Forecasting the future of technology has always been an entertaining but fruitless game. Nothing looks more dated than yesterday’s edition of Tomorrow’s World. But history can teach us something useful: not to fixate on the idea of the next big thing, the isolated technological miracle that utterly transforms some part of economic life with barely a ripple elsewhere. Instead, when we try to imagine the future, the past offers two lessons. First, the most influential new technologies are often humble and cheap. Mere affordability often counts for more than the beguiling complexity of an organic robot such as Rachael. Second, new inventions do not appear in isolation, as Rachael and her fellow androids did. Instead, as we struggle to use them to their best advantage, they profoundly reshape the societies around us.
This is such a great article from Tim Harford, a must read to understand how we have been always wrong while foreseeing where the technology is moving. Especially important is the fact that it was never the big-bang technological advances that changed the world.
But many world-changing inventions hide in plain sight in much the same way — too cheap to remark on, even as they quietly reorder everything.
Tim calls it the “toilet paper principle”. Again, so apt. He has a detailed run-down of many such important, but often overlooked events that deeply affected the multiple phases of industrial revolutions. Do read this article. It is a nice summary of what we have been getting wrong about the technology over time. Also, it lets us reevaluate our perspective and beliefs on where we see the advances to be coming from.