Predicting the future and getting rid of the past

I spent the end of the summer holiday to tidy up my office. The amount of stuff I had collected over the years was so overwhelming that some serious action had to be taken. Here I would like to share some of my musings on the ancient stuff I have excavated.

Predicting the future is hard but always a nice inspiration. In my youth we were all big fans of a the television series the Thunderbirds. An SF animation staged one century later, that would be around 2066. Which is still more than half a century from now, but 25 years ago it was already clear how wrong the view on future technology was. Energy was abundant and of unlimited power. Far different from the oil-crisis and down-sized cars of today. IT played almost no part at all. In one episode there was a thing named a “computer” which more or less resembled a brain damaged Aibo. And the capabilities of the main communication space station (Thunderbird 5) would be surpassed by today’s average cell-phone.

A more serious look into the future of IT were the pile of Byte magazines I dug up. I had kept them as historical material, a documentation of the emerging world of small sized IT. Running through some of the issues was startling. Byte always was a good source: well informed, well written, well documented. But reading through articles on future developments was quite disappointing. As an example I’ll briefly discuss an article on a typical Codebetter subject in the December 1995 issue.


When carefully reading through the article there are some interesting quotes by people in the field like “As you’re writing code, you should be creating tests”, “establish a testing strategy that builds the interpreter every night and runs it on several” and “uses a variant of the spiral-development life-cycle”. But these were just isolated quotes. The conclusions of the article are, seen through today’s eyes, somewhat toe-curling. The major recommendation is “Fight for a stable design” and a whole page is spent on ways to formalize the development process. Which states : “This means, among other things, that development and testing occur separately”.

Enough said. For me the morale of the story is not that Byte was a bad magazine. It just describes the impossibility to predict the future. In the story are some glimpses of what will happen in later years. Looking back some things, like the quotes I mentioned are now today’s insight. But a lot, if not most, of the other things were just wrong. IMHO this is just another example how change in technology very much resembles that of evolutionary changes of life. The major trend will become extinct and some of the details will become the major trend. But don’t ask which. I blogged on that before.

Having learned this all these Byte magazines have become a thing of the past. How to get rid of the past ? I’ve brought them away to recycle the paper. New ideas can be printed on that.

There is more past I want to get rid of. But I’ll spend a separate post on that.

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