“It’s not even wrong.”

May 17, 2020 • 10:58 PM

Benedict Evans:

“That is not only not right; it is not even wrong.”
— Wolfgang Pauli

A lot of really important technologies started out looking like expensive, impractical toys. The engineering wasn’t finished, the building blocks didn’t fit together, the volumes were too low and the manufacturing process was new and imperfect. In parallel, many or even most important things propose some new way of doing things, or even an entirely new thing to do. So it doesn’t work, it’s expensive, and it’s silly. It’s a toy.

Some of the most important things of the last 100 years or so looked like this — aircraft, cars, telephones, mobile phones and personal computers were all dismissed.

But on the other hand, plenty of things that looked like useless toys never did become anything more […]

The thread through all of this is that we don’t know what will happen, but we do know what could happen - we don’t know the answer, but we can at least ask useful questions. The key challenge to any assertion about what will happen, I think, is to ask “well, what would have to change?” Could this happen, and if it did, would it work? We’re always going to be wrong sometimes, but we can try to be wrong for the right reasons. The point that Pauli was making in the quote I gave at the beginning is that a theory might be right or wrong, but first it has to rise to the level of being a theory at all.