Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Y2K of Gas Pumps

There are limitations to making informed decisions regarding things too far into the future. It is limited by the fact that just too many variables, both known and unknown, play into the equation to make a well calculated prediction. Basically, the event is off the horizon, beyond sight and therefore impossible to predict accurately.

What makes me ramble on about this is a news item I recently read on Yahoo News regarding obsolete Gasoline Pumps in the US, the Y2K equivalent of mechanical machines.

here is an extract from the new item:

"Mom-and-pop service stations are running into a problem as gasoline marches toward $4 a gallon: Thousands of old-fashioned pumps can't register more than $3.99 on their spinning mechanical dials.

Many of the same pumps can only count up to $99.99 for the total sale, preventing owners of some SUVs, vans, trucks and tractor-trailers to fill their tanks all the way

If you have a look at Gasoline prices, back in the 50's when most of these pumps were installed, no one could have predicted retails price of a gallon to cross $3.99. No one could have imagined a tank full of gasoline crossing the $99.99 mark. It wasn't short sightedness, or stupidity, but informed decisions made on available data (there was no OPEC, no Iran-Iraq conflict, no Iraq war, no Chinese economic boom).

If that can happen with Gas stations (over a span of 50 or so years), when it comes to technology, we play in a world of exponential change and insanely fast development. Which means, people who make 'informed decision' live to be proven wrong. Some are unlucky enough to have their intelligent guesses put on record.
for example,

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Thomas Watson
Chairman, IBM

“There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Ken Olsen
Founder, Digital Equipment Corp.

Which brings us to the question of being able to predict not 50 years, but just 5 years down the road. So we question, had Google really set out to do, what they ended up doing? are Facebook and Linkedin visionaries or just plain lucky. And just how long will businesses in the tech world be able to stay on top.

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