Scientists try to predict future (again), historians not so sure

Nature journal has this piece:

Scientists are now using mainframe computers to analyze patterns in history in order to predict the future.

For the past 15 years, Turchin has been taking the mathematical techniques that once allowed him to track predator–prey cycles in forest ecosystems, and applying them to human history. He has analysed historical records on economic activity, demographic trends and outbursts of violence in the United States, and has come to the conclusion that a new wave of internal strife is already on its way1. The peak should occur in about 2020, he says, and will probably be at least as high as the one in around 1970. “I hope it won’t be as bad as 1870,” he adds.

It reminds me of the attempt by Wall Street financial wizards to produce complex mathematical instruments that would compensate for future risks. One of the most successful physicists turned “Quant” was Emanuel Derman, whose autobiography should be read by anyone interested in the 2008 financial crisis.

“The more I look at the conflict between markets and theories, the more that limitations of models in the financial and human world become apparent to me.” (Financial Times, November 18, 2004)

What struck me most was his sense of bewilderment at the end of his memoir.  He acknowledged his naive assumption, shared by droves of scientists, that the laws of physics and math could somehow predict the messy world of human nature.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s