"The telephone is a fantastic invention & I'm sure every city will get one."
The above quote seems funny, even childish in hindsight, but illustrates the difficulty in anticipating the consequences and impacts of a new-to-the-world technology and its range of applications.
The Swedish Technology Foresight Project did a "technology hindsight" study looking back at earlier attempts at predicting technology futures called Technisk Baksyn (Technology Hindsight)
From the above study and from some of my own insights with clients, some of the common sources of technology foresight errors and miscalculations include:
- The early hype error. In the stort term, marketers, promoters and eager inventors seem to overestimate the impacts of any new technology and in the long term underestimate such impacts and consequences (see the Gartner Hype curves)
- The replacement hype error-the belief that new technology will replace the existing incumbent technology & that this will happen relatively fast. In reality competing technologies often coexist over a long period of time (i.e. Radio & TV)
- The enhancement error-The belief that new technology will only solve old problems & supplement existing technological systems. Instead new technologies, especially platform or core technologies often lay the groundwork for entirely new systems and new resulting systemic problems. (ie the electric motor for the railway, the car for the roadway infrastructure, the PC for the Internet, nanotech & biotech for our bodies "intra-structure" (the Human Genome project, the HapMap & SNP's), the impacts of which we do not fully understand yet.
- The panacea error-The mistaken belief that new technology will function as a panacea for various social problems
- The patterning and sense-making error-The difficulty of seeing new important links between seemingly unrelated and different fields of technology, especially in cases where this novel combination of fields is precisely what will offer major accelerated development opportunities
- The social impacts error-Often people who have tried to predict the future have become bogged down in the actual technology and neglected the economic and social aspects.
- The prisoners of our times error-That without realizing it, people tend to be prisoners of the spirit of their times ( Zeitgeist), erroneously believing that the big issues of today will also be the big issues of tomorrow
- The decision criteria error-The belief that only rational economic considerations are the only factors behind that choice of one technology over another. However, for many people, seemingly irrational considerations determine such choices
- The information gap error-The information on which science and technology (S&T) foresight studies are based on is often insufficient. Technology development is not linear, transparent or fully predictable, with surprise development coming out of left field such as the secret work that is done in the military or a new startup working in stealth mode before it goes public with a breakthrough. Entrepreneurs have to deal with many unknowns -complexity, uncertainty, equivocality, ambiguity, the trap of dichotomous thinking or dichotomy, contradiction or paradox and infoglut.
From the above, the only thing we can predict for sure is that unexected things will happen
Marshal McLuhan was the "master" in predicting the social impacts of new technologogy (in his case the media) with deadly accuracy. Marshal would ask himself 4 simple questions, which he called the tetrad, to explore the impacts and consequences of any new technology, that he didn't fully understand yet. 1) What does the technology enhance? 2) What does the technology make obsolete? 3) What does the technology retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier? 4) What does the technology flip into when pushed to extremes?
Entrepreneurs can learn how to use this 'tetrad" tool and as well as many other tools that help develop entrepreneurial and S&T insight and foresight.
Source: Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, University of Toronto, SCS see here