Saturday, February 5, 2011

Prediction Addiction

Do you have Prediction Addiction? 

Chances are you do, or had it at one point in time.  Prediction Addiction comes from our desires to make sense out of everything, including events that are not predictable like rise and falls of stock markets, the end of the world, ect. 

Actually Jehovah’s Witnesses are a prime example of this.   They’ve had 16 failed predictions since 1877.  That’s about one failed prediction every eight years.  The great thing about this though, is these failed predictions actually strengthen their beliefs.  An example of this is with The Church of the SubGenius.  They predicted that an alien race would wipe out humanity on July 8th, 1998.  When the alien invasion didn’t come some took it as a sign that the aliens were happy with the work the cult was doing and put off the invasion. 

The more recent popular example is the 2012 Mayan Calendar ending.  Oh wait, there was Y2K before that where people thought the computer systems would fail miserably.  And there are countless other examples.  Ranging from the end of Rock and Roll, to the rights of women, to Mad Magazine.  Most of these predictions are pure speculation but the more outrageous the more it spreads like wild fire. 

Y2K is my favorite example of this. 

The Y2K problem is the electronic equivalent of the El Niño and there will be nasty surprises around the globe. — John Hamre, United States Deputy Secretary of Defense

Now before I go criticize the response, there were some legitimate problems.  Here’s a quick list taken from Wikipedia

Resulting bugs from date programming
Storage of a combined date and time within a fixed binary field is often considered a solution, but the possibility for software to misinterpret dates remains because such date and time representations must be relative to some known origin. Rollover of such systems is still a problem but can happen at varying dates and can fail in various ways. For example:
                The Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program had a very elementary Y2K problem: Excel (in both Windows and Mac versions, when they are set to start at 1900) incorrectly set the year 1900 as a leap year for compatibility with Lotus 1-2-3.[8] In addition, the years 2100, 2200, and so on, were regarded as leap years. This bug was fixed in later versions, but since the epoch of the Excel timestamp was set to the meaningless date of January 0, 1900 in previous versions, the year 1900 is still regarded as a leap year to maintain backward compatibility.
                In the C programming language, the standard library function to extract the year from a timestamp returns the year minus 1900. Many programs using functions from C, such as Perl and Java, two programming languages widely used in web development, incorrectly treated this value as the last two digits of the year. On the web this was usually a harmless presentation bug, but it did cause many dynamically generated web pages to display January 1, 2000 as "1/1/19100", "1/1/100", or other variants, depending on the display format.[citation needed]
                JavaScript was changed due to the concerns of the Y2K bug, and the return value for years changed and thus differed between versions from sometimes being a four digit representation and sometimes a two-digit representation forcing programmers to rewrite already working code to make sure web pages worked for all versions.[9][10] This forced programmers to change already working code and add checks to see if the returned date was less than 1900 and react accordingly.
                Older applications written for the commonly used UNIX source code control system SCCS failed to handle years that began with the digit "2".
                In the Windows 3.x file manager, dates displayed as 1/1/19:0 for 1/1/2000 (because the colon is the character after 9 in the character set). An update was available.

Now, these are real problems, but they are not a massive banking collapse, no significant problems.  To put it blunt, the significance of the problem was vastly overstated.

So why was it so prevalent?  Why did this, for all intensive purposes, little bug cost over $300 Billion? 

My theory is that it was a really good story.  “2000 bug may induce risky nuclear limbo”, “U.S. Military to Visit Moscow for Millennium Talks”, “Federal Nuclear Unit Ready for Y2K”.  These are actual headlines I cant make this stuff up.  The idea of computers ending the world is one of our guilty pleasures.  We LOVE the idea of some rogue AI or faulty machine ruining the world.  Y2K was that brought to life. 

So the same can be said for this new Mayan fear.  Another guilty pleasure of ours is this romancing of ancient cultures.  This is done one of two ways usually, grossly underestimating their ability, or grossly over estimating their meanings.  The underestimating is shown with those psudohistorians claiming that the pyramids couldn’t have been made in the time frame claimed so ALIENS helped.  The overestimating is the whole end of the world thing. 

Between misconstruing and vastly taking things out of context, we’ve romanticized the 2012 issue to the point where it must be true.  Because there is a great story there about ancient civilizations being so much more advanced than our own that they have a mystical way of telling just when the world will end! 

That sounds so much more fun than “The world will spin round and round indifferent to us.”

Other fun failed predictions: 

85 Bad Predictions about the future.

Top 30 Failed Tech Predictions

Russian Professor Predicts the End of U.S. in 2010

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