Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

You can't predict the future by inventing it

In 1963, Dennis Gabor, Nobel laureate for his invention of the holograph, said "The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented" (Gabor, 1963). This statement has become a mantra in recent times, attributed to many who are simply rephrasing Gabor. Alas, the slogan, wonderful though it may sound, is false. The most successful inventions transform the world in ways that are impossible to foresee at the time of the invention. The statement should really be yet another of my laws:

My law of prediction: "The future cannot be predicted, not even by trying to invent it. Although inventions can change the future, their long-term impact cannot be predicted." 

So, invent all you like, just don't try to predict the impact several decades later.

After I finished writing this short note, I saw Tim Harford's blog "What we get wrong about technology." Basically, his enjoyable, articulate article explains in more detail why my simple law is true,


Gabor, D. (1963). Inventing the future. London: Secker & Warburg.