By Patrick Moriarty

Futurists often appear to be divided into two camps: one group put their efforts into forecasting, while the other group insist that the future is ours to plan—decide on a desirable future and then devise policies to get there. But my thesis is that the dichotomy is false, because unless much of the future can be predicted with reasonable confidence, planning the future would be impossible.
Partial predictability is possible for three reasons. First, we have discovered biophysical laws which help us accurately predict future states of the world. Second, there is the permanence of physical land forms, and to a lesser extent, built infrastructure. Urban infrastructure is expensive to build, and can (and does) last for a century or more [[Moriarty and Honnery 2012]] ( Third, much human behavior is predictable, because it is codified into laws, or social customs. Motorists nearly always stop at red traffic lights. Without this partial predictability we would live in a nightmare world.
The real future prediction problem arises because along with our improved understanding of the biophysical world comes the power to modify it. For example, future climate now depends increasingly on human actions, because of our massive intervention in natural processes.


I have a couple of objection on Moriarty's arguments. First, although some human behavior can be predicted, customs and social laws change over time, this is a basic understanding we take from the study of Ethics and History. Second, the commitment towards built infrastructure varies from country to country. Third, planning is essentially a creative activity committed to the transformation of reality according to that society decisions.
Thus, we can try to predict, yes, but only for a given set of premises. However, to plan is also to specify by which premises a society is willing to live by.

Marcos Thadeu Queiroz Magalhaes · 17 Apr, 2015

Another factor that is often overlooked is that change is non-linear and in most areas, accelerating. While we all acknowledge this accelerating rate of change, few take this into consideration in futuristic predictions. When on an asymptotic curve, it is like climbing with many blind summits. Just when we think we have reached a climactic ridge, we find there is more beyond.

David Topps · 13 May, 2017
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Patrick Moriarty



Published: 8 Mar, 2015

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