This post originally published on Wired’s Innovation Insights blog.

When it comes to predicting the future of technology, we stink. I mean all of us. Pundits, journalists, analysts, etc. We are all limited and shortsighted in our attempts to predict what technology will eventually look like. Even those people who make their livings as futurists have a success average that, if they were professional baseball players, would get them kicked out of the major leagues.

A good example of this kind of prediction failure is found in a recent article by Harry McCracken. In this Time magazine article, Harry looks back at a 1981 issue of Byte magazine and comments on the image of a “futuristic” smartwatch on the cover of the magazine.

Now, as Harry clearly points out in his article, the Robert Tinney cover image was meant to be fanciful and funny. But he is also on to something when he talks about the regular inability of people to look past their current blinders in order to see the potential of future technologies. This is something we all do.

Personally, I’m OK predicting out a few months, so so to about a year, and then I might as well give up. During the rise of the initial Application Service Providers that became the modern cloud and SaaS services, I publicly predicted that one thing that businesses would never put on a hosted service would be their customer service and sales data. “That’s your crown jewels. No business would want that out of their direct control!” Not much later, Salesforce.com proved me spectacularly wrong.

As I cover networking technologies, I’m starting to see some of this same failed prediction dynamic at work in the way that people look at Software Defined Networking (SDN).  Talk to any business doing SDN, any engineer working on it for the Open Networking Foundation, or any analyst covering it, and you’re going to get some pretty bland and obvious examples of how SDN can be used.

The problem is, everyone is looking at SDN from their own particular experience and perspective. It makes sense that, if a networking person looks at SDN, they are going to see it through a networking lens and will only see how it applies to the problems and issues they currently work on. This is just human nature.

But SDN is also a programmable layer for networks (that’s where the whole “software defined” comes in). Once developers enter the equation, all bets are off. And this is why you won’t see any predictions for SDN from me outside of this, I don’t know what the future of SDN capabilities are but I do know that someone will use it to do something radical and completely unexpected.

I do believe that, sometime in the next few years, someone with more of a developer background, say a programmer at a company like Google, or even a lone developer working out of her garage, will do something with SDN that no one will anticipate. Because this person will be free from preconceptions and will simply look at SDN as another programming challenge, they will potentially change the way that networks work, or even the very definition of what a network is.

That’s not good enough for you? OK, how about “SDN, quantum computing and artificial intelligence will combine to create Skynet.” Probably not, but it sounds cool.

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