678: Researcher Translation

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Researcher Translation
A technology that is '20 years away' will be 20 years away indefinitely.
Title text: A technology that is '20 years away' will be 20 years away indefinitely.


This comic suggests a translation from the statements of the researcher of a potential new technology. For example, these statements might be found in an article in a popular science magazine which highlights some cutting-edge research. It reflects the idea that researchers tend to be too optimistic about the future of their research project.

"The fourth quarter of next year": Even if a technological development seems very close to completion, it could still be canceled by some authority other than the lead researcher. This might be due to poor management, or a poor business plan, or even a poor scientific basis which the researcher is hiding or ignoring.

"Five years": The researcher has solved the interesting scientific problems, and assumes that the concept could be picked up by a business, developed to be usable outside of a research lab, designed into a prototype, have a manufacturing process, marketed, and made available to consumers, in only five years. In reality, a lot of exciting-sounding technology may not reach consumers for many years because of difficulties in the business side of things.

"Ten years": Not only does the researcher assume that the business end of things will go smoothly, they also assume that the rest of their research will go smoothly. In reality, a lot of unforeseen problems could arise during research.

"25+ years": "It has not been conclusively proven impossible" indicates that it has been proven impossible in some context. The researcher simply refuses to accept the impossibility until the proof is conclusive.

"We're not really looking at market applications right now.": In contrast to the above chain of assumptions, in this case the researcher has a working technology but wants to keep it to themselves.

Title text: "20 years away indefinitely": Sometimes the technological or engineering challenges for a certain application seem like they could be overcome in 20 years, but in reality the challenges are very difficult. The more the challenges are studied, the harder they are found to be, although there is always hope that a few more advances will do it. An example is fusion power, which has been conceptualized since at least 1946 as a potentially unlimited source of clean energy, but remained an elusive achievement despite projects such as the National Ignition Facility and ITER. The first commercial plant is still indefinitely 20 years away.

A similar table was shown in 1497: New Products.


If a researcher says a cool
new technology should be
available to consumers in...
What they mean is...
The fourth quarter
of next year
The project will be
canceled in six months.
Five years I've solved the interesting
research problems. The rest is
just business, which is easy, right?
Ten years We haven't finished inventing it
yet, but when we do, it'll be awesome.
25+ years It has not been conclusively
proven impossible.
We're not really
looking at market
applications right now.
I like being the only
one with a hovercar.

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This does explain a lot, doesn't it? --Jolbucley (talk) 03:40, 29 January 2014 (UTC)

Why is this explanation so pessimistic, I don't think this is what Randall was trying to get at. -Vctr

By 2001, we should have lunar colonies and manned missions to the outer planets... Mountain Hikes (talk) 01:07, 17 December 2015 (UTC)

No in 2001 we should have had Spaceships capable of committing murder and regular flights to the moon. Not sure if you would consider that mission to Europa/Jupiter successful. 12:06, 2 August 2017 (UTC)

The first commercial fusion plant is indefinitely 20+ years away? We will ‘’’eventually’’’ get flying cars, lunar colonies, and energy-efficient commercial fusion plants, at least within this century. It has been heavily proven that commercial fusion plants will be technologically capable to deliver energy at a rate above 100% of the energy put into it. Sure, in December ‘09, it was indefinitely 20+ years, but now that estimate is now definite, as thirteen years have come by and research has been done. SilverTheTerribleMathematician (talk) 06:25, 8 December 2022 (UTC)