Predicting the Future

by Kiran Bhageshpur – August 11, 2015

Remember this viral video from 2007, (back when viral videos were still novel)? At the time, it was seen as a hilarious send-up of the excesses of tech in general and Silicon Valley in particular. Its humor came from pointing out the obvious ‘Emperor Has No Clothes’ situations from that era. However, if you watch it now, you see it mostly got things precisely wrong. Apparently things weren’t so obvious after all.

For example, was Web 2.0 just a passing fad? Was Google’s $1.65B acquisition of YouTube another example of bubble valuations? Or eBay’s $2.6B acquisition of Skype? Facebook’s high (at the time) valuation? Weren’t these all proof that Peter Thiel’s insistence that ‘there is absolutely no bubble in technology’ was irresponsible and self-serving?

With the luxury of time we now see it was not nearly as simple as that. Microsoft acquired Skype from eBay for $8.5B and Facebook is now valued at $277B, so perhaps it wasn’t so overvalued in 2007 after all.

I’ll give them points for pointing out the Bay Area’s absurdly unaffordable housing market. But, writing off Elon Musk’s nascent space ventures as an ‘ego trip’ was way off base.

The lesson here is not how wrong this one video was, but rather that predicting the future is really, really hard. For example, who would have predicted in 2005 that Amazon, just a bookseller at the time, would become the biggest and most disruptive force in technology infrastructure within 10 years. They have, and can anyone deny that AWS has not changed the landscape of technology and infrastructure?

In the end, the future is not like the past and what seems crazy might well become a reality primarily due to the conviction of the few unconventional people. Or, as Steve Jobs once said, “the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”