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SKEPTOID BLOG:

2015 Technology Predictions: Some Good, Some Bad, None Impressive

by Bruno Van de Casteele

January 17, 2016

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Donate For a couple of years now I've been following Mark Anderson's yearly top 10 tech at Strategic News Service. It is claimed that he has a 94% success rate (though it's unclear if this claim comes directly from Anderson himself). Last year, I calculated his success rate at closer to around 60% (and it had been worse in prior years), so I was eager to see how he did it this year.

Now, you must realize that his predictions are in no way paranormal.

He seems to have access to C-level executives in several high-profile tech companies, which he interviews about their plans for the future. Coupled with a decent finger on the pulse of the technology industry and some vague wording, he indeed manages each year to write up a strong list—but fails to follow-up on it.

My scoring is, as usual, based on two parameters: clear wording (losing points on being vague) and actual realization. A weighted score is then calculated. Note that, as last year, his website Strategic News Service did not publish the 2015 predictions. I have to make do with articles elsewhere that might not entirely represent his opinion.

1. Digital currencies multiply, then will go nowhere. They need power and strength of governments behind them; not to mention armies.

Precision: Very good, I'm giving 80%. The last part of the sentence could be a bit more detailed.

Accuracy: Not entirely accurate. Although there was no big breakthrough, more and more people and businesses seem to be accepting digital currencies. There was even an IRL cryptocurrency conference, held in Spain. I'm scoring 50% since they did indeed multiply. I am skeptical too about these currencies myself, so who knows in the future?

2. Personal health, fitness and medical devices merge. The doctor-patient relationship begins an inevitable and irreversible shift in power and cooperation. We'll see a new flood of watches, bands and jewelry. But intelligent clothing stays fashion-niched because of price and inconsistency. New goals for the device non-invasive measurement of blood pressure and glucose levels. And for the fanciful, creative visual displays of bodyscape, such as heart rate and galvanic skin response, perhaps even a lover's proxy touch.

Precision: I'll be generous and give 90%, even though I think the last phrase is completely incomprehensible.

Accuracy: 80% correct, as smartwatches and fitness devices have indeed multiplied. The last phrase is still incomprehensible, but I don't think he was referring to developments like the virtual porn exhibition at CES this month (no link, but you can google it if you want it - NSFW).

3. Pattern recognition becomes the real goal of predictive analytics and a whole new ecology of tools and images begin to arrive in developers' hands, setting the stage for a revolution in computing.

Precision: No discussion, this is 100% well-worded.

Accuracy: He is referring to Big Data here. This is revolution that was already visible before 2015, but last year it became really big, with a lot of rapidly evolving tools (Hadoop etc). I'm working in that field, so I might be a bit biased, but I'll still give 100%, even though I think this is just the beginning. I do have a bit of a problem with labelling "pattern recognition" as the real goal (there is much, much more than that), it is where, for the moment, most of the attention lies.

4. Security takes its rightful place in the CEO agenda and corporate spending on security reverses its current downward trend. The cost of building insecure internet is paying for security, and this is the year that all the tickets come due at once.

Precision: OK, I'll give him 100%.

Accuracy: There were a lot of high profile hacks and attacks, including on the dating website Ashley Madison and even a kids' toys producer, VTech. I'm not entirely convinced it has become part of the CEO agenda—though that may happen. I also think that it is a long haul to catch up with security (if that is even possible) and that corporate inertia might leave open opportunities for future breaches. I'm giving 80%, mainly because spending is increasing.

5. VR remains exactly that—virtual. Everywhere except in gaming and in fringe entertainment. Just because Zuck has a good lunch date with Oculous [sic] doesn't mean that the rest of the world hasn't already taken a pass on this technology... for decades.

Precision: Great again, 100%.

Accuracy: This is extremely accurate. The Oculus is indeed for sale, but the price is too high. There will still be room, but I presently agree with Anderson that it is more of a fringe business.

6. Amazon stumbles as Jeff Bezos's appetite finally exceeds his reach and customers are turned off by his megalomaniacal drive. The Fire phone debacle, hapless drone delivery scenarios, and Hachette punishments all lead to a loss of customer and investor confidence.

