5 Predictions From Nassim Taleb for 2036

Nassim Taleb

Nassim Taleb has cautioned readers about making predictions for years, but now he’s making a few of his own. Taleb wrote for The Economist: “Paradoxically, one can make long-term predictions on the basis of the prevalence of forecasting errors.” In other words, Taleb believes that all contemporary systems that rely on faulty forecasting methods will fail. From this, he makes a few predictions (and some I’m not sure are really based on this thesis).

The following predictions are from Taleb’s The World in 2036 article for The Economist:

Nation-States Will Be Replaced by City-States

Taleb argues that nation-states will be only “cosmetically alive” due to the problems inherent in centralization, especially central banking. He expects future currencies to be pegged to something non-government controlled, like gold, and for city-states to takeover the functional role of government.

I actually mostly agree with this, except the gold standard (I don’t think it’s ever coming back). I’ve changed my mind since The Death of the Nation State? Renegade Futurist Round Table, but I’ll go into that in a future article. I don’t think the end of nation-states will be due to fiscal imprudence or “centralization” – I think they’re being hollowed out by corruption. I think the equivalent of city-states will be dominant in most of the world (it may already be happening in Asia), but “mega-regions” will be the dominant paradigm in the United States.

Large, “Debt-Laden” Companies Listed on Exchanges Will Be Gone

I have a hard time believing this. Not because I believe the current corporate system makes sense, but because these institutions have so much power. Agribusiness, finance, the car industry, the defense industry and the airline industry all exist by extorting money from the US public via the government. It doesn’t matter how unsustainable their exoteric business models are, exploitation is a time-honored business model. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, sadly. If they do fall, it will be due to interference from foreign cartels from countries like Russia.

Most Technologies Older Than 25 Years Will Still Be Around

I’m not sure how Taleb is predicting this, as it doesn’t seem to be based on any forecasting method. Taleb mentions cars, planes, bicycles, voice-only telephones, espresso machines and wall-to-wall book shelves as examples of things that will still be around. All are safe bets, except the voice-only phone. Video-conferencing will be so compelling that I expect a nearly all hold-outs who still have feature-less phones or even landlines will end up upgrading over the next 25 years.

What technologies younger than 25 will go away? Chris Anderson is gunning for the Web, of course. And the web is something that could surely mutate into something else or be replaced entirely in another 25 years time. SMS would be my best guess for the current hot technology that will die.

The World Will Face Global Pandemics, Both Biological and Electronic in Nature

Another one I can’t see deriving from faulty forecasting. Both seem like highly probable, conservative bets. Society has gotten extremely good at averting pandemics. It does seem like it’s only a matter of time until something slips past this international patchwork of containment. But, remarkably, a global pandemic seems “likely” and not “inevitable.”

A malware pandemic, Conficker not withstanding, is also less likely than it seems. Apple’s iOS puts more control into vendors hands, and Microsoft wants to ban infected computers from the Internet. More government control over ISPs, more security-as-a-service vendors being able to detect infected systems, and less user-control over machines = less overall risk of malware pandemics (NOT necessarily a reduced risk of cybercrime, but of “viral” infection).

Religion Will See a Revival

Once more, I don’t understand how Taleb is predicting this by identifying faulty forecasting methods. Religion has been around for about as long as humanity, though, so it’s a safe bet to expect it to still be with us in 2036. But a revival? Who knows?

6 Comments

  1. Nation-States will be replaced by City-States: Almost inevitable, as “demosclerosis” is setting in to a point that will render many national (and, in the US, state) governments helpless. Much of Asia, Africa and Latin America are already this way; the US is probably next. What I would say, though, is that this is not entirely “regressive”, as increasingly we’ll see these city-states networked together by transnational organizations and pseudo-governments, ala the WTO. So this is a regression from the fictional “fusions” of nationhood into more organic communities which can then integrate together on better terms.

    As for the companies prediction, keep in mind that most of these companies derive their power from being propped up by various nation-states. If the nation-states can’t afford to keep them propped up, they’ll collapse. The source of their power is diminishing.

    As for the technologies part, it seems irrelevant. Yes, cars, airplanes and TV won’t go away. But they’ll continue to change. Big deal.

    Pandemics, both biological and electronic… depends, really. The funny thing is that the worst electronic “pandemics”, like the Morris Worm, happened before the massive growth of the internet in the last 20 years. Since then, despite the endless assaults of hackers both private and public, a seriously debilitating electronic “pandemic” has never happened. Likewise, the more developed the world becomes, the more controllable our biological outbreaks become, despite more avenues for transmission. So I doubt this one. Remember, however, Taleb made his career on betting on the unforseen.

    Religion’s already been in a revival since the fall of communism. This isn’t news. What he might mean here is that it will see a revival in intensity among the elites/middle-class knowledge workers, and within very secular cultures (such as a major religious revival in Japan, China or Northern Europe). But in general, religion seems to have been on the rise in intensity through a lot of the world over the last twenty years.

    Overall, kind of a blah and disappointing article. I’d expect something more contentious from the Mad Levantine.

  2. The man is a god.

    And not just because he can pull off a turtleneck. (Even though he can.)

  3. Bishop von Heff

    December 2, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    City-states will not re-emerge from the depths of history. That’s just nonsense. City-states are long gone, some exceptions notwithstanding. Nationstates are increasingly vanishing as well in favour of transnational unions of all kinds. We’re going to see more of these in the future. Culturally and socially, nations are increasingly being transcendet by global networks in all spheres. Different systems will and are emerging to manage different levels of government, be they local, national or international.

    If anything, we’re going to see more layers added to the political sphere, not less.

  4. The way I see it, nation-states stick around in name, enabled by nationalism and their militaries. But they’ll be more and more hollowed out by corruption. Actual governance will fall more and more to local governments. Things will get done, if at all, by local governments, coalitions of local governments. For example – if we’re to see a decent high speed rail in the US it will come from agreements between cities and regional governments. First, for example, a high speed train between San Francisco and Seattle. Then one from Seattle to Denver, and so on.

  5. The funny thing is, although I think the time where nation-states are an appropriate construct is long gone, I don’t see (for instance) the US going towards fragmenting into city-states in the near future. If anything, there’s been a push for more nationalism (both culturally and politically) here, from both those who typically go for federal solutions and those who generally aim for stripping down the feds. We might see a two-way split: Snow Crash-esque libertarian franchulate utopias versus highly centralized highly nationalist jackboot states. In a war, I’m not entirely sure who’d win.

  6. What a shame. Someone who actually acknowledged in his most important work that you can’t make predictions joins in the predilection for prophecy and historicism – exactly what he argues against. In order to make these predictions, he need to contradict everything his book stands for (none of which he created or thought of himself – just popularized). But, though I thought his book admittedly unscholarly and rambling, substitution made up scenarios for actual proof, flippantly supported, at times hypocritical (don’t rely on experiments, except those I like – quotations are useless, except those I like), and merely following other thinkers like Hume, Popper and especially Mandelbrot (who he put on a pedestal but did not successfully support) – I do agree with many of their beliefs too. But, he adds nothing to it. I am not sure his arguments against a bell curve makes sense – I am not sure he understands its uses. It is a tool, not an oracle.

    And, of course, most of all, his predictions rule out the imposition of what he told us was most important – the black swan.

    Sadly, when I discuss Taleb with others, they seem to believe he does exactly what he says not to do – make predictions – they think he is the great predictor, the modern day Nostradamos. And here he goes feeding into it. Maybe it pays better to be the WWE than to follow Popper.

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