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The Perils of Future Proofing
My posts tend to begin with a prompt from something I read and this post is the same. I haven't seen the term 'future proofing' for a while and had hoped it was no longer a 'thing', but not so. What is future proofing?
My posts tend to begin with a prompt from something I read and this post is the same. I haven't seen the term 'future proofing' for a while and had hoped it was no longer a 'thing', but not so. What is future proofing? Here is a definition from the Cambridge Dictionary:
to design software, a computer, etc. so that it can still be used in the future, even when technology changes.
The dictionary then goes on to offer another usage that seems related to futures work:
The concept of future-proofing is the process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimizing the effects of shocks and stresses of future events.
I remember in 2004 when we were renovating our house and our architect said he would like to future proof it by hard wiring our internet connection to the other rooms in our house. He said we would be set for the future. We did and it was good to have these connections until this year when we finally got NBN fibre to the house installed (that's the national internet system for overseas folks) to connect to the mesh network we have, and we no longer needed the ethernet connections to connect in our rooms. They were obsolete.
Future proofing brings with it an assumption of certainty - do this and it will never change. But that's impossible to know, especially with technology. It is possible to identify drivers of change that we can define in the present, but exactly how they will evolve in the long-term - 20 to 30 years and beyond - is not easily knowable today with any certainty.
I've published this list before and you've probably seen these quotes before. I know some of the credits are dubious in terms of origin but they illustrate how believing in future proofing can lead us astray.
Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for future development. Roman engineer Sextus Julius Frontinus, 1st Century AD
Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction. Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology, Toulouse, 1872
Heavier than air flying machines are not possible. Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1895
The aeroplane will never fly. Lord Haldane, British Minister of War, 1907
Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929
I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers. Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943
Space flight is hokum. Astronomer Royal, 1956
We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out. Decca Recording Co, rejecting The Beatles, 1962
But, what is it good for? Attributed to an engineer at Advanced Systems Division at IBM, commenting on the first microchip, 1968
There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment, 1977
40K [of RAM] ought to be enough for anybody. Bill Gates, 1981
These quotes and future proofing are based on assumptions that "the future" is knowable in the present. If that future is short-term (5 years), this might be possible. In the longer-term - 10 years and beyond - my view is that futures proofing is not valid. It's a bit like prediction, projecting out from the present - for me, a distraction from thinking about futures in new ways which is, of course, the focus of Foresight in the Present.
Have you thought about the validity of futures proofing before? Do you agree or disagree with me? Or just a comment to make?