Data can’t tell you where the world is headed.
Lara Lee, cited by Stephanie Clifford in Social Media Are Giving a Voice to Taste Buds via NY Times.com
In a piece about the fad flavors for corn chips and cosmetics colors is buried a bit of deep insight by Lara Lee, chief innovation and operating officer at the design consultancy Continuum, which helped design the Swiffer and the One Laptop per Child project.
Our knowledge is constrained by the fabric of the post-normal. The notion that there is a deterministic future ahead of us, rolling out like a yellow brick road, is an illusion. Next year emerges out of an opaque sea of trillions of semi-independent decisions made in the present by billions of individuals and groups, cascading into each other and impacting each other in literally unknowable ways. When systems become as complex as the modern world there are no tools that can see more than a very short distance into the future.
Yes, taste makers can concoct a spicy chip that sells well this season in southern California, or what beer will be popular in NYC for Labor Day, but we can’t predict, for example, the invention of alternatives to antibiotics in a world where bugs are growing antibiotic-resistant. There are limits to our knowledge:
Big data is unlikely to increase the certainty about what is going to happen in anything but the nearest of near futures — in weather, politics, and buying behavior — because uncertainty and volatility grow along with the interconnectedness of human activities and institutions across the world. Big data is itself a factor in the increased interconnectedness of the world: as companies, governments, and individuals take advantage of insights gleaned from big data, we are making the world more tightly interconnected, and as a result (perhaps unintuitively) less predictable.
That’s my boss!