Imagining and sharing desires and fears about the future is a way for
May 4, 2013 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Since time immemorial, people have tried to predict the future. In the second half of the 20th century, these efforts grew more ambitious and sophisticated. Improvements in computational power, data gathering, and analysis were all put to work to try to lift the veil on the future. But the last decade has not been kind to futurology. Bankers' and insurers' forecasts of risk turned out to be drastically wrong, torpedoing the financial system and ushering in a long stagnation. Politicians' visions of long-term stable economic growth evaporated. Perhaps relatedly, scathing critiques of our ability to foresee the future rose to the top of bestseller lists. In this newly self-conscious mood, Nesta funded research that tries to get under the surface of different ways of talking about the future. This paper leans on that research, defending some forms of futurology. Accompanying Guardian post on uncertainty being the only certainty.
posted by infini (13 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There's only one true way to predict the future. It's called gambling.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:20 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Man I love gambling.

Ok reading the article now.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:20 AM on May 4, 2013

Bankers' and insurers' forecasts of risk turned out to be drastically wrong, torpedoing the financial system and ushering in a long stagnation.

Futurology suffers frequently from confusion with the related but distinct practice of lying about the future for profit.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:21 AM on May 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Lying in a forecast is just applied meta-futurology. The actual prediction is "Nobody will notice or care until it's too late."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:23 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

[reductive argument that no one can predict the future]
posted by stbalbach at 7:34 AM on May 4, 2013

The model is a useful way to explain the different ways we can approach the future. The data and modelling tools we have available can paint a detailed picture of one outcome, but it can't know everything.

Sure, but (not having made it far into the pdf) what's the alternative? Make up the most outlandish possibility and prepare for that? The whole point of probability is that while nothing is impossible some things are more unlikely than others. If anything our bankers and leaders just need to pay MORE attention to the basic data-driven probabilistic predictions based on sophisticated computer models that we already have, like, say, on climate change? Sure, one model said that a Sandy superstorm was unlikely, but that obviously doesn't equal IMPOSSIBLE. Science fiction scenarios are useful when they are Bruce Sterling, but they make things worse when they are disaster movies, distracting us from the more likely unlikelies. Will a meteor hit the earth? Probably not. Will a disruptive technology emerge in the next 10 years to shake up the business world? Almost certainly.

Sometimes folks can be too Big Picture. Let's just work on getting everyone to agree that science's predictions are more likely than the bible's before getting all fractious over whether we're 78% or 87% sure of exactly how high the arctic melt will raise the ocean level.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:41 AM on May 4, 2013

This wikipedia entry just helped me be more confused about probability. As did this article about Bayesian Epistemology.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:01 AM on May 4, 2013

I knew you would say that!
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:26 AM on May 4, 2013

This thread is going nowhere.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 9:19 AM on May 4, 2013

Looking through the Nesta website it seems to be entirely constructed from buzzwords and I have no idea what they do. 11 people seem to have Innovation in their job title. Take from that what you will. Maybe I just dont get the digitalsocialinnovationcloudeconomy.
posted by Damienmce at 9:40 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also that paper doesn't seem to have any numbers in it or empirical analysis of pass predictions and their success rates. Again take from that what you will. If I was an actuary, I wouldn't throw in the towel just yet.
posted by Damienmce at 9:41 AM on May 4, 2013

the future is/was/shall always be a combination of what we're all stuck doing right now in the day-to-day and how we hope to improve it, what extremely wealthy and powerful people want us to be doing in order to increase their wealth and power, and some random shit nobody's got a handle on.

Want to focus on meaningful change you can effect? Eat the rich.
posted by philip-random at 10:15 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

“It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Yogi Berra
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:28 AM on May 4, 2013

« Older Kerning panic in Amsterdam   |   Music videos from Kevin Ihle. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments