futurism

Future Forecast: Roundup of Scattered Probabilities

[The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse, c. 1902]

While thinking about forecasting the future, I collected a few short-term predictions for the year ahead worth kicking around a bit. After gazing deeply into my crystal ball, I added a few predictions of my own.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center at NOAA forecasts below-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest along with higher than average temperatures in the Southwest through Summer 2013. Looks like rainfall across areas stricken by drought in 2012 might be normal, but this will not overcome the soil moisture deficit.

My prediction: Beef, pork, and milk prices will remain high or increase — and that’s before any weirdness in pricing due to changes in federal regulations after the so-called “fiscal cliff.” And the U.S. government, both White House and Congress, will continue to do even less than the public expects when it comes to climate change.

The European Commission predicted the UK will lead economic recovery in the EU with a meager 0.9% growth rate anticipated in 2013. The southern portion of the EU is expected to continue to struggle while the rest of the EU stagnates.

My prediction: More mumbling about breaking up the EU, with just enough growth to keep at bay any action to that effect. Silvio Berlusconi will continue to provide both embarrassment and comedic relief to Italy and the EU. (What are they putting in that old freak’s pasta? Or are they doping his hair color?)

In September, the Federal Reserve Bank forecast slowish growth in the U.S. through 2013. Did they take into account the lame duck status of an already lethargic and incompetent Congress in this prediction? Did the Fed Reserve base this forecast on a Romney or an Obama win? This forecast seems oddly optimistic before November’s election.

My prediction: All bets are off now, since the over-long backbiting and quibbling over the so-called fiscal cliff has eroded public sentiment. Given the likelihood of increased food prices due to the 2012 global drought, the public will feel more pain in their wallet no matter the outcome of fiscal cliff negotiations, negatively affecting consumer sentiment. The only saving grace has been stable to lower gasoline prices due to lower heating oil demand–the only positive outcome of a rather warm winter to date.

An analyst forecast Apple sales of iPads will equate nearly 60 percent of the total tablet market in 2013. As an owner of AAPL stock, I rather liked this. Unfortunately, that prediction was made in October, before the release of the iPad Mini. The stock market had something entirely different to say about the forecast–more like a bitchslap to the tune of nearly $200 decline per share between October and year-end. *Ouch!* Not all of that was based on the market’s rejection of the forecast on iPad Mini sales, though; much of that fall was related to the gross failure of Apple’s map application launched alongside the iPhone 5.

My prediction: I will continue to bemoan the failure to sell some AAPL stock in September 2012, while many of you will continue to buy Apple products. I thank you buyers in advance for trying so hard to boost my spirits and bolster my kids’ college fund in the coming year. Oh, and Google Maps will continue to eat at market share; it’s going to be a while before Apple recovers from its epic map failures. Conveniently, there’s GOOG stock in the kids’ college fund, too.

What about you? Are any of these predictions worth the pixels with which they’re presented?  What do you predict for the year ahead? Do tell.

Future Forecast: Ignoring Half the Picture Yields Surprisingly Poor Results

[adapted: Magic 8-Ball by Andres Rueda via Flickr]

[Adapted: Magic 8-Ball by Andres Rueda via Flickr]

It’s that time of year when we not only take a look backward, but a look forward to the future. Unfortunately in doing so, we rely heavily on so-called experts, whose vision suffers from two fundamental limitations:

  • They’re overwhelmingly male; their viewpoints are published more frequently than those of women;
  • They depend frequently on male-dominated science and technology in constructing their forecasts, rather than looking at shifts in human conditions.

Once a upon a time in my career, I rubbed shoulders with futurists, both in corporate visioning and in business intelligence. They made a few eye-opening predictions that I pooh-poohed at the time. In 1999 one futurist told me that fuel cell technology wouldn’t be commercialized for more than 10 or 15 years. Another report circa 2000 predicted the U.S. would become a rogue nation because of its hegemonic power.

I laughed off both of those forecasts at the time. You’ll note, however, none of our government’s unilaterally killing drones use fuel cells as power sources.

In spite of the occasional spot-on prediction, many of the forecasts I’ve read or seen made as part of scenario planning have not come to pass. They remain years and decades away if they haven’t already become impossible or irrelevant. Why are future outcomes so notoriously nebulous?

During the dozen-plus years since I first worked with futurists and participated in scenario planning sessions, I’ve wised up and learned a few things, key to understanding the lameness of most futurists’ forecasts.

1) It’s really difficult for most organizations to see outside their own self-constructed silos built on the expertise of their products and services. They hire and promote subject-matter experts and look to them for forecasts. Because of internal feedback loops, organizations become blind to barriers so that their members really can’t see with specificity beyond 2-5 years. Asking folks in formal organizations to make forecasts about their own work, even with well-trained facilitators, is extremely difficult. Barriers within their own organizations may be invisible to them as well, ex. internal politics, or other activities deliberately hidden from view.

2) Organizations are often blind to their own social capital. If members within groups are uniformly unchallenged by barriers within and without their business lives, they may not see bumps in the road that thwart everybody else outside their group.

3) Outsiders who speculate on future activities of organizations while relying on publicly available information from within these groups may suffer from the same siloed and blinkered vision.

4) Predictions tend to follow the quantifiable, where the money as well as expectation exist—in science and technology. Unfortunately, scientists are loathe to make guarantees; they give percentages and odds, but not absolute assurances. Forecasts are only as good as the current understanding of science and technology, within some margin of error. Futurists often round up, encouraging excessive optimism.

These factors may explain why futurists’ predictions may ignore realities that grip nearly half of the humans on earth, while rendering so many of their forecasts inert.

Even factoring in the biases that shape forecasts, the future imagined can be far too tidy, . The gritty truths of the human condition and all its volatility are too neatly removed, parceled off outside the field of speculation. Continue reading

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