet computers?  Microsoft certainly didn’t.  Would you have imagined that everyone would be downloading hundreds of “apps” that expand the capabilities of portable communication devices?  And would you have predicted that in a span of just a year or two we would all be participating in social networks such as Twitter and Facebook?  Well, if you saw even some of this coming, you are probably a superior being from another planet or another dimension. 

From what I have been able to determine, all of the self-proclaimed futurists that were born on this planet missed forecasting each and every one of these major new developments. 

In the mid-90s what was predicted -- and that more or less came about -- was that computers would continue to evolve in their capability and that the cost of computation would continue to decrease.  However, CPU clock speeds did not continue to increase as anticipated because we hit the wall with how much heat could be dissipated. 

Display technology, and especially large flat-panel displays, actually progressed somewhat faster than predicted.  Also, LCD technology became more dominant, at the larger panel sizes above 40 inches, and became more cost competitive with plasma panels than most of us in the display industry anticipated.

Some well-recognized futurists predicted that by now we would be interacting with our computers through voice recognition, automated language translation, and we would be using “retinal” displays to access information.  But was there even a passing mention of the possible future for “touch” or “touch and swipe” technology?  And what about “apps”?  Who imagined how those would pop into our lives and become indispensable in just a year or two?

How could so many have missed so much in such a short time span? 

Perhaps some things are easier to predict than others.  I have found that it is possible to predict with reasonable accuracy technology developments that are based on the behavior of materials and subsequent manufacturing scale-up.  For example, the growth of flat-panel displays was predictable with a careful analysis of the status of the basic materials and how they performed in the laboratory and in prototype displays.  From this knowledge, it was possible to analyze and forecast how long it would take for manufacturing process development and factory construction.  This basic process of analyzing materials and their technology implementation is as valid today as it was in the mid-90s. 

However, where we seem to get unpredictable surprises is when we combine technology with human behavior.  Base technologies give us a “tool-box” for making a variety of products.  Then when we introduce new features that evolve from certain unfulfilled or unrecognized desires that we may have for ourselves or for interaction with others, we open the field to some unexpected and surprising results. 

What is especially amazing and surprising about this product evolution process is that it seems to have a period of randomness about it followed by a sudden jelling of a dominant outcome.  So given this, what can we predict for the next 10 years?

We can predict with good certainty that evolutionary technologies that depend on the development of new materials will occur just about the way we expect.  The development of manufacturing processes and manufacturing scale-up to deliver new products to the marketplace will also occur at a predictable rate.  But how this infrastructure will translate into new products that are exciting and capture consumer enthusiasm is, in my opinion, about as predictable as the next earthquake.  We know that there will be some quite surprising developments forthcoming, but what they will be and when they will happen – that we don’t seem to be able to foresee.   For the answers you may need to check back with me in 2021.  And as for all those futurists who have books in print from the mid-90s.  Well, perhaps they can hope that no one will remember to look them up. 

Should you wish to offer your thoughts on the future or on my observations, you may reach me directly from this site, by e-mail at silzars@attglobal.net, or by telephone at 425-898-9117.