The recent visit of SingularityU to New Zealand and TV1’s What’s Next? show have both sparked debate about what the future holds and what it will mean for all of us. While we at Research First are excited about the opportunities it may bring, we feel honour-bound to re-iterate that no-one really knows what the future will hold.
“I go to a lot of conferences (hey, it’s a living) and I have to listen to a lot of speakers. It’s pretty easy to know pretty quickly who the bullshit artists are. They’re the ones who are telling us what the future is going to be like and warning us that we’d better be ready for it or we’ll be left behind… If you’re a buffoon with a Powerpoint and a bag full of clichés stay away from the present. Nothing to see here. Head for the future – it’s your happy place”
But Umberto Eco could have been describing all these futurologists when he said:
“while they seem to act as a thermometer, reporting a rise in temperature, they are actually part of the fuel that keeps the furnace going”.
We’ve talked in the past about the work of Philip Tetlock, and we wish the producers at TV1 or SingularityU spent less time watching TED talks and more time reading Tetlock.
But even a better understanding of the past would help temper these debates about the future. People have been making predictions about what the future will hold (and getting them mostly spectacularly wrong) for hundreds of years. Similarly, every age thinks theirs is an age of disruption.
We like the way Scientific American put it when it noted
“futurology has always bounced around between common sense, nonsense and a healthy dose of wishful thinking”.
But we prefer the point John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge made in a different context, when they said
“even if it’s not all bullshit, enough of it is to disqualify the rest”.
Keep that in mind the next time someone drops the word ‘disruption’ into a presentation