Precision: OK again, with mentions of a specific company and its projects—100%

Accuracy: Anderson seems to have enjoyed ripping into Amazon for a couple of years now. If he continues that, he will at one point be correct. This year it's a fail again: stock in 2015 didn't fall (it did this month, but that doesn't count!). The Fire phone is no longer being sold and doesn't seem to have been a success (though not a debacle), so Anderson gains some points here. Drone delivery isn't there yet, but is being actively researched. The dispute with Hachette was indeed closed in favor of Hachette and not Amazon, but that had already happened in 2014 and doesn't seem to have had such an impact. I give 25%, mainly for the phone prediction.

7. Home networks finally get off the launchpad, and it turns out that all people want is low energy bills, TVs everywhere and a single remote. What they don't want is talking refrigerators; things that don't work; complexity replacing reliability; more nested menus instead of real buttons; dumb things talking to other dumb things or worst of all, hackable home networks. Samsung and Apple lead the pack in this race.

Precision: This is very vague, even though it sounds interesting. He could basically point to any evolution in devices used at home and consider it a hit. Also, it isn't clear from the wording where Apple and Samsung are leading—in hackable home networks, complexity, or just the inverse? I'm giving him 20%, and that's just because two companies were mentioned.

Accuracy: This is difficult to score, as the potential scope is enormous. There was some evolution in smart devices at home, but it's difficult to score against such a vague prediction. I was tempted to give 0% because of that, but some searches on Google did find some nice smart locks, home kits, etc., that seem promising and have sold decently (but not from the mentioned companies). So 20% for effort.

8. Apple Pay succeeds. With with mapping improved, micromapping driven by beacons, advertising dollars following beacon merchandising niche, locations provided by phones and beacons, the final transaction step now on hand with Apple Pay, Apple achieves the technical and market steps necessary for domination of retail and physical space services.

Precision: Quite good, 100%.

Accuracy: There were indeed some more countries that were going to be opened for Apple Pay, such as Canada and Australia at the end of the year, but most new countries are for 2016! More and more vendors accept it, but it is a very far cry from market domination. There are some rumors about new features (e.g. paying via iMessage) so who knows, maybe this year. I'm giving 30%, but that's being generous.

9. Encryption continues its exponential expansion everywheredeeper, and end to end—a continuing major trend. Thank you again, Mr. Snowden, for protecting us from China and Russia, as well as from ourselves.

Precision: This is very vague: encryption of what? Our personal data, our email traffic, web server accesses... something else? Prediction number nine is basically worded so that any increase in encryption whatever could be considered a success. I'm giving him 20%.

Accuracy: Even despite the vague wording, I'm tempted to score this well. The increase in encryption availability has been happening for a couple of years now, but Apple and Google are now default encrypting devices. I also read an interesting article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that calls attention to the issue, especially since the FBI is trying to have backdoors or other ways to hack phones used by "bad guys." Industry is resistant, claiming that any access made available to government can be compromised by state-backed and private hackers. This at least shows there is something going on. I give 60%, mainly because it's an important issue and it has remained such.

10. Net neutrality survives the onslaught of US lobbyists. The carriers are thrown a slim bone of some kind, by old friend Tom Weaver. [sic]

Precision: Yes, the continuation of net neutrality basically hinged on a yes/no decision in the middle of the year. I subtract points for completely botching the name of the FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler. It might be because of the editor of the page (there are more errors—I corrected none), but it gives a bad impression. Anderson gets 90%.

Accuracy: Net neutrality is still alive. This prediction is a bit disappointed because I can easily find articles from end of 2014 indicating the possible direction the FCC would take (again, Anderson is, in my opinion, just extrapolating). But there was some strong opposition—it could have been different. I'm not sure what bone was thrown by Wheeler, though it may be a reference to the FCC's intent to penalize unfair ISP interconnection practices. If Anderson had left this comment out, it would have been perfect; it's now only 90%.

So, what's the conclusion? A 63.5% unweighted score (a simple average). But when coupled with my accuracy rating I get a weighted score of only 54.4%. Even though there were some really strong items (two perfect scores), there were also some bad ones. Anderson ended lower than he did in 2014, even though I felt I was sometimes generous with my score.

In any case, it shows that it's difficult to predict even the near future. But what bothers me the most is the uncritical online reporting about a 94% hit rate. I fear it won't be better next year, but I'll be there to evaluate it.

by Bruno Van de Casteele

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