Edited by Frank Whelon Wayman, Paul R. Williamson, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Solomon Polachek
Chapter 18: Predicting the future to shape the future
The urge to predict has occupied a prominent place in history since the dawn of humanity. Whether gazing at the stars, untangling sheep entrails, or praying to the gods, the human story entails trying to anticipate the future and maybe even change it. The undertakings in this book are, in that sense, part of a long line of efforts to devise ways to foretell, to anticipate, and to prepare for what is to come. Yet, its contributors tackle the problems of prediction in a manner completely unlike those who sought revelation in omens and portents. While breaking sharply with the fortune-teller, soothsayer approach to prediction, still ours is not an entirely new effort. We can go back at least to some of the important Greek mathematicians, such as Pythagoras or Zeno, and certainly to the founders of the modern scientific method, people such as Galileo, Hobbes, Boyle, Newton, Lavoisier, and Priestley, as well as Fermat and Pascal, and find in them a keen desire to predict, but to predict based on the rigors of logic and evidence rather than divination. That has been the mission here, to investigate what rigorous logic and equally rigorous uses of evidence can do to help uncover the likely paths of the future and the likely mechanisms to redirect those paths. In this chapter, I hope to elucidate two sets of issues related to using science to predict and to engineer the future.
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