In 1981 Bill Gates supposedly said, in defence of the IBM PC’s 640 KB memory limit, “640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
Gates denies that he said this, and I believe it is probably just an urban legend, but I can guarantee that somebody, somewhere said something like this, because these kinds of things have been happening my whole life.
Anecdote numero uno. When I inherited my first portable CD player from my brother, it was a tank. Big, heavy and skipped like hell at the slightest bump. It was okay for playing music at home, but it was supposed to be “portable”. What good was is it if it skipped in the car?
So, I went to the local electronics store. I wanted to buy something that didn’t skip.
“No such thing as a CD player that won’t skip,” the salesman told me, “Impossible. It’s the nature of the technology. It can’t be done.”
As with the computer memory in the alleged Bill Gates quote, this guy was so sure that the technology had peaked. What we had now was all we would ever have or need.
Fast forward a couple years and every CD manufacturer had their own “anti-skip” technology. Go ahead a few more years and CD players were on their way out in favour of MP3 players and other devices with no moving parts.
Anecdote numero dos. In the eighties, I read a Time-Life book that demonstrated how a self-driving car might work (in theory). Now they exist. Half of the new cars being made have adaptive cruise control and lane-assist features. If you are absolutely useless behind the wheel, your car can parallel park for you. Yet I still encounter people who say we will never have self-driving cars on the roads en masse.
They come up with all kinds of reasons why it will never work. And some of their reasons are real hurdles. Hurdles that we will, as has been demonstrated in the past, overcome.
Anecdote numero tres. When self-checkouts at grocery stores were first proposed, the nay-sayers had the same kind of objections as to why we would never see them catch on. Too many possible problems. Now, many of the stores where I shop have them. I can even order a Big Mac without dealing with a pesky human.
Anecdote numero cuatro. In the nineties, my Dad bought a piece of computer software called “Dragon Dictate”. You speak, it types. It did not work very well back then. Frustrated, he said this technology was a waste of money and would not catch on.
As we know, dictation technology has caught on, and with it, translation technology, voice recognition technology, etcetera.
That is why I say, “Never Say Never.”
While technological progress may seem slow at times, it is picking up speed, fuelled by quick access to, and the worldwide sharing of, information.
A number of years ago, a lot of us nerds were talking theoretically about quantum computers and how they might transform our world. Now they are a reality. Several have been built.
And in an article I read today, scientists used a quantum computer to make a particle go backwards in time.
As with the failure forecasters involved with the case of the RAM, CD-Player, self-checkout, self-driving car, and dictation software, the article takes a disappointingly negative stance. The experiment works fine in a computer lab, but in reality, it is way too complicated to send particles backwards.
Hell, that’s what they said about the quantum computer in the first place, and now every Tom, Dick and Harry who is worth a grain of salt in the physics community has one of these things at their disposal.
So never say never folks, because once Schrödinger’s cat is out of the box, you can’t put a lid back on it.
Some little Nikola Tesla is reading that article right now and getting ideas on how to take the experiment to the next level. Or would it be back to the last level?