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Paul Saffo on Forecasting

Brand & SaffoPaul Saffo gave the Long Now Seminar tonight. Here are some of his more telling observations:

The biggest mistake a forecaster can make is to be more certain than the facts suggest.

When changes cluster at the extremes, it's a certain bet that more fundamental change lies ahead.

The future constantly arrives late and in unexpected ways.

Good "backsight" is necessary for good foresight.

Cherish failure -- we fail our way into the future.


Cherish failure -- we fail our way into the future.

The only failures we can cherish in good conscience are the ones whose costs are fairly shared. The same should be true of successes. This dimension falls out of our technodevelopmental sloganeering too often, typically to make way for technocratic genuflections to "risk-taking" and "innovation" to console the "investor class" for their heroic efforts on the behalf of humanity and short term profit-taking.

Unless we are clear about just who is "succeeding" and who is "failing," exactly when risks are taken and mistakes are made, unless these are not uncontextualized abstractions, then there is good reason to be suspicious as well about the uncontextualized abstract "we" who are presumably failing into futurity in this aphorism.

My point isn't only a sanctimonious demand for charity before cherishing, by the way, since it is also true that with more fairness comes more foresight.

It is most true that failures drive insight and build knowledge when people are not insulated by privilege from the costs of failure and when the participation of many is elicited by the fact that people are not excluded by the lack of privilege from the benefits of success.


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