Reviews of predictions

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This page gathers information about historical sets of serious forecasts about the future.

1967 predictions for 2000 by Herman Kahn and A. J. Wiener

The book "The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years", by Herman Kahn and A. J. Wiener, published in 1967, contains a set of 135 predictions for developments by the year 2000, split into three categories. The outcomes of these predictions was evaluated in 2008 by Leonard Richardson as follows:

  • "One Hundred Technical Innovations Very Likely in the Last Third of the Twentieth Century": 26 hits, 21 partial hits, 53 misses
  • "Some Less Likely but Important Possiblities": 0 hits, 1 partial hit, 24 misses
  • "Ten Far-Out Possibilities": 0 hits, 0 partial hits, 10 misses

Predictions made by Ray Kurzweil

Assessing predictions made by Ray Kurzweil in 1999 for the year 2009, Forbes journalist Alex Knapp, writing in 2012, concludes his article "Ray Kurzweil's Predictions For 2009 Were Mostly Inaccurate" as follows:

Out of 12 key predictions that Kurzweil highlighted for the year 2009, only one has come completely true. Four were partially true (score them a half-point each) and eight failed to come true by the end of 2011. That’s a score of 3 / 12 – or 25% accurate. This is actually being somewhat generous, because if you go and read the chapter that provides a fuller explication of the world Kurzweil predicted, the picture he paints of the culture and society in general were pretty far off.

Kurzweil responded as follows, "Ray Kurzweil Defends His 2009 Predictions":

I made 147 predictions for 2009 in "The Age of Spiritual Machines". Of these, 115 (78 percent) are entirely correct as of the end of 2009, and another 12 (8 percent) are “essentially correct” — a total of 127 predictions (86 percent) are correct or essentially correct. Since the predictions were made with a specificity of decades (that is, for 2009, 2019, 2029, and so on), a prediction was considered “essentially correct” if it came true in 2010 or 2011. Another 17 (12 percent) are partially correct, and 3 (2 percent) are wrong.

Even the predictions that were considered “wrong” in this report were not all wrong...

In 2013, a number of contributors to the Less Wrong site performed independent evaluations of a compiled list of 172 predictions from "The Age of Spiritual Machines" for 2009. As summarised by Stuart Armstrong, "Assessing Kurzweil: the results":

  • 27% of the predictions were judged as True
  • 15% were judged as Weakly True
  • 11% were judged as Cannot Decide
  • 14% were judged as Weakly False
  • 32% were judged as False

Armstrong concludes his evaluation as follows:

Kurzweil certainly can't claim an accuracy above 50% - a far cry from his own self assessment of either 102 out of 108 or 127 out of 147 correct (with caveats that "even the predictions that were considered 'wrong' in this report were not all wrong"). And consistently, slightly more than 10% of his predictions are judged "impossible to decide".

As I've said before, these were not binary yes/no predictions - even a true rate of 30% is much higher that than chance. So Kurzweil remains an acceptable prognosticator, with very poor self-assessment.