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2012 predictions in technology - psychic or science?

by Bruno Van de Casteele

December 30, 2012

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Donate At year's end it is kind of skeptical tradition to go over various psychic predictions for that year. Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast does it, and invariably these predictions are either super-wrong or the prediction was so vague to begin with that one can always count a "hit". Furthermore, when psychics invent a lot of predictions over multiple years, then by chance one will be correct eventually. Helped by confirmation bias(1), this ensures their "success" and popularity.

But psychics are not the only ones making predictions. There are tons of so-called and self-proclaimed "trend watchers", "marketing experts" and other "technical guru's" who also do their best to "predict" the coming year. Sometimes their predictions are based on the best of available knowledge, but in my opinion their predictions are still mostly guesses.

I don't really know if Mark Anderson from Strategic News Service is one of them. An old school friend, now Professor at Vlerick Business School, brought him to my attention. My skeptical senses started to tingle at the description on their website of "most accurate predictive letter in computing", with claims of interaction with global thought leaders like Bill Gates. That smells a little fishy to me.

But at least he is honest enough to leave his past predictions online (and for free, not behind a pay wall), so let's judge on merits. I will score his Top 10 predictions for 2012, as published in December of 2011. I will judge "specifics" of predictions (how vague), with each time a small comment to see if it's a hit or a miss.
Theme for the Year [2012]: "Integrating Everything"
No problem here. Vague enough that one can claim to be correct, but also not very difficult to predict.
I. TV Becomes the New Center of Gravity in the tech universe, as allother devices find their niches in the TV galaxy.
Specific: low. Although the accompanying text mentions Microsoft and Apple, it remains very generic. Small risk taken by mentioning TV devices, but sufficiently padded by referring to other devices who will stream TV content.

Miss. Apple didn't bring out their Apple TV version hinted at in the biography of the late Steve Jobs. Microsoft's Kinect is a moderate success (but not completely), but that was already the case in 2011. Not very good as a prediction then. 0 %.
II. 2012 Will See Tectonic Shifts in Phone Markets.
This one was split up in three different predictions: Nokia failing and the role of Asian manufacturers, unlicensed Android versions, domination of cellphone market by smartphones.

Specific: overall rather specific predictions, mentioning several companies by name. Furthermore, in comparison with the previous prediction, no weasel words like "if" and "qualified" success.

Partial hit, but not very impressive. Nokia did indeed continue to lose market share, and Android gained. But as clear from this graphfrom 2011, that was already the case before, so not impressive as a prediction. The reference to unlicensed Android versions seems in my opinion a miss (although they exist), and the smartphone dominating the cellphone market is a hit, although 46% is not really "dominating". 50% but points lost on added value of prediction.
III. Clouds Are for Consumers (and Startups).
Specific: rather low, as there are no specific companies mentioned. Extra points however for mentioning that (bigger) enterprises will stay away from clouds.

Although it is not really my area of expertise, I consider this a hit. After some research and anecdotical evidence, it seems indeed that smaller companies (but not only startups) are considering or actually moving into the cloud, but bigger companies not yet, for the reasons mentioned by Anderson. 100 %.
IV. Security Splits the Tech World in Two, finally getting Front of Mind(and wallet) attention from CEOs
Specific: vague and not really understandable paragraph about companies owning intellectual property rights going after patent infringers. No actual companies or technology areas mentioned.

Somewhat a hit, as 2012 saw a continuation of various court battles between for instance the different mobile tech firms. Some concluded with some hefty verdicts (fines and interdictions), but no prediction of that, only of increasing spending on those patent defenses. 75% with points lost on failing to see the (intermediate) conclusion of several court battles.
V. SIRI [Apple iOS virtual assistant] Stuns the World.
Specific: rather vague. Although the title suggests a success for Siri, the actual explanation shows a horde of copycats arriving, with reference to "niches", whatever that means.

