The futurist Ray Kurzweil, in his CSPAN three hour appearance a half year back, discussing "The Singularity is Near" offered me one of the most exciting intellectual experiences of my life.
His claim to having invented extremely sophisticated ways, (to look at economic, business, and civilizational events as data points,) which have some "statistical" validity, is beyond my mathematical skills to judge.
But I do know that futurists, as writers, have created a popular literary genre. It spills over into politics -- which, as we know, so focuses on trivial current events and horse race appeal as to discourage one from confidence in democracy. The spill over is, therefore, more than welcome.
So, there I was watching Taleb (on Charlie Rose) -- me as an ignorant layman -- and thinking "he is an anti-futurist", and all the while wanting to see e-democracy (highly participatory interactive democracy -- even successful enough to result in economic democracy) take off from Amazon forums.
If it did it would be a black swan.
If it won't, it will be the ordinary and expected outcome of glut -- too much for too many to read, the invitation to entropy the web has extended.
In all events, Taleb is close to an anti-futurist. He close to asking us to have little confidence in Kurzweil's optimism.
If you ever read the politics forum here at Amazon, (which may also be named the politics community -- with forum included), you will find a discussion of e-democracy evolving from these forums -- and there will be a line on Taleb's Black Swan.
Visiting here, with professional investors and scientists has been a pleasure. My special interest is macroeconomics and money.
In my view the purpose of money is satisfaction of as much need by as many in need as possible. The time series of price (including capital valuation) data, usually associated with macroeconomics, ordinarily presented in support of purposeless theory, invites Taleb's appreciation of historical analysis and political disappointments.
So, on balance, I do not say Taleb is anti-futurist -- perhaps he is a welcome cautionary voice.
One thing about all this is certain (until I'm proved wrong): Amazon's editable forums are better than anyone else's.
P.S. The e-democracy entry in the Politics forum is, in part, as follows:
e-democracy is a word like e-mail. It implies electronically aided democracy. Its eventual form, punning on the "e", may include economic democracy, educated democracy, environmentally-friendly democracy, etc.
Although some people want direct democracy, where all significant laws require a majority or more-than majority vote, the ultimate test of democracy will be how it treats its weakest members -- not how may people vote one way or another.
I see e-democracy as inviting infinite human participation with both professional and computer aided filtering and restatement of issues to favor the reader over the writer.
What of commercial "markets"? Is market price and market preference better than prize juries -- better than committees, congresses, expert opinion, majority vote, inspired leadership by responsible authority?
What of the black swan? The improbable possibility that happens -- and after it does everything changes?
I just dove into Black Swan today, but I read fast and I skim. However, I was drawn in perhaps deeper than I expected. There are arguments which Taleb chooses with which I feel there is possible debate. Without saying so, he often takes the politically conservative position. The first red flag went up for me in his biased discussion of those who want there to be abortion, but who oppose capital punishment, in his view an irrational position, but supposedly just one of those many things which means that there are no rational arguments for one's views. Without debating the position, I can only say that from my perspective these two positions seem to be the mirror opposite of many conservative views. But is consistency meaningful? Perhaps the card he is holding to his vest is the Vatican's position that to be consistent you have to oppose both, and that both right and left are wrong. I also think that he would probably tend to be against most regulatory schemes for dealing with risk. The latest Democratic arguments about transparency of hedge funds about their holding of subprime mortgages might be one thing he would oppose. I value what he seems to have gleaned from his personal experience. The commentary on refugees throughout the world from Cuba, Lebanon, Iran and now Iraq, all of whom originally believed they needn't unpack their whole suitcases or settle permanently somewhere else, struck me as excellent observation of the ability of people to fool themselves about the future and imagine it will follow their wishes, rather than be more of a random thing. On the other hand, with a superpower like the US playing games throughout the world, and certainly in the past during the cold war, you have to understand that the scales don't balance when someone's thumb is in them. "Who would have thought it?" is very much the defense of the powerful these days. I guess that who would have thought it might just be a bunch of nobodies on the internet, who do not count in Taleb's view. He is a survivor, and as such his judgments are harsh. He does not have the track record in life to be a sunny optimist. So this is the line that comes to mind for me when I think about his worldview: "Expect the unexpected," straight out of that Western King-fu show with one of the Carradine's circa 1970. I also think of the popularity among some, neocon and libertarian alike, of the notion of creative destruction, and of Rumsfeld's line "Freedom is messy" even as his own policies insured that it would be so in Iraq. There is a line of descent for Taleb's views, however original. But order and categorization are essential to this thing called civilization, even if its candle is very much in the wind at the moment. This book is both a delight on some levels and an apology for the crazies of the elite on another.