Back when we rode horses for transport, they probably thought they'd get faster through selective breeding, trails through the countryside would gradually improve and saddles would eventually come with cup holders.
Who would have dreamed of sleek metal machines burning liquid fuel that would drive at unimaginable speeds using only a wheel and a few foot pedals?
As history has repeatedly taught us, technologies and traditions advance for a time, but there's usually a sudden shock to the system nobody sees coming, an invention or change that upends entire industries and renders whole product classes obsolete, like ballistics and gunpowder did to swords and arrows and mechanised harvesters did to ox-drawn ploughs.
Watson agrees, saying the biggest mistake would-be experts make is to extend (often personal) recent experience forward in what he calls a 'rather simplistic' manner.
He also talks about phenomena that can give us a skewed or filtered view of the future from our present standpoint – everything from Gartner's hype cycle to the way we tend to talk ourselves into what we already believe (confirmation bias).
"We take little or no account of cycles the inertia of deep history, psychology, combinations of factors or unseen events," Watson says.
Who can say what the cinema industry would be today if there'd been no TV, or marching infantries if we'd never dreamed up the tank (as an aide to a British military commander wrote in 1916; “the idea ... cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd”.)
The internet is the perfect example. It's imposed the biggest changes on economics and technology of anything in the last 50 years, underpinning so much of what we do today that old sci-fi stories written about the early 21st century are hopelessly incomplete without taking the information revolution into account.
For example, take a closer look at air travel – it's actually quite different under the surface. Sure, we still hurtle through the air in pressurised metal tubes at three quarters of the speed of sound, but GPS and ILS make air travel safer than ever – modern planes can take off and land themselves if necessary. Components are made from better-performing materials like carbon fibre.
Even the consumer experience has been transformed. We used to hand over cash at a travel agent or airline counter for a paper ticket that caused a major disaster if we misplaced it. Today you can book a plane ticket without getting out of bed or touching a single piece of paper.
The machine world of cars, planes, factories and fridges might not have changed too drastically (not even when we need them to – can you really imagine Sydney's long-needed second airport happening any time soon?)
But we're retrofitting them with sensors en masse for the Internet of Things, which will overturn many industries as sweepingly as the internet itself has done.
Devices and tools the world over will soon communicate with each other and us and report on performance to save time, money, resources and the environment on a global scale.