Checking Wired Magazine's Futures

Wired magazine makes lots of predictions, big and small, about the future. My cynical take on the magazine is that they are wrong in virtually everything they predict, but they get away with it because nobody ever goes back and checks.

I can’t remember seeing a website on the mindless technophilia in Wired, the way there used to be (might even still be) a website tracking Marilyn Vos Savant’s columns for mistakes. I can’t find one in a search.

Given that the attention span of the Internet is measured in seconds, this doesn’t much surprise me. The lack of accountability is built into Wired’s (enviably successful) business plan. But I’d like to see a Wired Hater site if it existed. Does anyone know of any?

They recently had their 20th Anniversary. There was an article in the 20th Anniversary issue were they reprinted every one that would have taken place already.

I recall the radio personality in the year 2000 complaining “Where’s my flying car?” That’s a common joke about the future these days. They guy also mentioned “…but a phone you could carry around anywhere? Come on, get real. That just didn’t sound realistic.”

Or Isaac Asimov, who was writing on peak oil in the 60’s and said “someday the government will tell you where to set your thermostat.” During the oil crisis when Carter advised people to set their thermostats at 68F and wear sweaters, some lady came up to Asimov and complimented him.

These predictions are a crapshoot. Very little of the 1950’s, or even into the 1970’s, predicted personal computers, let alone portable TV phones that could access any information on the planet. Everyone thought we’d be rocketing across the planet at supersonic speeds by now, nobody that I recall predicted the internet. (Although in “The Shield” I think it was Poul Anderson who predicted a world-wide videophone system with a record button so the hero could disseminate plans for his device to random strangers.

I stopped reading Wired over ten years ago, but before that I was an avid reader/subscriber. I used to read every issue nearly cover to cover. One of the biggest things I can remember they got wrong was probably in the late 90s as the internet was taking off, they did a huge, fold-out cover story about so-called internet “Push Technologies” whereby instead of surfing the web the web would ‘push’ pertinent information to you. With Facebook & Twitter and (most importantly) smartphones today you can kind of say they were right, but they were ridiculously premature & overenthusiastic about it back then (and in terms of PCs, wrong). The cover said something like:

Forget everything you think you know about the
internet because it will all soon be obsolete!!

I think the editors did do a mea culpa about it a year or so later…

My point is that almost nobody predicts the future properly. PCs and the Internet are a case in point. Star Trek had this marvellous voice activated computer, but it was never used for obvious situations like voice mailing people, coordinating multiple parties, providing timely updates, surveillance…or even auto phone answering. “Say YES if you want to talk to - James Kirk”

People figured about the 1980s that genetic tech would take off like PCs in a decade. Didn’t happen. Everyone completely missed Facebook, and text messages, and email. Even trivia like how much fewer of the population wear watches…

The turns life takes on the way to the future are very unpredictable. I’m guessing Wired was mo better than any other random prognosticator.

Yeah, I wondered about the hype over push when I saw it. The last thing we needed in the day of modems was a flood of data plugging the lines the moment you dialled in.

But every once in a great while, they nail it perfectly. One of my favorite examples is the iPad that appeared in the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey”. En route to Jupiter, the astronaut can be seen reading The New York Times and watching BBC’s Channel 12.

and watching a prerecorded interview of himself

To be fair, there were a lot of Internet pioneers who thought push technology would be the big thing (including a boss of mine.) In my shop, there were three of us who caught on to the Internet’s potential early – only each of us had a different idea of what “the Internet” would be, and all of us were wrong.

But I can also show you hundreds of predictions about radio from the 1920’s, and they didn’t work out either, so it’s nothing new.

That was one of the better examples, since Kubrick was a stickler for technical details. I also liked the fact that HAL’s hindbrain was providing continuous live status updates on the screens, albeit in a very System-360 green screen manner.

Almost no “professional predictor” predicts the future correctly. There was a Freakonomics podcast about this recently. One of the things they point out is that there is zero incentive to predict correctly. That’s because nobody ever goes back to check the correctness of those predictions.

The incentive for predictors is to be as wild as possible. To predict either a utopian or an apocolyptic future. Because that gets people to pay them for their views. Nobody wants to hear somebody say, “Well, next year will be about the same as this year.” Since nobody ever checks to see if they were right, that doesn’t matter.

The BBC12 clip is real but the shot of the astronaut reading the NYT is photoshopped (that’s an actual iPad!).

Thanks. I did suspect that, seeing the button at the bottom, and the all-too familiar layout of the page. And now, looking again, the blue weblinks are just too much to be coincidental.

There’s a site I find really interesting here, where predictions from Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein are compared against history.

Back to the OP. Does anybody have any information specifically about Wired magazine?

Aside from the first response to your OP?

That issue of Wired contained no mention of predictions that were incorrect. The response doesn’t even characterize the issue properly. There are articles about many subjects that they covered in the first 20 years, but it does not in any way evaluate the contents of the 20 years’ worth of issues. It’s also obviously a cherrypicked compilation of wonderfulness, exactly what you’d expect a celebratory anniversary issue to be. That doesn’t say anything about the bad predictions, not even an estimate of what the ratio of good to bad was. That’s what I’m looking for, so that post was not a useful answer. And neither is yours.

I was interviewed once by Wired for predictions in my field. There were abut 7 of us quoted, and I was by far the most conservative on time estimates. Even I was wrong.