Re: Predicting the future

From: Richard Loosemore (
Date: Tue May 02 2006 - 12:01:23 MDT

Kaj Sotala wrote:
>> From Eliezer S. Yudkowsky:
>> But what evidence is there that anyone *can* draw up such rough
>> estimates, accurately? It would be nice to have them, yes; but what
>> makes you think they're available?
> ...I thought I already covered this in the rest of my mail?
> It's perfectly acceptable if there isn't enough information to draw up
> even a rough roadmap of the things still to be done - of course, if
> there isn't enough information to estimate even *that*, then it's
> probably pretty good evidence of technology X still being a looong time
> away (for how can one research anything if they don't even know what to
> research for it?). And, of course, it's also entirely understandable if
> somebody just plain doesn't know enough of the field to make up such
> roadmaps - but in that case they shouldn't be saying that the technology
> is 5-20 years away in the first place.
> The "I really know nothing about this but we'll have thing X in 20
> years" with X being just about every transhuman tech imaginable is the
> main thing I was objecting to, more so than just saying "no clue". (As
> could be seen from the context, since the sentiment I was supporting was
> originally aimed towards the poster who said we'd have nanotech in 5 years)


I think there is some confusion here that is causing several different
types of argument to get tangled up.

1) If there are people with no direct or indirect knowledge of a field
who are making general futurist predictions of the Popular Mechanics
sort, OR general dismissals of the "This Is Not Going To Happen For A
Long Time" sort, then those kinds of analysis are worthless.

2) On the other hand, there are some people who work in a particular
field, or who know the technical side of a field well enough, who can
make more informed judgments about what might be over the horizon.

3) The exact meaning of some of the technologies is often completely
garbled. "Nanotech" used to mean something involving nanoscale
replicating self-assemblers. Today the term has been coopted to mean
various forms of small particle technology, and as a result SOME people
talk about "nanotech" being five years away -- but according to the
original definition of the word, that is nonsense.

Out of all of this comes a confusing mishmash of predictions, some of
which can be validly criticised and some of which can't. Unless we go
to some trouble to separate out the particular predictions and the
particular people making them, it is hopeless to make generalizations
about the value of prediction.

Richard Loosemore.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:56 MDT