What Has Surprised You the Most in the World of Technology?

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I think probably my biggest surprise in technology is what things happened when. Figuring out what's going to happen is much easier than figuring out when it will take off. When I was at Microsoft, we had a couple of projects looking at electronic books, and people had been trying to do electronic books for at least 20 years earlier than we had and then there were many efforts after us, all nearly 20 years ago that I was doing that work on electronic books and yet today there are electronic books.

And ultimately, it fell to Jeff Bezos at amazon.com to make the electronic book. And Kindle is one of several products, but if it wasn't for the critical mass that Kindle got, electronic books would have continued. I got a whole closet full of all of these cool e-readers and electronic books that people made going back into the 80s.

So that's one that I though would happen sooner then after a while I got depressed to know shit will never happen and then it happened. On the smartphones, there's a thing in the press recently about an old memo that I had done in 1991/1992 that had pictures that looked remarkably, things I had drawn, a concept piece of what a smartphone of the future would look like, that it would look almost exactly like an iPhone.

Now, mostly, it's not because I predicted the iPhone per se, although I predicted a lot of the features that this would have. The trick there was, in part knowing what it could be, but also knowing when would the market forces allow that to happen, and what are the dynamics that cause it to happen right then.

You can look at the internet the same way, the internet was around for 25 years before it suddenly burst on the scene for everyone, and if you look at that, you say well how come the internet didn't come to the fore front 10 years earlier? I can give you a set of reasons, but they aren't great reasons.

You could actually counter factual universe, you can imagine some of those things, maybe it did happen in 1985 instead of 1995. Conversely, you'll can create a counterfactual situation to say, what if a few things haven't occurred. Maybe the internet would've taken another 10 years to happen, and I think that's probably of one of those interesting things, it's the complex set of human dynamics, industry dynamics and technology that together help decide when all of a sudden we get something that's really great verses, yeah it's another silly gizmo that someone made and nobody wants to use.