The Perils of Prediction

As we watch the spectacle of the jackasses in the mainstream media blithely continue to pretend to know what they’re talking about after being repeatedly and stunning wrong in the predictions of the U.S. Presidential primary, it’s worthwhile to look in the mirror. Stephen Downes has a good report card up for those of us who had the audacity to make predictions in last year’s eLearn Magazine‘s annual crystal ball reading. After giving each of us (including himself) a grade, he muses:

So that’s it. What did I learn from all this?

First, that there are two major types of predictions: one, which identifies a current trend, and says it will continue; and the other, that identifies something novel or unexpected. It seems clear that the former predictions are easy and safe and not especially useful. The latter, while not as safe, were much more useful to people.

There are also different types of predictions. Some predictions speak to attitudes. Others speak to trends (including a subset of these that suggest a trend will go mainstream). And still, others speak of technological or system-wide advances. And finally, the most useful predictions identify side-effects – the result of some unexpected event and development. For example: predicting people will want video is one thing, predicting that it will become popular is another, predicting that Flash video will help video become accessible is another, but predicting YouTube is most useful of all.

And third, scale is a tricky issue. There were many predictions that will probably come true – some day. But they did not come true in 2007. We want to reward such predictions, because we feel they are accurate, but unless it happens, it’s just another false prediction. Another trend was a slew (the perpetrators won’t be named) who correctly predicted last year’s event or trend.

Good points all. I try make predictions about areas where I have some personal knowledge of events that maybe not everybody has and to be as aggressive in my predictions as I feel that I realistically can, but I do tend to err on the side of caution.  Sadly, I don’t think I’m nearly smart enough to predict something like YouTube so I generally don’t try to shoot the moon, so to speak. I think it’s good to know one’s own limitations.

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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