The great Paul Saffo – formerly the director of the Institute for the Future - shared with Wired some of his tips on how to predict the future. He reacts on four indicators: contradictions, inversions, oddities, and coincidences.
When looking for the future, theory is easy and practice is hard. One rule is that it is much easier to foresee things when you are not trying: actively looking for contradictions or coincidences is hard. But keeping these triggers in the back of your mind will help. Next time you stumble on one of these, ask yourself what could be hiding behind…
There are four indicators I look for: contradictions, inversions, oddities, and coincidences. In 2007 stock prices and gold prices were both soaring. Usually you don’t see those prices high at the same time. When you see a contradiction like that, it means more fundamental change is ahead.
The second indicator is an inversion, where you see something that’s out of place. When the Mexican police captured the head of a drug cartel, in the photos the perpetrators were looking proudly at the camera while the cops were wearing ski masks. Usually it’s the reverse. To me that was an indicator that Mexico was very far from winning its war against the cartels.
Then there are oddities. When the Roomba robot vacuum was introduced in 2002, all the engineers I know were very excited, and I don’t recall them owning vacuums. I said, this is damn strange. This is not about cleaning floors, this is about scratching some kind of itch. It’s about something happening with robots.
Finally, there are coincidences. At the fourth Darpa Grand Challenge in 2007, a bunch of robots successfully drove in a simulated suburb. The same day, there was a 118-car pileup on a California highway. We had robots that understand the California vehicle code better than humans, and a bunch of humans crashing into each other. That said to me, really, people shouldn’t drive.