Postmortem on Last Year's Predictions

One way to win the predictions game is to make a lot of guesses and remember just the winners. Here at IEEE Spectrum, we play a harder game. We told you what to expect in 2013, and now we are 'fessing up to our misses, as well as bragging about our hits. 

Truth be told, we're a bit proud of the misses as well. After all, it's not our fault if reality fails to meet our high standards!

Hit: We said that Google Glass would be big, that it would spawn a lot of associated business, and maybe even some copycatting. We were right on all counts. Woo-hoo! Japan's Telepathy One is bringing out a kind of augmented-reality visor; Epson just announced at CES it was doing the same. Innovega is going even further with a contact-lens and glasses combo.

Hit: We said China would start pouring water from the south to the north in 2013, and just a few weeks ago, it did. That you haven't heard much about it reflects a few disappointments in the rollout (if that's the right word). The Great Canal of China, a stupendously ambitious civil engineering project, is over budget, behind schedule, and below standard: so far, the transported water is fit only for factory use. 

Possible Hit: Our consideration of Intel's new Silvermont architecture for mobile devices was limited by the chip giant's refusal to say a word about it. Our conclusion, based on informed speculation, was a qualified thumb's up. Indeed, devices based on the chip design did begin to reach the market at year's end, and they do seem fast as lightning, but it's still too soon to say whether Silvermont will make Intel master of the mobile world.

Miss: We said Virgin Galactic would begin commercial space flights in 2013, if only by a hair, and by mid-year it seemed we'd be right. Following a successful test flight of the company's Space Ship Two, in April, chairman Richard Branson announced that the first public flight would take place on Christmas Day. It didn't happen. The most realistic assessment we can find comes from officials at Spaceport America, in New Mexico, who in late November said commercial flights would start in August 2014.

Hit:  We pretty much hit the bull’s eye with our forecast about the introduction of the Sony PS4 game console (“The Sony PS4: Less Dazzle, More Social”). As we predicted, the new console abandoned the revolutionary but complex Cell microprocessor. And Sony did indeed make social connectivity and gaming a pillar of its strategy with the PS4, as we said it would.

Miss: We saw a bright and immediate future for the electrowetting displays manufactured by a Samsung research lab in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Specifically, we predicted that Samsung would put the display on a product, such as a cell-phone or an e-reader. Instead, it put the business on the market, selling it in May to Amazon for an undisclosed sum. Amazon’s acquisition led to a burst of speculation that the e-retailing giant would introduce an e-reader with the advanced color display before the end of 2013, but it didn’t happen. Electrowetting’s long incubation continues.

Hit: As we predicted, in 2013, BMW's i3 became the first commercial carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer car. The light-as-a-feather body helps to give the all-electric version the fuel-efficiency equivalent of 1.9 liters/100 kilometers, or 125 miles per gallon. It hit the European market in November; deliveries to the U.S. are planned for the second quarter of 2014, at a starting price of US $42 275.

Unclear: As we predicted, the Digital Public Library of America went live, beginning in April with nearly 2.5 million freely accessible records and rising by December to 5.3 million. So that's a hit. However, the project’s backers hope it will provide a nonprofit alternative to commercial book databases, like Google’s, and that's probably not going to happen anytime soon. So it's neither a hit  nor a miss.

Miss: We thought network operators would begin deploying vast numbers of microcells in 2013, not only to cover "empty" spots where cellphones can't get enough bars, but also to speed up service in congested areas, like cities. It's going more slowly than we'd thought, though, because it's hard to integrate the cells into existing networks.

Hit: OLED TV did make it onto retail  shelves, as we predicted, but as we also noted, high prices kept it out of the reach of most consumers. Sales in 2013 appear to have totaled no more than 50 000 worldwide. LG’s 55-inch OLED TV hit store shelves first, in July, at US $15 000; LG later cut the price to $10 000. Samsung’s OLED arrived in August at $9000. One surprise—both companies curved the TV screens. It’s not clear whether the curve makes the viewing experience better or worse.

Hit: Gaia, the European Space Agency's sky-mapping probe, blasted off successfully in December, just in time to validate our prediction. It thus becomes the second probe devoted largely to mapping the distances between stars, following the 1989-vintage Hipparchos. On 8 January, after a journey lasting nearly three weeks, Gaia reached its intended perch, a gravitationally stable point some 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth that's called LaGrange Point 2.

Unclear: IBM Watson has spent the year learning oncology at NYC's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, just as we said it would. There, researchers are still training the system—famous for having beaten human champions on a television game show—to give advice on diagnoses and treatment plans. They're a little behind schedule, though, in turning Watson into a commercial product. Meanwhile, IBM is pursuing other development possibilities: In November, the company announced that it is opening its API to developers. Two healthcare companies have already announced that they're building Watson-powered smartphone apps.

Miss: Ouya, the open-source game console, was supposed to disrupt the gaming world. It didn't. It launched in June to lukewarm reviews, and sales of the $99 console have been slow. However, Ouya did please indie game developers, who have created more than 500 games for the system.

Hit: We noted the advent of high-frame-rate motion pictures with the premiere of the first Hobbit movie. These run at 48 frames per second rather than the decades-old standard of 24. As we indicated, the whole Hobbit series, directed by Peter Jackson, is being released in the high rate. And, as we also said, the highly anticipated sequels to Avatar, expected to be released starting in 2016, are also expected to be made at a high frame rate.

Hit: Unreasonable at Sea, an ocean-going voyage, did what it said it would by bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and possible customers. The 11 participating companies raised a total of more than $30 million in venture capital. You can relive their experience through a series of webisodes and this recording of their unofficial unreasonable theme song. 

Hit: As we expected, the Northrop Grumman X-47B autonomous plane was able to take off from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and land on it again safely—all by itself. This year the Navy wants to get it to refuel itself in flight.

Photo: iStockphoto; Magazine: IEEE Spectrum

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