Amaras Law: false expectations about technological advances
This law shows that our conception of new technologies is often distorted.
When a new technology is presented, for whatever purpose and use, it is normal that at first it is perceived as something very promising, generating high expectations in the short term.
However, after a while, these expectations are reduced, causing people to completely forget about what, until relatively recently, was seen as something that would not be missing in their lives.
This phenomenon is known as Amara's law and is of great importance in understanding how humans relate to new technological discoveries, as well as the new uses we can make of them in the long term.
Roy Amara was one of the co-founders of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, in the intellectual Heart of Silicon Valley. This futurist is known for having described the law that bears his surname, which is considered to be a good description of how new technologies develop and prosper.
Amara's law holds that, in most cases, human beings tend to overestimate the effects of new technologies. tend to overestimate the effects of a new technology in the short term, while underestimating its effect in the long term..
In other words, when a new device, a new social network or technological application appears, people initially see it as something of great interest that they will not be able to avoid incorporating into their lives, and those who have invented it will believe that it will make a significant contribution to humanity or will bring them a large profit margin.
The problem is that, just as everything that goes up must come down, after a while people seem to find fault with these novelties, plus, those who invented them see the limitations of the product, or that it doesn't seem to be satisfying what they originally wanted their new technology to help solve.
The law's relationship to overexpectation
Generalizing, Amara's law is quite extrapolable to how we perceive the appearance of new technologies in the market, as well as describing how we behave in relation to it after a certain time.
In fact, Amara's law has been useful in proposing the stages of the so-called cycle of overexpectationThis cycle is the one through which most technological innovations pass.
The usual pattern in people's interest when a new technology appears is that, at first, there are very high expectations and then they plummet and, over time, the original interest is consolidated and even increases. The specific stages of the process are the following five.
A technological innovation receives publicity, either from the company that produces it or from the media that wants to explain it, the media, which wants to explain it as news.. In this phase, the usefulness of the product is demonstrated, without its commercial use being visible yet.
2. Peak of expectations
Advertising has already had its impact: . there is a wave of enthusiasm and interest among the population .. Expectations are rising and people are wondering how many applications this novelty could have.
Once the application has been commercialized and people are familiar with it, to a greater or lesser extent, they see the shortcomings of this new technology, the potential economic waste it entails and its limitations.
Expectations fallAs it is possible that many of the functions that the device or appliance was expected to be able to perform correctly, it may not perform as well as it should.
However, it is at this stage that those who have manufactured the new technology learn from their mistakes, see new real applications for the product and economize the production process.
4. Cost of illumination
Having seen everything in the previous point, it is clear what the technology is for, how it should be used to get the most out of it and when it is most advisable to use it..
5. Productive plain
Technological adoption takes place. The product grows again, now improved, growth which increases or decreases according to consumption.
A real case of Amara's law: GPS
A great example of how Amara's law has been applied in the development of new technologies is the case of the GPSthe application we all have in our cell phones, smart cars and computers.
The Global Positioning System is a project whose beginnings date back to 1978 and, as with many new technologies, its original purpose was military. The program began by putting into orbit 24 satellites that work together around the planet. The main objective of this was to be able to easily locate U.S. troops abroad and provide them with supplies, without running the risk of mistaking their location and being attacked by the enemy.
However, despite the fact that we now know of its great usefulness, this program was cancelled again and again in the 1980s. The first operational use of this technology came in 1991 during Operation Sandstorm in the Gulf War, although the U.S. military was still reluctant to use GPS devices and it took more successful demonstrations to adopt it.
Today it is not only used by the US military. Its usefulness is very evident when you can see that practically most people who have a cell phone have replaced the paper map with the convenient GPS application. But not only allows us to know where a place is and where we are, it also calculates how far we are going to go.It also calculates how long it will take us to get there, as well as traffic conditions, public transportation schedules and interesting establishments nearby.
In addition, large transports such as shipping and airplanes make use of this device, avoiding entering the same path as other large vehicles, as well as avoiding deviations from where they need to go. It would be unthinkable today that an international airport would decide to disconnect the GPS signal from airplanes, since doing so would mean air disaster.
All these utilities were not even imaginable to those who developed this technology in the 1970s. Surely they could only think of its military utility, never that any individual would use it in their daily lives, or that it would be used to organize meetings in big cities.
So, as we can see, Amara's law is very well fulfilled: there were high expectations of GPS for military use, the army was reluctant to use it and expectations fell. Mistakes were corrected and all the endless utilities were discovered. that GPS has today.
But GPS has not been a unique case. Other major technologies have also experienced the same path from the time they were designed until they reached the general public. Computing, human genome sequencing, renewable energies and even home automation had their ups and downs in terms of how promising they turned out to be.
New technologies in the classroom: between hope and disillusionment
Although Roy Amara did not intend to explain the sociological fascination we humans have with technology, his approach allows us to understand more deeply how the abuse of new technologies, because of their novelty and attractiveness, has created a problem in a very important area of society: education.
Between 2010 and 2020, there were few schools in Spain that did not opt to incorporate all kinds of new devices in their classrooms: projectors with electronic screens, tablets, laptops, virtual campus mobile applications and a long etcetera. There was a widespread philosophy that any new information and communication technology (ICT) was inherently good for education..
However, just as expectations were high at the beginning, many teachers and students in innovative centers began to become demotivated because the technology, no matter how good it was, because they did not know how to use it and, in many cases, did not know how to get the most out of it, it did not bear fruit.
In relation to Amara's law, it is clear that Spanish education (and that of many other European countries) was negatively affected by the eagerness to innovate with anything in class, thinking that, magically, academic performance would be increased. However, as soon as it was realized that this was not the case, discouragement set in and it seemed that schools had spent large amounts of money on devices that, in practice, seemed that the only thing they would do was gather dust.
But, as Amara's law rightly states, we tend to overestimate the effects of new technologies at the beginning and then end up underestimating them, finding it very difficult to understand their real and beneficial uses.
That is why once we have seen the errors in deciding which technologies to put in the classroom and understand how they work, we can make the most of their potential.In addition to promoting the familiarization of teachers and students in the use of the same. In addition, in the event that it is decided to incorporate new applications and devices of the latest technological trend, it will be necessary to foresee what will be their real usefulness in the classroom, as well as to ask whether it is really worth incorporating them in the institution.
In the same way that technology has undergone dramatic changes in the last 10 years, being that of Spanish schools a particular case, it is known that in the not too distant future, in the next 5 and 10 years there will also be equally important changes. In order for the new ICTs to be useful in schools, they will have to consider whether they are ready or really need to incorporate them.
If, as is already the precedent in Spanish education, they are incorporated in a very disruptive way, the degree of uncertainty will be very high, which could have a negative impact on the school curriculum, since teachers will either not know how to handle them appropriately or will choose not to incorporate them in their classes.
- Amara, R.; Boucher, W. I. (1977). National Science Foundation, ed. The study of the future: an agenda for research. Washington, D.C.: General Post Office. OCLC 3200105
- Amara, R.; Institute for the future (1972). A framework for national science policy analysis. Menlo Park, California: Institute for the Future. OCLC 4484161. P-18. "Reprinted from IEEE transactions on systems, man, and cybernetics, v. SMC-2, no. 1 January 1972".
- Amara, R.; Institute for the future (1973). Draft summaries of four workshops on the social impact of the computer. Menlo Park, California: Institute for the Future. OCLC 709544477
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)