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Predicting the future is notoriously hard, and that seems to have so far discouraged potential authors and readers alike. He writes that: Some say that there is little point in trying to foresee the non-immediate future.But in fact there have been many successful forecasts of this sort.
“A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.” Where Watkins is right, he is generally listing a cool technology slightly beyond what was available to his time and predicting we will have it. Yet this is Hanson’s example of accurate futurology.It accurately predicted population, was 80% correct for computer and communication technology, and 50% correct for other technology (Albright 2002).On even longer time scales, in 1900 the engineer John Watkins did a good job of forecasting many basic features of society a century later (Watkins 1900) […] Some say no one could have anticipated the recent big changes associated with the arrival and consequences of the World Wide Web.He believes there will be “peas as large as beets” and “strawberries as large as apples” (these are two separate predictions; he is weirdly obsessed with fruit and vegetable size).We will travel to England via giant combination submarine/hovercrafts that will complete the trip in a lightning-fast two days.Everything Tolkien wrote is Tolkienesque in a non-tautological sense.This isn’t meant to denounce either writer as boring. They produced a range of brilliant and diverse ideas.Yet participants in the Xanadu hypertext project in which I was involved from 1984 to 1993 correctly anticipated many key aspects of the Web […] Such examples show that one can use basic theory to anticipate key elements of distant future environments, both physical and social, but also that forecasters do not tend to be much rewarded for such efforts, either culturally or materially.This helps to explain why there are relatively few serious forecasting efforst.And he is right to make it his example of accurate futurology, because everything else is even worse. He starts by saying that “conditional on my key assumptions, I expect at least 30% of future situations to be usefully informed by my analysis.Unconditionally, I expect at least 10%.” So he is not explicitly overconfident.