Attempting to predict the future is always a roll of the dice — even if we manage to correctly foretell where the winds will shift us, it is impossible to know what unexpected events will detour us on the way there. But what makes the technology of the future so particularly difficult to imagine?

In response to this post on the paradoxes that shape the way we relate to science fiction, a discussion began about the ways in which we imagined future technologies. Building off the point that our imagining of future technology was based on past technologies, some commenters pointed out that this led us to imagine bigger or better examples of what we already had, but made it particularly difficult to imagine true innovation:


The first one is so true as I was seeing an old issue of a video game magazine from the '90's imagining massive arcades of "today" and video games as huge centers. That arcades would fade with hand-held devices offering far better graphics was unbelievable to consider and shows that mentality.

Another offshoot is "Terminator 3." I know, I know, a poor movie but it does showcase a major development in the idea that rather than a central computer base for Skynet as stated in the 1984 and '91 movies, it instead uses the Internet to have Skynet spread out so there was no central thing to destroy. For all his vision, James Cameron still couldn't see such things coming and showcases how we can't take for granted what the future in centuries holds when the next decade can show some wild innovations.

Other commenters, however, suggested that it wasn't that technology was unusually difficult to predict — it was just that the divergent alternate futures stood out more starkly than the futures that mirrored our own:

Grovers Mill

In "Things to Come" by HG Wells, made in 1936 when most people didn't even have a TV, there was a transparent flat-screen TV, and there were auto-gyros, a flying machine that was the precursor to the helicopter, and most people didn't even know it existed. I think we see paradoxes when the predictions are wrong, but we don't give them credit when they predict things that nobody could have foreseen.


What do you think? Tell us now — along with any favorite examples of technological predictions that went particularly far afield of the future we ended up living in or examples of the predictions that landed dead center.

Image: Geodesic domes / Jürgen Matern