Convergence 08 Paul Saffo Key Note
15 November 2008 (updated 12 March 2019)
Paul Saffo was the key note speaker on Saturday, and he endeavored to share some principles of forecasting. He began by distinguishing between futurists and forecasters, defining the former as active advocates and the latter as passive observors. He observed that persons looking to the future have a tendency to compress all the exciting things together, but history illustrates that times tend to produce long stretches of dullness. He encouraged questioning of all assumptions. For example, is tech actually converging, or rather is it diverging and producing greater complexity and diversity? Things may turn out other than we think.
He brought up the idea that change trends occur in S curves. There are persons who are surprised by the initial upward inflection point, and there are persons who are surprised by the downward inflection point on the other end of rapid change. He urged cherishing failure. Repeatedly failures may be the flat part of the S curve leading up to the inflection. He also recommended looking back twice as far as we want to predict forward. Rear view mirrors are great forecasting tools if we use them right. Don’t look at specifics. Look for patterns. As examples, he pointed to S curves of processing in 80s (personal computers), connectivity through lasers in 90s (world wide wed and dvds), and a presently emerging revolution in sensors (cameras and others coming together to enable robotic automation).
To conclude, he commented that they who think the longest win. He asked the audience whether they took pride in thinking ahead much further than most persons. Many persons raised their hands. In response, he claimed this audience would be wrong to think ourselves the best long term thinkers. Then, in what turned out to be a controversial matter, he claimed that religious fundamentalists are the best long term thinkers. The race today is among those who would think farthest. Religious fundamentalists are winning the race. Persons like Jesus and Buddha set in motion long term sustainable changes. Of course, the non-religious in the audience didn’t like this idea.