By @SimonCocking a review of Our Digital Future: Smart analysis of smart technology by
Alluring visions of the future abound, yet those flying cars have not filled our skies and the smart fridge is more of a joke than a reality. But digital technology has changed our lives completely – for the better and the worse – with always-on connectivity, Facebook, Uber and so much more. With jobs potentially at threat and political instability rising, correctly predicting our digital future is more important than even. Professor Webb has an outstanding track record of forecasting over the last 20 years and applies the same pragmatic realism to the next 20.
This is a good, provoking read. He aims to be methodical about the predictions he makes, and looks to factor in how we imagined things might be twenty years ago, compared to how they actually turned out. He references Peter Thiel’s accurate lament about how they promised us flying cars and instead we got 140 (now 280) characters. In this context this is a sober, considered evaluation of where we might be in the near, and further future. Part of you wants to contest some of the observations, and allow for faster, more impressive developments, but he is right in some ways, things happen more incrementally, mostly, with massive leaps in some areas.
At times it felt a little too constrained, but, apart from the internet, maybe things are not actually so different from how they were twenty years ago. For all of these reasons this makes for a thought provoking and interesting read. However, on page 51 one line jarred, he says “I doubt blockchain will have a major impact on our digital future. If it does have an impact, then it is too early to predict with any confidence what it might be.” This, almost throwaway line made me wonder when the book was written. You can say I might be biased, but blockchain, where appropriately applied, is a transformational technology, that is already building out viable demonstrations of cutting edge, innovative technologies, that are delivering better, faster, more efficient solutions than those we previously had. As always with a book like this, when one statement feels inaccurate it can lead you to question the validity of some of his other predictions. However as he mentions in the book, if you don’t like them, you can always take someone else’s future predictions. Overall though it is a good, enjoyable read, and challenges you to think more deeply on what will change, what might change, and what could change. He also has good track record on his last round of predictions, so maybe he will be correct on many of these ones too.