.. what skills/traits allow a person to make such predictions with high accuracy?One thing is that I think you need a pretty wide set of priors–breadth. Stuff like history, anthropology, economics, the history of art. Lots of knowledge about human behavior, politics, culture, stuff like how emotions guide behavior, etc.
When I look at a typical STEM education, we deliberately don’t prioritize this stuff. We know lots of things about how electrons behave and which sorts of functions grow the fastest and how cellular mitosis works. Not as much about why empires fall, the role of greed in political revolutions, or the changing role of women over the last 500 years. I think this puts HNers (I think STEM people are probably overrepresented here) at a significant disadvantage at making these kinds of broad predictions.
The thing we do have going for us is our ability to understand the course technology is going to take: what’s possible, what will and won’t work, and why.
I also wonder whether the people you’re around influence your ability to predict what’s next. On one hand, it’s a well-established fact in social science that many social trends, at least in the US (things like marriage and divorce rates, educational trends, changing attitudes around dating, purchasing behaviors), start in the upper-middle classes, as they have the numbers (population) to make real differences in buying habits, politics, etc., whereas the rich have more money but much smaller population. On the other hand, the lower classes in the US vastly outnumber what I’d consider a typical HN reader. Something like 70% of US adults don’t even have a bachelor’s degree, and the US median income for an individual is around $40K. Keep that in mind as you think about this stuff.
.. One of the things I find most striking when watching old movies is the general attitude of people toward tech.
If you look at movies from the 70s and 80s, conspicuous display of tech was common. Look at stereo systems of the time, and how people treated mobile phones (they were huge and conspicuously displayed). This partially echoes the “machine age”  of the early 20th century, a a time when tech was seen as “modern” and a force for progress.
Whereas these days, we want things to be light, invisible, and out of the way. That’s a major change in attitude.
I actually feel we might see fewer “screens” in the next few years if the combination of voice and AI becomes powerful enough that most things can be done by voice or thought. I think more and more decision-making (things like which plane to book/flight to take/etc) will be made by automated systems that know our preferences and we’ll be picking from fewer and fewer menus. Sort of like a human assistant, but available to the masses and more accurate. Google’s Duplex is a big step in this direction. The key is ceding more decision-making authority to software.
In any case, I wouldn’t be surprised if we all just have earphones, either over-the-ear, or implanted in our heads, in 15 years. The broader theme is that I think we’ll want things to be invisible rather than visible.
I also think you’re right that the rich will want less of this stuff. There’s already a huge socioeconomic difference in how people use tech. Look at how a rich family eats in the US today vs. a poor family. Rich families put their phones away, poor families spend the entire dinner posting stuff on Snap. Just walk into a burger king vs. a fine dining restaurant to see that trend in action.
It’s no secret that liberal-arts graduates tend to fare worse than many of their counterparts immediately after college: According to PayScale Inc., a Seattle-based provider of salary data, the typical English or sociology graduate with zero to five years of experience earns an average of just $39,000 a year.
.. The story tends to change, however, as careers play out. Over time, liberal-arts majors often pursue graduate degrees and gravitate into high-paying fields such as general management, politics, law and sales
.. Using Census Bureau data, the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project analyzed lifetime earnings for each discipline’s top 10% of moneymakers. It found that computer science’s stars rang up lifetime earnings of at least $3.2 million. Nice work, but not as impressive as philosophy majors’ $3.46 million or history majors’ $3.75 million.
.. “College shouldn’t prepare you for your first job, but for the rest of your life,” says John Kroger, president of Reed College in Oregon, the liberal-arts school that famously served as a starting point for Steve Jobs. Although Mr. Jobs dropped out of Reed in the early 1970s, the Apple Inc. founder often credited the school with stretching his horizons in areas such as calligraphy, which later influenced Apple’s design ethos.
.. In the short-term, employers still say they prefer college graduates with career-tailored majors.
.. A recent survey of 180 companies by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that at least 68% want to hire candidates who majored in business or engineering. By contrast, only 24% explicitly want communications majors, 21% want social-sciences majors and 10% humanities majors.
When asked to define the résumé traits that matter most, however, the NACE-surveyed employers rated technical skills 10th. Four of the top five traits were hallmarks of a traditional liberal-arts education: teamwork, clear writing, problem-solving aptitude and strong oral communications.
.. “It’s easier to hire people who can write—and teach them how to read financial statements—rather than hire accountants in hopes of teaching them to be strong writers,”
.. PayScale’s data shows that for people with 10 to 20 years of experience, degrees in communications, political science, history and philosophy yield average annual income of $70,000 or more. By contrast, degrees in French, anthropology, creative writing and film fit into a band of $60,000 to $69,000. Fields such as theology, photography and music bring up the rear; they pay less than $60,000 on average.
It was the economics department that taught me the problems of the widening income gaps, of the larger share of the wealth and income that the top 1 percent is devouring, and of the increasing number of people who are unable to break out of poverty and achieve the American dream, and of the negative effects of international trade that have hurt many Americans.
.. It was the history, African-American studies, philosophy and classics departments that showed me that change rarely succeeds with a smile. Rather, it requires an aggressive and unapologetic effort to show those in power that they no longer represent the will of the people.
.. I investigated the community of Trump supporters further and found a diverse, intellectual and multifaceted community that prides itself on its all-encompassing embrace of free speech. After following the movement for several months, I now think most members of the alt-right aren’t fueled by racial resentment but want a technocracy with positions earned through merit, instead of through the nepotism and cronyism that they see in Washington.
“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would never have had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.
.. it wasn’t enough to simply create a space: he needed to make people go there. As he saw it, the main challenge for Pixar was getting its different cultures to work together, forcing the computer geeks and cartoonists to collaborate. (John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar, describes the equation this way: “Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.”) In typical fashion, Jobs saw this as a design problem. He began with the mailboxes, which he shifted to the atrium. Then he moved the meeting rooms to the center of the building, followed by the cafeteria and the coffee bar and the gift shop. But that still wasn’t enough; Jobs insisted that the architects locate the only set of bathrooms in the atrium. (He was later forced to compromise on this detail.)