background image
DigiCULT 13
T
IME
H
ORIZONS
B
efore embarking on our expedition, we con-
sidered not only the types of `RTD speci-
mens' we would collect in the course of the
journey, but also the time horizon we should cre-
ate for the roadmap, as this determined which instru-
ments we would need to carry on board. After
consultation of other roadmaps, we decided to aim
at identifying RTD goals considered by experts to
be within reach in the next five to ten years, and to
investigate ideas whose realisation might need 10, 15
or even more years. This latter span may seem like
`crystal ball gazing', but our aim also is to encourage
thinking about possible lines of research that are of a
more `blue sky' or experimental nature.
8
Nevertheless, we thought it useful to place the
roadmapping exercise in a broader perspective by not-
ing how past forecasts of innovations in ICT have
been astonishingly accurate, and what and how long
it took to develop the current base of ICT. Final-
ly, it may also be important to consider whether and
where the basic ingredients of the future digital her-
itage space are already available in ongoing research
and first prototypes.
W
HY
FUTUROLOGICAL
FORECASTS
IN
THE
1960
S
FOR
COMPUTERS
&
COMMUNICATIONS
SHOWED
HIGH
ACCURACY
I
n an interesting exercise, The Albright Strategy
Group assessed a list of 100 technological innova-
tions which, in 1967, Herman Kahn and Anthony
Wiener thought would be achieved by the year
2000.
9
A panel of reviewers found that fewer than
half of the forecast innovations occurred before
the end of the last century. However, one topical
field stood out as far more accurate than others: in
computers & communications, more than 80 per
cent of the forecast innovations were judged to have
occurred.
The forecasts in all other fields, including
Infrastructure & Transportation, Lifestyle, Health &
Human, Defence, Materials, Aerospace, Environment
and Biotech & Agriculture, were judged to be
less than 50 per cent correct. Among the `10 Best
Forecasts' all but one were innovations in Computers
& Communications. These included, to give but three
examples: `Inexpensive high-capacity, worldwide,
regional, and local (home and business) commu-
nication (perhaps using satellites, lasers, and light
pipes); `Pervasive business use of computers'; `Direct
broadcasts from satellites to home receivers'. Also the
one exception mentioned, `Extensive use of high-
altitude cameras for mapping, prospecting, census,
and geological investigations', was enabled by digital
technologies.
According to Richard E. Albright, the main reasons
for the greater accuracy of the forecasts in the field
of Computers & Communications are to be found in
two drivers. First, sustained trends in basic enabling
technologies in this field were apparent in the 1960s
and have continued to the present. This included sem-
iconductor performance/cost, computing capability,
storage capacity/cost, and optical transmission capac-
ity. Second, the scale of investment required for inno-
vation was driven down by the declining costs of the
enabling technologies. This allowed contributions
by many centres of research and thereby sustained
industry learning that brought about a broad range
of successful innovations.
I
NCUBATION
TIMES
FOR
IT
INNOVATIONS
I
n 2003, the US National Research Council of the
National Academy of Sciences published a book on
Innovation in Information Technologies, which explained
comprehensive research on this topic by their Com-
puter Science and Telecommunications Board.
10
The Board's Chair, David D. Clark, writes: `Ironical-
ly, the success of the industries that produce informa-
tion technology (IT) has caused confusion about the
roles of government and academia in IT research.' So,
they did an in-depth analysis of the development of
many of the generic technologies that represent the
basis of the current ICT industries. They found that
in most cases fundamental research, in which gov-
8
Such lines of research
would need to follow a
more FET-like approach.
The IST programme
Future and Emerging
Technologies (FET)
is a nursery of novel
and emerging scientific
ideas, of `research that is
of a long-term nature or
involves particularly high
risks, compensated by the
potential of a significant so-
cietal or industrial impact'.
Cf. http://www.cordis.
lu/ist/fet/home.html
9
H. Kahn and A. Wiener:
The Year 2000. A Framework
for Speculation on the Next
Thirty-Three Years (New
York: McMillan, 1967);
Richard E. Albright: "What
Can Past Technology
Forecasts Tell Us About the
Future?" January 2002.
http://www.
albrightstrategy.com/
papers/albright_Past_
Forecasts.pdf
10
National Research
Council, Computer Science
and Telecommunications
Board (2003): Innovation
in Information Technology.
(Washington, DC: National
Academy Press, 2003).
http://books.nap.edu/
html/innovation_in_IT/
(see Chapter 1).
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