I chalk this one up as a fail. Siri is impressive and indeed a number of copies have appeared that seem to perform ok. I do not get the impression this is a big game changer that got a lot of media attention. They are still in the phase of "gimmick" that is nice to show off, but nothing more. 0%
VI. We Enter the Amazing World of Dave and HAL, as Voice Recognitioncomes of age.
Specific: a bit vague by referring to several companies and applications. However, rather specific on the part of technology, so overall ok.

Miss. Although more and more available, the ending statement "By the end of this year, talking to machines in a normal voice will not seemunusual, nor be the cause of unending frustration" is simply wrong. Anyone who disagrees may come to my house and test it on our new car. 0%.
VII. E-Readers Prosper, but Pads Continue to Dominate the CarryAlongMarket.
Specific: ok, mentioning specific technologies, products and companies.

Partial hit. E-readers have become more popular (and in my opinion rightly so), and Amazon indeed made it difficult for Apple (though not only with their Fire line). However, Apple did not make its iPads cheaper, it produced a smaller one to compete with other companies (like Samsung) on the smaller tablet market. Failing to see this specific evolution, and the rise of smaller Android tables, is responsible for only a final score of 50%. And even that isprobably too generous.
VIII. The Consumption World Explodes.
Specific: very low. A lot of potential evolution gets thrown out, "new devices, newcontent, new bundles, new connection techniques, new distribution channels,new aggregators, new pads, new phones, ..." and on and on.

I count this as a miss. Yes, some new (and impressive) smartphones appeared, and the internet continued to evolve. But given the failure of Facebook's IPO (in contrast to "new consumption models riding on social networks") we are not (yet?) in an exploding consumption world. The mentioned technologies are so vague, and really carpet bomb the entire technology spectrum, that I fail to be impressed. 0%.
IX. Governments and Corporations Focus on IP as though it were theirmost prized asset. It is.
Specific: rather specific, mentioning that nations would get involved defending copyright infringement.

This is a partial hit. Although indeed governments have pushed for more strict rules, both in the US and in Europe, it is not considered "act of military aggression". Also, several efforts were stricken down by amazing citizen efforts (mailing parliaments and congress etc), so failing to foresee that specific evolution. 40%, as there are some correct references to being unable to track actual infringements (true but nothing new).

X. Amazon Gets It All.

Specific: very specific, mentioning Amazon and different products / content that it will deliver. "Amazon will have a terrific year".

I'm a bit torn to give this a full hit. Yes, Amazon did not do bad, given the correct economic situation. Especially on cloud services (not explicitly mentioned by Anderson), e-books and content did Amazon do quite well. On the other hand, Q3 sales were down, and there was less profit. Anderson references "long-lived, profitable business lines", but seems to be overshooting it. Nevertheless 70% for making specific predictions, which were true in several cases.

Conclusion: Overall there is a 38,5% hit rate. That is not bad, but some of these predictions were not hard to foresee. Moreover, given a lot of vague or carpet-bombing approaches (for which I subtracted points), I'm really not convinced by their motto "most accurate predictive" newsletter. I do appreciate some very specific predictions (where it is a lot easier to be wrong), and of course keeping these predictions available for free, and not behind the very expensive pay wall.

Anderson does not seem to be in the same range as the psychics, but my first reaction seems justified nevertheless. There are some parallels with psychic predictions. On the other hand, he is considered a sort of "technology guru". As my friend pointed out in a discussion over Twitter, he's more of a "market maker". There is a chance that certain evolutions will happen because he mentions them (assuming he really has the high-profile audience he claims). But I found him lacking on several critical points, or being too optimistic (e.g. on voice recognition). All in all, in my opinion, not worth the full subscription price of $ 200 per quarter.

Since the predictions of 2013 are still behind the pay wall, we'll have to wait and see next year what he predicted. In any case, dear reader, my wishes are certain and not open to interpretation: I wish you all the best, and hope you have a good one.

Note (1): This is a reference to one of the skeptical lemma's on Wikipedia. Are you interested in improving the content and quality of Wikipedia on skeptical and fringe topics? Then check out Susan Gerbic's "Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia", and lend these fine volunteers a helping hand.

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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