Not even wrong: predicting tech

"That is not only not right; it is not even wrong"

- Wolfgang Pauli

A lot of really important technologies started out looking like expensive, impractical toys. The engineering wasn't finished, the building blocks didn’t fit together, the volumes were too low and the manufacturing process was new and imperfect. In parallel, many or even most important things propose some new way of doing things, or even an entirely new thing to do. So it doesn’t work, it’s expensive, and it’s silly. It’s a toy.

Some of the most important things of the last 100 years or so looked like this - aircraft, cars, telephones, mobile phones and personal computers were all dismissed.

But on the other hand, plenty of things that looked like useless toys never did become anything more.

This means that there is no predictive value in saying ‘that doesn’t work’ or ‘that looks like a toy’ - and that there is also no predictive value in saying ‘people always say that’. As Pauli put it, statements like this are ‘not even wrong’ - they give no insight into what will happen. You have to go one level further. You have to ask ‘do you have a theory for why this will get better, or why it won’t, and for why people will change their behaviour, or for why they won’t’?

“They laughed at Columbus and they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

- Carl Sagan

To understand this, it’s (Read more...)