As for the future, our task is not to forecast it, but to enable it
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
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Black swans

Summary

During the sixties, futurologist were announcing the leisure society. An evidence to come: the computer would take over all repetitive work and especially administrative work! One or two days of work per week at the most...

Nobody imagined the explosive multiplication of administrative work which the computer made happen ;'))

Why can't we predict the future?

We forget our history

More precisely: We forget our past appreciation before the Black Swan, before the unexpected event

Few remember the fears of the sixties to have the "Soviets", the "Communists" take over Western Europe..

Nobody expected Gorbachev and the subsequent opining of the iron curtain! And the economic difficulties of the "scientific socialism".. The Soviet Union had just launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1..

Anticipating the future?

Predicting the future is easy with a dice! But how about reality ?

When we throw a dice, we know that the number of points will be between one and six!

As each figure has the same chance to fall, we can use probability calculation!

Predicting the future is most of all imaging what could happen! That's the most difficult part of the job!

Even today, we tend to believe that all swans are white. The swan represents romantic purity, nearly the immaculate conception!

Humanity discovered black swans. However we still tend to reason as if all swans were white.

To prove a "truth" is wrong, you just need one counter-example! And thousands of verifications and checks made loose instantly their value.

Black Swans

Black Swans symbolize our constant inability to predict¨and to anticipate the future. Today, it is certain that this will not change. Nassim Taleb is a professor in the sciences of Uncertainty who coined this term. Nassim Nicholas Taleb combined practical and theoretical elements in his work:

  • He used the work of Benoît Mandelbrot on fractals. Fractals are a mathematical theory explaining among others the butterfly-effect. A small variation in conditions can have tremendous consequences on a relatively short notice.
  • Nassim Taleb made a fortune at Wall-street as a trader. His academic work reflects his practical experience, his perception that we can't predict the future.

Power does not bring wisdom

Humanity got used since thousands of years that mother nature is so strong that man made catastrophes do not matter in the long run!

Today this idea is wrong ! Our physical and industrial power has tremendously increased

  • One of the six atomic reactors of Fukushima I had a power of 784 Megawatts. This corresponds to one billion horse power. To match the power of one of these nuclear reactors, the whole human population would have to combine all its forces. This would last a few minutes at the most..

  • Widespread traveling enabled the propagation of AIDS in the whole world within a few years. And the propagation over the whole European Union of the mad cow disease and now again of the bacteria E.coli(Eceh) is also a consequence of the wide-spread transport of meat and vegetables.

Globalization

Globalization has similar effects on the economic level

  • The US Department of Defense (DoD) discovered that his two main suppliers of micro-processors, Intel and AMD had subcontracted the development of the same important part of the production of lithographical masks in India. And the two main US concurrents had unknowingly contracted with the same indian supplier.

  • financial monde financier, x times the value of world changing hand within a day!

Thus we live in a world of a startling complexity with multiple known and unknown interactions. No wonder that predictions are only reliable when nothing unforeseeable happens ;)

How we deal with Black Swans

The answer to a Black Swan is invariably: "Oh yes, it was not possible to anticipate this one!".

As all passed civilizations, we only master partially our life. it is not possible to predict a black swan, but there will always be unforeseen events.

And we are not aware that major unforeseen events have a larger impact on our life than the daily, foreseeable, microscopical trends!