Presentist vs. Futurist

Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, has published several lists of lessons he has learned over his lifetime.  One of the most interesting lessons was, "Forget trying to predict the future, we are still trying to predict the present."  As a Futurist I understand Kelly's point!  Perhaps it is time to create the role of Presentist.

As we have all experienced with the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is all but impossible to understand or predict something while you are in the midst of it.  It takes distance, it takes hindsight.  Small changes to the COVID-19 virus can result in variants that exhibit different levels of severity and transmissibility.  Scientist don't know the future until both time and data reveal the patterns.

Along this line, Winston Churchill once said, "The further backward you look, the further forward you can see."  Another voice of experience suggesting it takes a different perspective, often involving both time and distance to reveal the patterns that may impact our future.

One of the notable values of machine learning is the ability to find patterns that were once invisible to humans.  For example, intelligence agencies today, utilize what is called "activity based intelligence.  This is the ability to use UAVs (drones) or other sensors in persistent surveillance to monitor the daily activities and movements of an area as big as a small city.  These observations can then be labeled, analyzed by ML, and tracked over a period of time to discover patterns and identify anomalies to the patterns.  

Discovered anomalies can be important.  For example, why did multiple bad guys with no known connection to each other, from several different locations, all converge on one warehouse during the night and leave together in four cargo trucks?  This is an anomaly worthy of further investigation.

This brings us back to Kevin Kelly's lesson.  Forget trying to predict the future, because we can't even predict the present without more time, data and distance.  Learn from the patterns of the past, and use them to recognize today's anomalies that will influence and alter the patterns of the future.  

Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.


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