Wednesday 12 August 2009

The Shape Of Things To Come

The picture above from 1956 shows a computer memory device being loaded onto an aircraft. It is very large, very heavy, and very expensive. It stored 5mb of memory. In those days there were few computers, they were little known, and managed by a mysterious cult of boffins. The first real container shipping service began that year, although there had been a handful of specialist ships in the previous decade.

Imagine, food cost a quarter of the ordinary family incomes, and supermarkets did not exist. Manual adding machines and ball point pens represented heights of technology. A fridge was a serious luxury item for the ordinary family. A TV was a new experience where you watched what you were told to watch, and newspapers had real news. Most people rented their homes, few could obtain much if any credit, and a car was still a distant ambition. The dockyards were filled with men, as were the workshops of industry and mines and railway facilities and farms employed many labourers. The City of London was a place where people knew what they were doing. I could go on.

In the past when I was young and callow, I did try to make forecasts. Early in 1967 in a discussion at the local Chamber of Commerce, I suggested that the UK position was weak, we were facing difficult choices, and one of the basic problems in coming to terms with our present, let alone the immediate future was our hang-ups about world power and prestige, especially the latter. For this I was roundly denounced at work by my boss for disloyalty to Queen and Country, lack of patriotism, and inability to recognise the greatness and might of Britain. A few weeks later the pound was devalued and the Wilson government announced the withdrawal from East of Suez. He never forgave me.

Now we are all broke, yet again, perhaps it is time to reflect on just what might be in store for us in the next fifty years. I can do so confident in the knowledge that the vast majority of the futurologists of 1956 to 1959 had it hopelessly wrong. A more delicate issue and maybe an advantage is that I will be unlikely to be around unless something really remarkable happens to the expectation of life figures. However, if I manage to get some things right then I might become an object of veneration, a new Nostradamus for the 21st Century. The trouble arises immediately I begin.

A major challenge is the wealth of information, sources, and debate now the web has opened up the minds and thoughts of the world to any who cares to debate or inform. Whilst properly this should lead to uncertainty and questioning, people have been brain washed into expecting positive and firm predictions, even when they know those who give them are lying through their teeth or have a personal agenda and something to sell. In any case, the figures probably will be manipulated, vital evidence be suppressed, and “research” done to order.

My personal problem is that if I set out predictions in which I honestly believe, using the LBO methods of analysis (Laws of the Bxyzabcg Obvious) some will be deeply uncomfortable, very difficult to accept, and will attract similar complaints to those made in genuine anger in 1967. But does anyone really think that life in 2010 will be anything like that we expected in 1980, never mind 1960? As for fifty years hence what will 2060 have to offer?

At least amongst all the advice and information nowadays there are online sites which advise you how to learn the basic skills of hunter gathering, but I am keeping this information to myself. But then I really am very old fashioned, and still think that 5mb is a lot of memory to have. Well, Bill Gates did once say that 256kb of memory was as much as any ordinary computer user needed, and who knew any better in those heady days of 1980?

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