Overcoming Bias asks why people think the future is so absurd. Part of the problem is hindsight bias. If you say “I knew that would happen” for every past event, you lose sight of how unpredictable everything was.


Why is the future more absurd than people seem to expect?

When people look at historical changes and think “I could have predicted X” or “You could have predicted X if you looked at factors 1, 2, and 3”; then they forget that people did not, in fact, predict X, perhaps because they were distracted by factors 4 through 117. People read history books, see coherent narratives, and think that’s how Time works. Underestimating the surprise of the present, they overestimate the predictability of the future.

I’m unsatisfied with the “narrative” version of history. There’s a bit of a story-telling element to it that deceives us as to what really happened. Any narrative is deterministic and has a teleology, which reality lacks.

Economic studies, and similar methods, seem to get a sounder view of history and its unpredictableness. But even they fall into the narrative flaw.

So what type of technology do you expect in 20 years in the future?

technological change feeds on itself, and therefore has a positive second derivative. We should expect more technological change in the future than we have seen in the past, and insofar as technology drives cultural change, we should expect more cultural change too.

There are so many factors and possible paths that almost anything can happen.

It makes the Malthusian scares of the past seem understandable. They extrapolated a current trend linearly into the future. History turned out vastly different than what anyone predicted. Absurd things happened. Not one absurd thing, but many.