Authoritative misinformation: blockchain and the humor of bad predictions

The pitted history of innovation is fraught with bad information, poor advice and unstable experts. The overly enthusiastic to the sorely pessimistic -- listen for a balanced tone.

old fashioned television
Credit: Thinkstock

One expert is right. One expert is wrong.

Swimsuit or raincoat?

How accurate are predictions? Every day we have plans. Even if that plan is to do nothing. At some point understanding the weather becomes a factor in the decision of what to do, where to go or what to wear. A product manager at Minitab answered a question we have wondered about. How accurate are those weather forecasters?

There are three main forecast periods: 10-day, five-day and next-day. The experiment recorded 10-day, five-day, and next-day weather forecasts. Over 30 days, the rolling forecast and the actual weather was recorded. Some days were more accurate than others. Not surprising, the 10-day forecast was less accurate than the five-day forecast, and the five-day was less accurate than the next-day forecast.

As the prediction date moved closer to the actual date, less variability was observed in the prediction. Usually, we’re talking about the standard deviation of defects, whether in the technological or manufacturer space. However, in our case, we’re talking about the extent which one weather forecaster would agree with another. Do experts mostly agree or mostly disagree? A low standard deviation isn’t always good, and a high isn't always bad. Standard deviation is a factor of the observation data spread. In our case, how close one weather forecaster is to another in their predictions to the actual forecast.

The standard deviations varied based on the forecast period. The 10-day forecast had a standard deviation of 6.2 degrees, with the high temp off as much as 8 degrees and the low temp off by as much as 17 degrees. The standard deviations of the five-days (4.3 degrees) and the next-days (2.1 degrees) were less pronounced.

Weather Forecast Minitab

Does any of this even matter? What if we weren’t talking about weather forecasters? What if we were talking about experts predicting the lack of impact of blockchain on business or experts predicting the impact of new innovative technologies? Think about the business impact of blockchain in 10 years, five years and one year.

Brilliant innovations or dreadful embarrassments?

It depends on which expert you ask. Television, radio, telephone, transportation, computers, space exploration and medicine are riddled with renowned experts who offered horrible predictions. The most humorous were the most pessimistic. Keep that in mind as experts offer ridiculously pessimistic outlooks on the impact of blockchain technologies on the business, the economy, and the world.

Television

Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.

Darryl F. Zanuck, Head of 20th Century-Fox, 1946.

20th Century-Fox, started in 1949 with shows on ABC and CBS, later evolving into the Fox Television Network.

Radio

Radio has no future.

Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, ca. 1897

As of Oct. 22, 2016, the market capitalization of Sirius XM Holdings was $20.2 billion.

Telephone

This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a practical form of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.

Western Union internal memo, 1878

Verizon, the largest player in the wireless market wireless, saw operating income margin at 32.7% for FY 2015 on revenues of $131.6 billion - not bad for a market that is of "no value."

Transportation

What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?

The Quarterly Review, England, 1825

Yahoo Finance reports that the market capitalization of the railway industry at $317,948 billion in 2016.

Computers

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

The personal computer industry is about $24 billion, not bad considering that smartphones have shifted the PC market. Adding smartphones (iPhone, Android) dramatically raises this growth estimates. Global revenue from smartphones exceeded $400.7 billion in 2015.

Space exploration

There is no hope for the fanciful idea of reaching the moon because of insurmountable barriers to escaping the Earth's gravity.

Dr. Forest Ray Moulton, University of Chicago astronomer, 1932

In 1959, the Soviet Union made the first spacecraft landings on the lunar surface with Luna 2 and Luna 3. The United States reached the moon in 1964 and 1965 with Ranger 7 and Ranger 8.

Medicine

‘The abdomen, the chest and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.’

Sir John Eric Ericson, Surgeon to Queen Victoria, 1873

In 1967, a South African physician, Dr. Christiaan Barnard, performed the world's first human-to-human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town.

What did each of these individuals have in common? They all were among the most renowned industry experts of their times, and each offered horrible advice. It’s comical to think about big innovations ignored by experts occurring 100 or 200 years ago.

What are the innovations in experimentation today that experts have dismissed? Telsa? Airbnb? Next-generation sequencing (NGS)? VR headsets (sports, shopping, therapy)? Blockchain?

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

To comment on this article and other CIO content, visit us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
Download the CIO October 2016 Digital Magazine
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.