Eschatologist #12: Predictions
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Many people use the occasion of the New Year to make predictions about the coming year. And frankly, while these sorts of predictions are amusing, and maybe even interesting, they’re less useful than you might think.
Some people try to get around this problem by tracking the accuracy of their predictions from year to year, and assigning confidence levels (i.e. I’m 80% sure X will happen vs. being 90% sure that Y will happen). This sort of thing is often referred to as Superforecasting. These tactics would appear to make predicting more useful, but I am not a fan.
At this point you might be confused: how could tracking people’s predictions not ultimately improve those predictions? For the long and involved answer you can listen the 8,000 words I recorded on the subject back in April and May of 2020. The short answer is that it focuses all of the attention on making correct predictions rather than making useful predictions. A useful prediction would have been: there will eventually be a pandemic and we need to prepare for it. But if you want to be correct you avoid predictions like that because most years there won’t be a pandemic and you’ll be wrong.
It leaves out things that are hard to predict. Things that have a very low chance of happening. Things like black swans. You may remember me saying in the last newsletter that:
Because of their impact, the future is almost entirely the product of black swans.
If this is the case what sorts of predictions are useful? How about a list of catastrophes that probably will happen, along with a list of miracles which probably won’t. Things we should worry about and also things we can’t look forward to. I first compiled this list back in 2017, with updates in 2018, 2019, and 2020. So if you’re really curious about the specifics of each prediction you can look there. But these are my black swan predictions for the next 100 years:
General artificial intelligence, something duplicating all of the abilities of an average human (or better), will never be developed.
A complete functional reconstruction of the brain will turn out to be impossible. For example slicing and scanning a brain, or constructing an artificial brain.
Artificial consciousness will never be created. (Difficult to define, but let’s say: We will never have an AI who makes a credible argument for its own free will.)
Immortality will never be achieved.
We will never be able to upload our consciousness into a computer.
No one will ever successfully be returned from the dead using cryonics.
We will never establish a viable human colony outside the solar system.
We will never have an extraterrestrial colony of greater than 35,000 people.
Either we have already made contact with intelligent exterrestrials or we never will.
War (I hope I’m wrong about all of these)
Two or more nukes will be exploded in anger within 30 days of one another.
There will be a war with more deaths than World War II (in absolute numbers, not as a percentage of population.)
The number of nations with nuclear weapons will never be fewer than it is right now.
There will be a natural disaster somewhere in the world that kills at least a million people
The US government’s debt will eventually be the source of a gigantic global meltdown.
Five or more of the current OECD countries will cease to exist in their current form.
This list is certainly not exhaustive. I definitely should have put a pandemic on it back in 2017. Certainly I was aware, even then, that it was only a matter of time. (I guess if you squint it could be considered a natural disaster…)
To return to the theme of my blog and this newsletter:
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
I don’t think we’re going to be saved by black swans, but we could be destroyed by them. If the summer is over, then as they say, “Winter is coming.” Perhaps when we look back, the pandemic will be considered the first snowstorm…
I think I've got COVID. I'm leaving immediately after posting this to go get tested. If this news inspires any mercy or pity, consider translating that into a donation.