The Future of Futurology

The Economist has a nice piece on the future of forcasting. Good reading for the upcoming seminar with Paul Saffo and later with Nassim Taleb. The article does a good job pointing out the value of certain types of short-termism:

The next rule is: think short-term. An American practitioner, Faith Popcorn, showed the way with “The Popcorn Report” in 1991, applying her foresight to consumer trends instead of rocket science. The Popcornised end of the industry thrives as an adjunct of the marketing business, a research arm for its continuous innovation in consumer goods. One firm, Trendwatching of Amsterdam, predicts in its Trend Report for 2008 a list of social fads and niche markets including “eco-embedded brands” (so green they don’t even need to emphasise it) and “the next small thing” (“What happens when consumers want to be anything but the Joneses?”).

It also points out the value in prediction markets which are similar to our project Long Bets, but capitalize on the wisdom of crowds principle where people buy shares in an idea to give it a probability:

The most heeded futurists these days are not individuals, but prediction markets, where the informed guesswork of many is consolidated into hard probability. Will Osama bin Laden be caught in 2008? Only a 15% chance, said Newsfutures in mid-October 2007. Would Iran have nuclear weapons by January 1st 2008? Only a 6.6% chance, said Inkling Markets. Will George Bush pardon Lewis “Scooter” Libby? A better-than-40% chance, said Intrade. There may even be a prediction market somewhere taking bets on immortality. But beware: long- and short-sellers alike will find it hard to collect.

Ironically Long Bets has a bet on living at least 150 years

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The Long Now Foundation is a nonprofit established in 01996 to foster long-term thinking. Our work encourages imagination at the timescale of civilization — the next and last 10,000 years — a timespan we call the long now.

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