Predicting the Future with Precision

I did do an analysis of the 147 predictions I did for 2009 in my book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, which I wrote in the mid to late 1990’s and it came out with an 86 percentage.  The predictions that were dead-on were ones where I was relying on the basic predictable exponential growth and trajectory of information technology. 


So if I’m predicting, let's say, MIPS per dollar or we’ll have a $1,000 computer that can do such and such, those were very accurate.  As I then ventured into political, social implications, then it’s getting more uncertain.  But I have a different methodology than other futurists, many of whom have no methodology.  And that’s really this discovery I made from this study, which I started 30 years ago, that if you look at these underlying measures of information technology, the quintessential one is MIPS per dollar, per constant dollar, million instructions per second per dollar. There’s many others.  They follow amazingly smooth predictable trajectories.  In the case of MIPS per dollar, it goes back to the 1890 American census.  So nothing had any impact on it. 

People say, “Well, you know, world wars, that must, maybe it accelerates it, but it must have some impact,” but no, it doesn’t, it just goes smoothly through thick and thin, war and peace, boom times and recessions, went through the most recent recession, had no impact, did not slow down, this exponential pace, I mean you can see it with all these new computers coming out, did not slow down by any recession in terms of price performance and capability.

So that’s predictable and that’s what I base my predictions on and it’s a methodology of which has tremendous empirical evidence.  I also have a theoretical case and a mathematical analysis, but that wouldn’t matter so much if the empirical case weren’t so strong.  And I didn’t notice this last week and now I’m kind of over-fitting to past data, which is a common statistical problem.  I started 30 years ago making forward-looking predictions and these curves have tracked amazingly well. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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