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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
From: Jonathan Robie [mailto:email@example.com]
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
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
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
It's 1905. Someone gives you the following paper to read:
Does this paper matter? Will people still be talking about it in 10 years?
What are the indications?
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