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RE: do leading indicators matter?


leading indicators list
Some knew markup mattered.  They knew it because it 
solved certain problems that they had observed most 
computing systems shared.  Tim says military support 
isn't a reliable predictor.  Everything I've seen 
says it is but not a very specific one.  
It's just a driver.  Unless DARPA had done it's job, most  
of us wouldn't have the ones we have today.  DARPA 
sets about trying to achieve certain aims based on 
problems they foresee and they spread money about 
like manure in a lot of little and large niches 
to drive technology to solve those problems.  Some 
patches thrive quickly, then go to seed and cause 
other patches to start.  Others go to weed and 
that is the end of that.  But because they have a 
set of problems that conceptually bounds what they 
fertilize, they eventually get a turf.

By 1989/90, a fairly accurate account of what the 
web would be was available in some circles.  The 
combination of technologies wasn't hard to guess 
given the problem set.  In other words, some 
groups had very definite problems to be solved 
and given a survey of the commercial and lab 
technologies, it wasn't difficult to see what 
would be the shape of the thing, the shape of 
most of its internal parts, and so on.

One can smugly ask why it wasn't done by those 
groups.  That's simple:  no money in it.  If 
money is the object, a LOT of innovative things 
won't get done and the R&D budgets can't fill 
all the gaps from lab to store shelf.  The dot.con 
mania paid for a lot of experiments.  Now the 
John Perry Barlows of the world have to come 
up with yet another myth to keep their views 
alive and their influence intact. Maybe that is 
what all such indicators are.  Given a specific 
tech and a specific set of problems, prediction 
is a lot easier.  Ask what the weather will be 
next week, and that's a lot harder question.  

In 1905, my guess is that very few people had many 
problems that this particular paper had practical 
applications to.  Yet later those such as Szilard who 
were thinking through implications realized that 
given quantam physics, certain implications were 
inevitable, and it scared him witless.  

Oddly, H.G. Wells hit it right on the nose.  Why? 
He looked at human technical progress and human 
culture and humanity as a single piece.  Like 
Szilard, the implications terrified him.

To understand why a technology will emerge isn't 
that hard.  When it will emerge can be harder but 
if you really need it to emerge, fertilizer helps.  
I view a lot of these predictor papers somewhat like 
fertilizer.

len

-----Original Message-----
From: Jonathan Robie [mailto:jonathan.robie@s...]

At 09:48 PM 3/19/2002 +0000, Bill de hOra wrote:

>Maybe there are no clear reasons why certain technologies matter.
>Credit to Tim Bray for pointing out that some predictors don't seem
>to matter, but I don't think he goes anywhere far enough. I suspect
>that the adoption of technology largely follows a series of frozen
>accidents: you might as well be predicting earthquakes as the next
>big thing.

It's fun to try to figure out what successes have in common, and I think it 
can even be instructive. I learned a lot from The Mythical Man Month, for 
instance.

But breakthrough technologies tend to be a bit of a surprise, and hard to 
evaluate at first. If they were easy to evaluate, they wouldn't be 
revolutionary.

It's 1905. Someone gives you the following paper to read:

http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/einstein/specrel/www/

Does this paper matter? Will people still be talking about it in 10 years? 
What are the indications?

Jonathan


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