Skip to Content

Long Now Talk: Embracing Uncertenty in Forecasting

When you do an MM (Materials Maintenance) implementation in a company, one of the most interesting things is the first live MRP (Materials Requirements Planning) run. It is testing the correctness of your forecasting models. Will it fill your warehouse with too much or not enough product for your orders as well as for your production? This is one of the reasons why I am fascinated by the science of forecasting.

One of the advantages of living in the Bay Area is that there are great mind expanding events happening almost every week. Last Friday was one of them where Paul Saffo talked about Effective Forecasting. Therefore forecasting larger trends then what an MRP run is covering. The advantage of modern technology is that you can watch from your computer via the internet. Check out the videos ofpast seminars. This one will be up there soon too.

I was a bit late and missed the first third of the speech, arrived when he talked about indicators that you should pay attention to. By paying attention you will recognize them. When later asked how he does it, he said he is always carrying a camera and is writing a journal. 

Example for a future indicator was one that I heard him say before that 2/3 of all Roomba owners give their little vacuum robot a name. We will have a social relationship with our robots. I think that this is currently on a stuffed animal, pet level, but with greater sophistication we will recognize them as having a self. It is going to be interesting.

An other example was the coincidence with the DARPA Urban Challenge, where the Cornell University won this year with their computer driven car in a simulated Urban environment. At the same time just 250 miles north there was a 108 car pileup. The firemen at the front of the accident later reported that they were at the scene and could still here cars crashing into each other way back..

A leading indicator that humans should not drive cars. The prognosis is, that by 2030 half of all miles driven by car will be by robots/computers. 

To do good forecasting look back twice as far as you would like to forecast. Review mirror is a good tool to predict the future.

Backsight (or was it backside 😉 is the secret to foresight.

Every 10 years a technical revolution is dominating and defining that decade: Cheap microprocessor in the 80s enabled PC. Communications lasers: 90s access. Cheap sensors which enable robots. Therefore next big thing are Robots. Well, we just started 2008 and I don’t see to many robots beside the Roomba penetrating in my world yet. Therefore I think this prediction will come true in the next decade. 

Another principle: Cherish failure
Most of Silicon Valley is built on the rubble of failure. Example is Habitatan early online rule playing game developed by Lucasfilm. It had all the elements of Second Life in 1985 and was just very, very slow.

Great ideas need 20 years to come to fruition. If you don’t want to wait that long, just check out and focus on things that failed 20 years ago. 

When forecasting be indifferent: Don’t confuse the desired with the likely outcome.

I didn’t know that the doomsday scenario book The Late Great Planet Earth of Hal Lindsey was the second most sold book in America in the 70s. I grew up in Germany and I never even heard of the guy or book.

Forecast often. When you forecast, assume you are wrong, come to a conclusion as fast as you can, then try to shoot it down. If you don’t do it someone else will.


Embrace Uncertainty. It is opportunity, it is our friend. 

Paul Saffo and Stuard Brand at the Long Now Seminar

Q&A portion where Stuart Brand asks him questions from the audience:
He is convinced that the real climate change has not even started. What do we do regarding it?
Two camps
Druids: We got to solve this problem by aligning us with the planet again. Work towards smaller footprint.
Engineers: We have to go faster to out-engineer the problems ahead. 
He is not sure which camp he is in.

The nation state is about to fall apart. There will be no nations as we know it by the middle of this century. In China the most powerful people are the city mayors. It is unfortunate that the nation state is crumbling when you need it to do the heavy lifting regarding climate change.

Paul is agnostic regarding Accelerated Change.
People are stubborn, for something to really change it needs 20 years to get the current holders of power off the stage and new people with new ideas in. Individual things accelerate and a lot of things are happening which gives us the impression of acceleration, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are accelerating. Check out the excellent book: The Education of Henry Adams(hurray it is in public domain available electronically) He describes the acceleration of change back then. There are also old scribes from the 1500s that lament about the acceleration of time. – So where is it?

Therefore carry a camera, start writing a journal and be open for the signals that are indicating change and embrace it.

Request to the LongNow foundation, please provide open wifi during your sessions. I would have loved to check information and post during the talk.

Something that can’t be done from behind your computer was to walk over to the little LongNow museum for the reception afterwards. It was great to catch up with many people I haven’t seen in a while and to get to know Jay Baldwin of Whole Earth Catalogfame. When I joined the conversation he talked about the influence that Buckminster Fuller had on him. When he was 18 years old he was asked by Buckminster Fuller why he is going to college?  “To get an education, so that I can later make a living.” Bucky replied: “Isn’t it strange that only we humans have to make a living? A squirrel or a bird doesn’t make a living. If you are in sync with your purpose in life you will never have to make a living.” And so Jay did. He followed his purpose, actually worked with Bucky for years and never had to apply for a job in his life. He is in his 70s, going strong teaching at California College of Arts and Crafts. We need more Buckminster Fullers. 

After a couple of months of Future Salon drought, we are kicking off the new year with the Digital Dharma Future Salon. The Path of Consciousness in the Age of the Infosphere. We will webcast, but you get the full experience only if you join us this Friday.

Be the first to leave a comment
You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.