Technology Predictions Aren’t Always Accurate

A1995 article about the Internet is a stark reminder that naysayers are often wrong.
Published: September 14, 2010

There’s a lot of hype about new technologies, as was the case with radio frequency identification a few years ago. But it’s worth remembering that the naysayers who believe a new technology will never live up to expectations aren’t always right. That point was hammered home to me this week when a friend sent me a link to an online story about an article on the Internet that was published in Newsweek in 1995 (see Newsweek in 1995: Why the Internet Will Fail).

In the Newsweek article, entitled “The Internet? Bah!,” U.S. astronomer and author Clifford Stoll wrote: “I’m uneasy about this most trendy and oversold community. Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic. Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is, no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”

Stoll dismissed the prediction by Nicholas Negroponte, the director of the MIT Media Lab, that we’d soon be buying books and newspapers straight over the Internet, and went on to write: “Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.”

My point is not to criticize Stoll. There were a lot of problems with the Internet in 1995. It was the land of chaos, with little organization (Google wasn’t launched until a year later). But there was underlying value in the technology, and over time, the problems were solved. Today, the Internet’s value is apparent to all.

Some businesspeople, to my utter astonishment, still don’t get RFID and how important it is. And some writers continue to say the technology will never deliver on its promises (see, for instance, “RFID Is an Evolutionary Dead End“).

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know this: RFID has the potential to reduce billions of dollars in annual waste for companies worldwide. And with billions of dollars at stake, technology providers have a lot of incentive to improve their products. I’m sure there are some applications for which the technology might not prove effective, but I’m equally sure that 15 years from now, people will have discovered applications we never dreamed of.

And more than a few writers will wind up with egg on their face for writing, “RFID? Bah!”

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or the Editor’s Note archive.