Forecasting the future

I’ve mentioned this lecture series before, but the Long Now Foundation had two recent lecturers, Paul Saffo and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, give us their takes on forecasting future trends.

Paul Saffo gives us his rules for forecasting, starting off with a great description of the “cone of uncertainty” that is involved in any sort of forecasting.  He goes on to discuss how humans get the future so wrong – among them are the linear expectations we have, whereas change isn’t linear, but instead moves in more of an “S” curve.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb gave a very humorous talk on how change happens.  He’s got a book out called “The Black Swan,” a book I’ve ordered and look forward to reading.  The title comes from the old European idea that swans were only white, therefore things that were impossible were “as likely as a black swan,” this phrase being enshrined in Shakespearean dialogue, among others.  Until people got to Australia.  They’ve got black swans.

Taleb’s talk focused on the human bias in forecasting – how we use data solely taken from survivors and success stories.  Everyone wants to hear how so-and-so made millions in the dot-com boom-and-you-can-too, but no one wants to hear how my Uncle Ernie lost a million bucks.  Especially if you’re interested in his descriptions of the psychology involved, “Mediocristan” and “Extremistan” are fascinating topics.

Give the blogs a read, and there are certainly worse ways you can spend a couple hours than by listening to the podcasts on the way to work (Taleb and Saffo).

(image via flickr user kamoda)