“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas J. Watson, CEO & Chairman of IBM, 1943

Watson, the super-computer that crushed everybody on Jeopardy!, is named after IBM’s first CEO, Thomas J. Watson. An amazing computer with artificial intelligence that understands context of speech and defeated 2 of mankind’s great minds in a 3-day competition, was named after a man that could not imagine a world with more than 5 computers.

Granted: computers were much larger machines in 1943; but even an expert, whose sole responsibility was to sell computers, did not envision a consumer or commercial demand beyond 5 computers. Watson could only foresee evolution: only small incremental enhancements of technology he was already dealing with. At the time, size was constrained by the limits of vacuum tubes, and so, to Watson, the computer was destined to stagnate.

But what he failed to conceptualize was revolution: the solid-state transistor. For through the lens of revolution the idea that computers could be made exponentially smaller, faster, reliable, and cheaper, existed.

Predicting the future is not easy — how confident are you in the 10-day weather forecast? It is difficult to imagine how any technology will evolve, and it is almost impossible to envision how something revolutionary will be part of our everyday lives. The public, experts, and regulators are quick to doubt a new technology or innovation — and they even actively fight them, often to maintain the status quo and whatever power or control comes along with it.

Consumers cannot actively request revolutionary products; they are by definition “radically new or innovative; outside or beyond established procedure, principles” [1] and as such, have not been thought of already. When Steve Jobs was asked if Apple did consumer research on the iMac, he famously replied: “But in the end, for something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”[2]

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” – Albert Einstein, 1932

Even the smartest, most respected experts in a field can be completely wrong… and that is OK.

Hindsight is 20/20 and not everything is destined to work perfectly; of course things are going to fail, but that is part of progress. This is often why “outsiders” or those with little experience or formal training in a certain field are the ones to achieve radical changes. Sometimes it takes a fresh eye and a new perspective to truly tackle problems, or uncover problems that didn’t seem to exist. My purpose here is not to point fingers at the past, but rather, to use it as a model from which to look toward the future: we must ignore the naysayers and believe that anything is possible.

Try to keep these things in mind and ignore the naysayers whenever you read an article about how a new technology is destined for failure or will never work or be widely accepted. I can think of many innovations that were once quickly dismissed, but today are at the brink of mass use: driverless cars, drone delivery, 3D printing, and IoT — the Internet of Things.

I am excited to see what revolutionary technologies and entirely new industries will be commonplace in our lifetime… but I am fairly nervous about a Terminator Robot takeover. Just imagine all of the current technologies that could be enhanced and combined with the humanoid type robots being designed by companies like Boston Dynamics.

I feel we are due for a really big breakthrough, discovery or invention — there have been some recently, like detecting gravitational waves and the Higgs Boson, and I honestly thought I would have a flying car by 2000.

Tom Duncan
President & Co-Founder
Blue Bite

[1] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/revolutionary

[2] As quoted in BusinessWeek (May 25th 1998): http://www.businessweek.com/1998/21/b3579165.htm

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