Technology forecasts from The Year 2000

In The Age of Em, Robin Hanson is pretty optimistic about our ability to forecast the long-term future:

Some say that there is little point in trying to foresee the non-immediate future. But in fact there have been many successful forecasts of this sort.

In the rest of this section, Hanson cites eight examples of forecasting success.1 Two of his examples of “success” are forecasts of technologies that haven’t arrived yet: atomically precise manufacturing and advanced starships. Another of his examples is The Year 2000:

A particularly accurate book in predicting the future was The Year 2000, a 1967 book by Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener (Kahn and Wiener 1967). It accurately predicted population, was 80% correct for computer and communication technology, and 50% correct for other technology (Albright 2002).

As it happens, when I first read this paragraph I had already begun to evaluate the technology forecasts from The Year 2000 for the Open Philanthropy Project, relying on the same source Hanson did for determining which forecasts came true and which did not (Albright 2002).

However, my assessment of Kahn & Wiener’s forecasting performance is much less rosy than Hanson’s. For details, see here.

  1. The Nagy et al. paper, the Charbonneau et al. paper, Albright’s evaluation of forecasts from The Year 2000, the forecasts of John Watkins, the space travel forecasts of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the nanotechnology forecasts of K. Eric Drexler, the book on starship designs edited by Benford and Benford, and the 1999 business book by Shapiro and Varian. See Hanson’s book for sources. {}


  1. Romeo Stevens says

    This is precisely what makes me think Hanson is trolling. What is one of the best ways to elicit correctives both internally and externally? Assert an answer based on what is explicitly being used as rules and heuristics and then evaluate the objections for more information about hidden parameters. E.g. asserting a wrong answer on an internet forum is the fastest way to get a better answer and understand more about the process that is generating answers. Writing a book is a good way to elicit quality feedback from relevant experts if you can’t get them to pay attention to important considerations otherwise. It also reminds me of the straight man in comedy.

  2. Glen Raphael says

    Do you have more detail on what the “human hibernation” predictions were? Ray Cronise’s weight-loss ideas (most famously used by Penn Jillette) were based in part on reverse-engineering how hibernation works – I lost ~30 pounds (Penn lost ~80) during a 3-month period of (a) deliberately reduced physical activity, (b) deliberately restricted diet, (c) regular cold exposure.

    Also, “therapeutic hypothermia” as a surgery technique is definitely a thing and has been at least since the early 2000s. (eg: )

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