Predicting the future of technology often seems a fool’s game. In 1946 for example, Thomas J. Watson, founder of International Business Machines — now known simply as IBM — is said to have made the prediction that the world would need just five computers. But US researchers now say that technological progress really is predictable — and back up the claim with evidence regarding 62 different technologies.
The claim is nothing new. But what a group of researchers at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have done is to put it to the test.
In a study published in PLoS ONE, they compared several mathematical laws that purport to describe how the costs of technologies evolve, and found that the most accurate was one proposed as early as 1936.