BizEd Magazine - October 2020
Link: BizEd Magazine

Is there any enterprise so human, and so doomed, as the quest to determine the future? Entrepreneur, author, and TED talk presenter Margaret Heffernan looks back on the complex history of forecasting and explains why it is so often wrong—and why we so often fall for it. As Heffernan chronicles the tales of early economic forecasters, including Irving Fisher, Roger Babson, and Warren Persons, she shows how their personal belief systems influenced their theories and how miserably they failed in predicting the Great Depression. In fact, no forecast system can reveal “immutable scientific truths,” she writes, because all of them “are incomplete, ideological, and self-interested.” Even so, people desperately seek ways to peer into the future, causing them to accept as fact predictions that no one has any way of knowing will come true.

Heffernan is particularly troubled by a claim from researchers at the Oxford Martin School that 47 percent of U.S. jobs will disappear to automation by 2035. That statistic has been accepted by many high-level players, she notes, from Bill Gates to attendees at the World Economic Forum. But in fact, few predictions are accurate past a timeline of 150 days, according to teams of forecasters participating in a tournament called the Good Judgment Project. As new technology enables us to gather more and more data, we have become more certain that we know what’s coming next, but that’s a fallacy, she says. “Ineradicable uncertainty remains inherent to human life.” (Avid Reader Press, US$30)