Predicting the Future

Where were you on Monday 14th June 1982?

Did you by any chance happen to pick up a copy of the New York Times and read the article titled:


The article noted:

A report commissioned by the National Science Foundation and made public today speculates that by the end of this century electronic information technology will have transformed American home, business, manufacturing, school, family and political life.

The report – Teletext and Videotex in the United States – examined the myriad of opportunities and challenges of what was to become the internet era.

It is an incredibly brilliant insight into the fundamental changes that would visit us all.

As we read the article (in 2016 not 1982!) we were struck by how accurate some of the predictions were:

The home will double as a place of employment, with men and women conducting much of their work at the computer terminal. This will affect both the architecture and location of the home. It will also blur the distinction between places of residence and places of business, with uncertain effects on zoning, travel patterns and neighborhoods. 

– Home-based shopping will permit consumers to control manufacturing directly, ordering exactly what they need for ”production on demand.” 

– There will be a shift away from conventional workplace and school socialization. Friends, peer groups and alliances will be determined electronically, creating classes of people based on interests and skills rather than age and social class. 

– A new profession of information ”brokers” and ”managers” will emerge, serving as ”gatekeepers,” monitoring politicians and corporations and selectively releasing information to interested parties.


The authors – a Californian not for profit called The Institute for the Future – still exist today (interestingly the report is not on their website … I guess because it is now no longer the future!).

The reason why we raise this is not to boast that we read old New York Times (although we have been known to) but rather to ask the very basic question – who is looking over the horizon for the next transformative event?

And is that the fundamental question that all risk management systems must confront?

If a society, an industry, an organisation is not dreaming of what might be and challenging others to come on the journey are we not always going to be surprised by the next Teletext / Videotext moment?

And the question also needs to be asked as to how do we assess such over the horizon predictions?

For every right prediction there are a thousand flying cars zooming past in our imagination.

For every wrong prediction there are a thousand TED seeking futurists boldly proclaiming that their vision of the future is the correct one.

We must continue to seek the gems:

It conjured a vision, at once appealing and threatening, of a style of life defined and controlled by videotex terminals throughout the house.

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