Futurist Paul Saffo recently gave a talk “Embracing Uncertainty – the secret to effective forecasting” at the Long Now foundation. The talk (mp3) and Stewart Brand’s summary are online on the Long Now Foundation website. The talk is similar to his article in Harvard Business Review Six Rules for Effective Forecasting (see also Podcast interview). His six rules are:
- Define a Cone of Uncertainty
- Look for the S Curve
- Embrace the Things That Don’t Fit
- Hold Strong Opinions Weakly
- Look Back Twice as Far as You Look Forward
- Know When Not to Make a Forecast
Saffo writes about forecasting:
The role of the forecaster in the real world is quite different from that of the mythical seer. Prediction is concerned with future certainty; forecasting looks at how hidden currents in the present signal possible changes in direction for companies, societies, or the world at large. Thus, the primary goal of forecasting is to identify the full range of possibilities, not a limited set of illusory certainties. Whether a specific forecast actually turns out to be accurate is only part of the picture—even a broken clock is right twice a day. Above all, the forecaster’s task is to map uncertainty, for in a world where our actions in the present influence the future, uncertainty is opportunity.
Unlike a prediction, a forecast must have a logic to it. That’s what lifts forecasting out of the dark realm of superstition. The forecaster must be able to articulate and defend that logic. Moreover, the consumer of the forecast must understand enough of the forecast process and logic to make an independent assessment of its quality—and to properly account for the opportunities and risks it presents. The wise consumer of a forecast is not a trusting bystander but a participant and, above all, a critic.
Photographer Ed Burtynsky has proposal a “The Gallery of the Long Now.” It would compliment the Clock of the Long Now project, now underway. The idea for the clock was hatched over 20 years ago and the goal is to build a clock that can run–by itself–for 10,000 years. The plan is for it be housed in a mountain, protected from the elements – Burtynsky thinks that a gallery would be a great addition.
On the The Long Now Blog Stewart Brand writes about Edward Burtynsky‘s proposal for a 10 000 year art gallery in the Clock of the Long Now (aimed at fostering long-term responsibility) in its Nevada mountain site.
The gallery would consist of art in materials as durable as the alloy steel and jade of the Clock itself, and it would be curated slowly over the centuries to reflect changing interests in the rolling present and the accumulating past.
Photographs in particular should be in the 10,000-year Gallery, Burtynsky said, “because they tell us more than any previous medium. When we think of our own past, we tend to think in terms of family photos.”
The rest of the presentation was of beautiful and evocative photographs from three demonstration exhibits for the proposed gallery—”Museum of the Mundane” by Vid Ingelvics; “Observations from a Blue Planet” by Marcus Schubert; and “In the Wake of Progress” by Burtynsky himself. A typical Burtynsky photograph showed a huge open pit copper mine. A tiny, barely discernible black line on one of the levels was pointed out: “That’s a whole railroad train.” Alberta tar sands excavation tearing up miles of boreal forest. China’s Three Gorges Dam. Mine tailing ponds beautiful and terrible. Expired oil fields stretching to the horizon. Michelangelo’s marble quarry at Carrera, still working.
“This is the sublime of our time,” said Burtynsky, “shown straight on, for contemplation.” Indeed worth studying for centuries.