Predicting the Future in Science, Economics, and Politics
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Predicting the Future in Science, Economics, and Politics

Edited by Frank Whelon Wayman, Paul R. Williamson, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Solomon Polachek

It is a puzzle that while academic research has increased in specialization, the important and complex problems facing humans urgently require a synthesis of understanding. This unique collaboration attempts to address such a problem by bringing together a host of prominent scholars from across the sciences to offer new insights into predicting the future. They demonstrate that long-term trends and short-term incentives need to be understood in order to adopt effective policies, or even to comprehend where we currently stand and the sort of future that awaits us.
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Chapter 10: Glimpses of the future

John Holland


The problems that interest me involve most of the buzzwords you hear in the daily news: innovation, Internet, global trade, equity markets, sustainable human growth, ecosystems, and the immune system (Box 10.1). I would like to take a step back to see if there are common traits in these systems that will aid us in predicting their future impact. Each of these problems involves a system that consists of many interacting individuals or components. Moreover, in each case, the individuals or components adapt their strategies or actions as they interact; that is, they learn (Figure 10.1). I will use the term “agent” to designate the components, and I will call the system as a whole a complex adaptive system (cas). I will use the term “adaptation” to include both long-term changes, such as the gene modifications involved in speciation, and shorter-term changes, such as learning in the immune system or the central nervous system. The combination of interaction and adaptation makes it difficult to predict the aggregate behavior of a cas.

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