I was thinking of topping off the year with a list of predictions for the coming year (as I've done a couple of times in the past) but instead decided to pull a "Penn and Teller" and reveal the secrets behind the prediction biz. Here are the unwritten rules:

1. The purpose of prediction is publicity.

Financial analysts, futurists, technologists and crystal gazers do not make predictions to warn the public of potential disasters or let the public make better financial decisions. They make predictions for one reason and one reason only: because it gives them visibility which translates into money.

2. Bold predictions get the most publicity.

The more outlandish a prediction, the more likely it will attract attention. For example, "AI will replace 47% of all American jobs" is publicity gold. A more timid but more realistic prediction like "self-driving cars will continue to require a human baby-sitter" is unlikely to get much traction.

3. A bold prediction is evergreen.

As long as you attach a long enough time-frame to a prediction, you can make it year after year after year and get the same amount of publicity. For example, futurist Ray Kurzweil has been predicting that the "singularity" (fully conscious artificial intelligence) will occur in 20 years away... for the past three decades.

4. Make enough predictions and some will come true.

Many futurists play this game, which was pioneered (literally) by crystal gazers in the early 20th century. You make a list of bold predictions long enough so that at least one comes true. You then publicize that prediction and deep six the rest. This is especially effective if you seal the predictions and only reveal the winners at the end of the year.

5. Ambiguous predictions always pan out.

Take, for example, "I predict that there will be at least one example of employee sabotage at a major high tech firm that will damage its stock price." At first glance that sounds impressive, even worrying, but "at least one," "employee sabotage," "major high tech firm," and "damage its stock price" are so vague that there's a 100% chance some event will match them.

6. You will not be held to account.

Regardless of what you predict, your reputation will not suffer an iota if your predictions are completely wrong. Case in point: the "economist" Larry Kudlow has apparently never made a market prediction that's panned out; nevertheless, he's now a top financial advisor in the Trump administration.

As I wrap up this column, it occurs to me that I might take this opportunity to predict that now that I've revealed the secrets of predicting the future, we'll see, by the end of 2019, a sharp increase in both the number of "futurists" and the number of bold but vague predictions.

Happy New Year to one and all.

Published on: Dec 31, 2018
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