About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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Brain Waves

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September 11, 2003

Social Forecasting?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

A bit from my forthcoming book...Brain Wave: Our Emerging Neurosociety

People do a very poor job of predicting the future.  Take Lord Kelvin, the physicist and president of the British Royal Society, who in 1895 insisted, “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Or Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation who in 1977 proclaimed, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” 

Inventors also don’t usually understand the potential of their technologies.  “The phonograph…is not of commercial value,” Thomas Edison declared after he had invented it in 1880. And it’s not just inventors or high tech executives that get it wrong.  People who are supposed to be on the cutting edge of cultural consciousness predict just as poorly, as a Decca Recording Company executive showed in 1962 after turning down the Beatles, “We don’t like their sound.  Groups of guitars are on the way out.”

Even as teams of highly educated professionals we often miss the mark. “A severe depression like that of 1920-1921 is outside the range of probability,” stated the Harvard Economic Society on November 16th 1929, just weeks before the Great Depression began.  Not even the computer scientists working on the Internet in the early 1970s could imagine that it would become a medium of global commerce by the end of the century.

If forecasting a specific event or new technology is difficult, then how is it possible to try to predict where human society will go next? 

Stay tuned...

Comments (2) | Category: NeuroWave 2050


1. Prof.K.Prabhakar on March 14, 2004 8:14 AM writes...

It is true that many events cannot be predicted. That does not mean that we should not attempt at it. We can foresee many trends and the ability to see the invisible only makes the difference between winners and loosers. Microsoft saw the opportunity of PC's while others failed. Therefore social forecasting based on different types of analysis will help us.

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2. Korakot Chaovavanich on July 21, 2004 7:01 AM writes...

This remind me of "Psychohistory" from "Foundation".
Though a single atom can't be predicted, a group of
atoms statistics can be predicted to a certain degree.

If you can find a plane of abstraction that can
accumulate each event's randomness. There aggregrated
randomness can be reduced.

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