on July 30, 2003
Have you ever heard the story of the Emperor's nose? A Chinese man decided to find out how long the Emperor's nose is. He tried to do it by asking a lot of different people... none of whom have ever seen it!
The modern version of the story is provided by Brad Wieners and David Pescovitz. Reality Check is a book with ambitious goals, but it fails to achieve them. The authors selected about a hundred of potentially possible inventions, not for how important or likely they are, but only for their "hypability".
Then the authors contacted a number of experts and asked them a simple question - "When?" - when this particular invention will come to life. Most experts replied with a year at some point in the future, some said "Never", some "Unknown" and some claimed that it is already invented. Wieners and Pescovitz then calculated the arithmetic mean of the responses and used it as the final answer. They then wrote half a page explaining this particular concept, got an illustration of questionable quality and two more pages were ready.
What is the value of the book? Not much, in my opinion. The list of future inventions has nothing to do with reality or with the future reality for that matter. The Delphi method is supposed to mitigate the differences in opinions of the individual experts and provide a more realistic estimate. But it doesn't work if the experts haven't even agreed on the basic definitions and if they have wildly differing backgrounds and interests, if you only speak with 3 experts and, most importantly, if they are not serious about the forecasting. Year 3000 is not a forecast, it's just a random number, informational "garbage" that pollutes the result more than it helps. Garbage In, Garbage Out, says the well-known principle of information science, and, for the most part, Reality Check is just that, garbage.