The Editor's Desk: Predictions can be perilous

Jan. 1, 2000
Foreseeing the future is a precarious activity at the best of times, and history is littered with the carcasses of failed predictions.

Foreseeing the future is a precarious activity at the best of times, and history is littered with the carcasses of failed predictions. Nonetheless, in one form or another, fortune tellers or prophets date back to the very earliest days of civilization, and their perceived ability to foretell the future often has been highly prized, sometimes earning them an exalted position in their society. It's not so different in today's high-tech world—although we have developed all sorts of benchmarks against which to measure prognosticators—and the most successful are generally well rewarded, especially in the financial world. Now, as we move into the next millennium, the world is full of new or revised predictions, from those that foretell the end of the world on New Year's Eve to those that fret about global warning.

I must admit, I find it difficult to take many of these forecasts seriously, however—and not just because they are tied to the dawning millennium. I can't help but recall the many opinions received several years ago when I first started working with the Laser Focus World Annual Market Review and Forecast. Apart from a few diehard optimists, the majority of comments from inside and outside our industry were along the lines of "who in their right mind would invest serious money in the laser industry?" Today, I am sure, some of those people must be kicking themselves very hard.

This year, we expect that the global laser market will grow 28% in revenues during 2000, topping $6 billion (see p. 92)—dizzying heights for a device that, less than 40 years ago, was described derisively as a solution looking for a problem to solve. Semiconductor lasers will account for almost 70% of the total (in revenues) and are steadily working their way into markets previously the domain of high-end nondiode lasers, such as materials processing. Even in applications not well served by diode lasers, they may still play a key role as pump sources for solid-state devices.

Although telecommunications is the primary driver of this global growth—and it will dwarf most other laser applications for a long time to come—there are other intriguing markets on the horizon. New laser-based imaging techniques are emerging (see p. 115), there is still hope for holographic data storage (see p. 209), and microelectrical mechanical systems (MEMS) devices promise micromachines that can go where no macro-sized machine has previously been able (see p. 127). All this assumes, of course, that the world did not end at midnight on the Eve of 2000 . . . Happy New Year from all of us at Laser Focus World.

P.S. There is still time to register for the Laser Marketplace Seminar 2000 at Photonics West on Jan. 26. Call Carole Root at (603) 891-9138 or e-mail [email protected].

About the Author

Stephen G. Anderson | Director, Industry Development - SPIE

 Stephen Anderson is a photonics industry expert with an international background and has been actively involved with lasers and photonics for more than 30 years. As Director, Industry Development at SPIE – The international society for optics and photonics – he is responsible for tracking the photonics industry markets and technology to help define long-term strategy, while also facilitating development of SPIE’s industry activities. Before joining SPIE, Anderson was Associate Publisher and Editor in Chief of Laser Focus World and chaired the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar. Anderson also co-founded the BioOptics World brand. Anderson holds a chemistry degree from the University of York and an Executive MBA from Golden Gate University.    

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