InformationWeek, October 16, 2000.
The Future Is Up To Us
Our future is largely a function of our past, our present, and the choices we make
By Leon A. Kappelman
don't know any IT folks who moonlight as fortune tellers. Yet we're
constantly called upon to predict the future of technology and its use by
our companies, competitors, suppliers, and customers. We call it
"planning" instead of "soothsaying." Regardless of the
moniker, forecasting the future of computer and communication technologies
is an error-prone pastime for experts of all kinds. Consider this
attributed sampling of humiliating predictions:
Humans in general are ill-equipped for fortune telling. We too readily project our own views, motivations, and biases onto others and tend to place too much emphasis on current experience. The latter, known as "recency bias" to designers of decision-support interfaces, when combined with extrapolation and oversimplification, often leads to all varieties of conclusion jumpings, including stock-market bubbles and crashes. Thus the admonition that "past performance is no guarantee of future" anything.
The fact is that our future is largely a function of our past, our present, and the choices we make. It might be simpler if we humans were at the mercy of the fates. But it's our own choices that will largely determine our destiny. And technology, much like all the other tools at our disposal -- money, guns, fossil fuels, automobiles, software, hardware, and all the rest -- has a potential for good or evil. It's our use of these inanimate objects that brings about rewards and retributions.
The technological advances of the past half century have brought profound changes in the nature of time or at least our perception of it. The very character of reality has been transformed as we find our daily experience of the world, and of each other, being mediated more and more by computer and communications technologies. Our increasingly media-ted existence blurs the boundary between reality and nonreality. This is apparent among children playing video games and less obvious among adults watching the evening news.
Our technologies provide nearly limitless possibilities for blessings -- or curses. I'll leave the prognostications and hand-wringing to others and instead call your attention to the space between your ears. For it's here that our fate will be decided, literally. It's the quality of our thinking, the completeness of our decision models, and the ethical basis of our decision criteria that will seal our fate.
In short, it's not our technologies but the ways we choose to use them that will determine our future. So please, choose well.
Professor Leon A. Kappelman is
director of the Information Systems Research Center in the College of
Business Administration at the University of North Texas. You can reach
him at email@example.com or on the Web at http://www.coba.unt.edu/bcis/faculty/kappelma
(Please Note: This article first appeared in InformationWeek, October 16, 2000.)
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