tl;dr In his famous The Mythical Man-Month, Frederick Brooks explains that software development embeds complexity in its nature and that it is unrealistic to look for silver bullets to instantly kill the monsters and nightmares hidden in our technological challenges. This article tries to look at today’s challenges and tries to consider that silver bullets may or may not arise.
We are running after some technological challenges as many have done, a few centuries ago, as alchemists, trying to make gold out of less valuable raw materials. It is good to run after our dreams, but it may also be good to remember that some are only dreams and be ready to circumvent the dreamt ideal solutions to get realistic ones.
One of these dreams, embedded in our mind since a long time may be flying cars, some expect them since a century, we have planes, which are not exactly flying cars. And unfortunately, the bigger underlying problem, transportation is far from being solved. I am always impressed by how easy it is to spend more times inside airports than inside a plane, actually flying when travelling.
One can also name energy, one cheap and sustainable one.
I would like to add, Big Data, maybe not because of the technical challenges engineers are facing but because of the expectation that are put behind Big Data. Humans are more creative than analytic, even facing data, we love to build stories behind facts to sustain our illusion of control (by the way, you should add Dance With Chance on your reading list). If some expect to build from Big Data the same level of interpretation as they do without, disappointment is at the end of this road.
All those problems are worth investigating, it is good that people work on them. What is not good is to believe that the silver bullets will pop out and solve those problems once and for all.
What happens if a cheap, sustainable and infinite way to get energy is not here? To this extend I find the discussion about nuclear energy really interesting in the constant search for trade off that they usually highlight.
What happens if the transportation problem has no perfect solution? I dream every night or so about teleportation, but I may to settle for Google Cars.
What remain of our welfare states when healthcare involves financing $1000 / pill treatment? I wrote an related article about a proposal for research funding in Europe.
Considering those questions means considering different hypotheses and path for our societies.