Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


  Back to the Future…

A few weeks ago, USA Today celebrated its 30th anniversary with a special edition that included a section on “The Next 30 Years”.  Along with this celebration they also introduced new graphics and a new layout for the appearance of the paper.  In our household, the immediate reaction to this “futuristic” look was, “what a horrible and unreadable mess” they have made of what was previously a comfortably readable and entertaining newspaper.   After trying to get used to it for a couple of days, we gave up and called to cancel our subscription.  Apparently, we were not the only subscribers to complain because they immediately offered us two weeks for free if we would reconsider.  The person on the phone said they were taking these customer responses into consideration and would use them to re-evaluate.  So much for trying to be graphically futuristic!  Why would I want to read a newspaper that looks like page after page of a non-stop infomercial? 

The special section of what we can expect in the next 30 years was also very telling – telling in how wrong it is likely to be.  The “predictors” were all famous personages in key positions in various industries.  And guess what?  To a person they predicted future success for whatever they are doing right now.   James Cameron predicted great and ubiquitous success for 3D technology.  Richard Branson predicted space flight for everyone.  A TV executive predicted great success for TV.  And so forth.  There was not one surprise in the bunch.

It’s really a good thing that the future does not listen to these predictions.  In reality, the future is full of surprises.  A few decades ago, who imagined how Google would influence our lives?  Who imagined how the Internet would create social networking?   Who imagined that we would rely on “Apps” for everything we do?  Who imagined people unable to wait even 5 minutes without checking their iPhones or iPads?  Fifty years ago, who imagined business people walking through airports dressed like homeless bums?  Who imagined that we would need to stand in line for a half-hour and have our bodies scanned before getting to the gate?  Who imagined that it would actually take longer to get to a destination because planes would be flying slower – in addition to the extra hour getting through the airport? 

This list of unpredicted surprises can be made almost as long as we would like to make it.  No matter how we try, we don’t seem to be able to see those new events and new ideas that eventually turn out to be really important in our lives. 

In past columns, I have written that what we can predict is technology evolution once we understand how a new material behaves.  But we cannot predict when someone might find such a new behavior.  For example, we were able to make accurate predictions of how flat-panel displays would evolve once we understood the basic material properties of Liquid Crystals, Plasma cells, and LEDs.  But so far no one has been able to predict when a new display material is likely to be found and how long it could be before it performs well enough to be commercially useful. 

So how is it that we will get from today to our future ten, twenty, or thirty years from now?   It seems to require many efforts and multiple approaches until someone hits on that special idea, discovery, or innovation that rises above the rest.  On the opposing side can be unexpected events that cause a disruption in our lives and require a similarly unexpected and previously unplanned response.   

Given this, will we really see space travel as a commercial enterprise?   Will we soon have cars that drive themselves?  And in our own field of display technology will we have some dramatic surprises? 

Given that displays depend on the fundamental behavior of materials, and that it takes roughly 20 years from initial discovery to first interesting products, we can make a reasonable prediction that there will be few if any surprises.  For example, the path to flexible displays will be a slow and steady one.  The path to ever-larger displays is also well established and will continue.  We are entering the time of further improvements in resolution and greater pixel counts that should carry us for the next 5 to 10 years.  At the moment there are no dramatically new material systems on the horizon.  OLED is continuing its slow progress to commercialization and we may see some new results with Quantum Dots and related technologies.  And who knows, in 30 years or so we may even get 3D to look more like the reality it is supposed to replicate. 

All this uncertainty and unpredictability makes the future all that much more interesting.  If you think you can do better at predicting what is going to happen, I would love to hear from you.  You may reach me directly from this site, by e-mail at, or by telephone at 425-898-9117.          



19916 NE 30th Ct. Sammamish, WA 98074 Call 425.898.9117

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