Laws of Futurism

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This article gathers statements that have sometimes been called 'laws' of futurism.

Amara's Law

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

-- Roy Amara (1927-2005), past president of The Institute for the Future[1]

Note: Futurist Paul Saffo emailed writer Matt Ridley as follows in 2017[2], about the genesis of Amara's Law:

Roy was my boss for well over a decade beginning in 1984, and a close friend until he passed away in the early 2000s. He first articulated the idea long before I first met him, so I expect the first instance is buried in a report from some time in the 1960s or maybe the 1970s.

Licklider's Law

People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years.

-- JCR Licklider, in Libraries of the Future, 1965.

The same sentiment was expressed by Neil Armstrong in a speech to a joint session of Congress, 16 September 1969:

Science has not yet mastered prophecy. We predict too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next ten.

Another version of this quotation is due to Bill Gates, in the Afterword to his 1996 book The Road Ahead,

People often overestimate what will happen in the next two years and underestimate what will happen in ten.

Note: The relative precedence of Amara's Law and Licklider's Law is not clear. However, Amara's Law avoids specificity about timescales, and therefore has wider applicability: different technologies tend to operate with different timescales (so a time period that would be "in the short run" for one technology might be "in the long run" for another).

Clarke's First Law of Prediction

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

-- Arthur C. Clarke, in Profiles of the Future (1962).