A “black swan event”, as described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, is an event that is difficult to predict due to rarity, can cause widespread impact, and is explained or justified later in a way that make it seem to have retroactive continuity. I justed started reading his book describing such events. I pondered a bit about things like 9/11, the start of WWII, the invention of the Internet, or the namesake event the discovery of the black swan. Why are these are so difficult to predict (why ornithologists matter enough to name a kind of event is beyond me)?
I pondered about the prediction mechanism intrinsic to the human mind. It is my understanding that for all actions we take, our mind has a model, a prediction, of how it will play out. For most actions this is simple and automatic. Pick up a nearby object. Before you did, you had an estimate of how much resistance that object would provide, maybe some information about how it would feel in your hand. If your actual experience is different, then you will know that something is off. However, your brain primarily exists to decide how you move. As a person moves through childhood they create, and later in adulthood refine, their internal model for movement. Automatically our minds do this with all our movements.
What would happen if this same amount of effort were put in predicting our larger scale decisions. I know many who put their faith in god, or simply accept that they cannot understand the world, rather than try to make a real impact. I see no reason why effort in this regard couldn’t help us develop decision making abilities as refined as our ability to walk down a path.
I will make predictions. Many will be wrong, and those failures will force me to look at new information in new ways. Occasionally I will get some right, this could mean I am lucky or it could mean I am getting better at understanding what makes a good prediction.
Here is a simple prediction of tomorrow: My work in the tech support call center will be more heavily focused on supporting our Canadian financial customers than would normally be expected. I will be busier than past holidays and I will not be asked to do any special tasks. I say this because most of my customers will still be on vacation, and the large amount of Canadian shoppers on Boxing day will stress the kinds of financial systems I support. Most of the managers will be out on vacation so special tasks will be unlikely.
Here is the prediction for the near future: SOPA, if passed in its current form will be a black swan event. There will be chaos in the IT industry and immediately legal and illegal channels will be used to combat it. There will be unpredictable casualties in the form of censorship, commerce disruption, boycotts, maybe even the creation of a non-DNS naming system which could cost untold billions to implement. The IT sector has never been so unified on an piece of American Politics. Even with recent GoDaddy Shenanigans, there is a very small minority of IT companies that are pro-SOPA. With the entire Business Software Alliance against it hopefully it will not pass. If it does, strange things will happen to the Internet, commerce and the flow of information worldwide will be altered because of the amount of American control over DNS. The strange occurrences will catch people who aren’t IT professionals completely off guard.