Predicteria 2015

Fifteen years ago, I initiated a time-honored tradition among my colleagues in kernel development at Sun: shortly after the first of every year, we would get together at our favorite local restaurant to form predictions for the coming year. We made one-year, three-year and six-year predictions for both our technologies and more broadly for the industry. We did this for nine years running — from 2000 to 2008 inclusive — and came to know the annual ritual as a play on the restaurant name: Predicteria.

I have always been in interested in our past notions of the future (hoverboards and self-lacing shoes FTW!), and looking back now at nearly a decade of our predictions has led me to an inescapable (and perhaps obvious) conclusion: predictions tell you more about the present than the future. That is, predictions reflect the zeitgeist of the day — both in substance and in tone: in good years, people predict halcyon days; in bad ones, the apocalypse. And when a particular company or technology happened to be in the news or otherwise on the collective mind, predictions tended to be centered around it: it was often the case that several people would predict that a certain company would be acquired or that a certain technology would flourish — or perish. (Let the record reflect that the demise of Itanium was accurately predicted many times over.)

Which is not to say that we never made gutsy predictions; in 2006, a colleague made a one-year prediction that “GOOG embarrassed by revelation of unauthorized US government spying at Gmail.” The timing may have been off, but the concern was disturbingly prescient. Sometimes the predictions were right, but for the wrong reasons: in 2003, one of my three-year predictions was that “Apple develops new ‘must-have’ gadget called the iPhone, a digital camera/MP3 player/cell phone.” This turned out to be stunningly accurate, even down to the timing (and it was by far my most accurate big prediction over the years), but if you can’t tell by the snide tone, I thought that such a thing would be Glass-like in its ludicrousness; I had not an inkling as to its transformative power. (And indeed, when the iPhone did in fact emerge a few years later, several at Predicteria predicted that it would be a disappointing flop.)

But accurate predictions were the exception, not the rule; our predictions were usually wrong — often wildly so. Evergreen wildly wrong predictions included: the rise of carbon nanotube-based memory, the relevance of quantum computing, and the death of tape, disk or volatile DRAM (each predicted several times over). We were also wrong by our omissions: as a group, we entirely failed to predict cloud computing — or even the rise of hardware-based virtualization.

I give all of this as a backdrop to some predictions for the coming year. If my experience taught me anything, it’s that these predictions may very well be right on trajectory, but wrong on timing — and that they may well capture current thinking more than they meaningfully predict the future. They also may be (rightfully) criticized for, as they say, talking our book — but we have made our bets based on where we think things are going, not vice versa. And finally, I apologize that these are somewhat milquetoast predictions; I’m afraid that practical concerns muffle the gutsy predictions that name names and boldly predict their fates!

Without further ado, looking forward to 2015:

Right or wrong, these predictions point to an exciting 2015. And if nothing else you can rely on my for a candid self-assessment of my predictions — you’ll just need to wait fifteen years or so!

Posted on January 6, 2015 at 2:14 pm by bmc · Permalink
In: Uncategorized