An Interview with Nassim Taleb

Via Political Theory Daily Review, James Surowiecki interviews Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Wired.Pl_92_print_f_2

From Wall Street to Washington, we’re constantly being told that the future can be forecast, that the world is knowable, and that risk can be measured and managed. Nassim Nicholas Taleb (shown) is having none of this. In his new book, The Black Swan, the finance guru and author of the surprise hit Fooled by Randomness argues that history is dominated not by the predictable but by the highly improbable — disruptive, unforeseeable events that Taleb calls Black Swans. The effects of wars, market crashes, and radical technological innovations are magnified precisely because they confound our expectations of the universe as an orderly place. In a world of Black Swans, the first step is understanding just how much we will never understand.
— James Surowiecki

Wired: If Black Swans are the crucial determining events in history, why do we think we can predict anything at all?

Taleb: After they happen, in retrospect, we think that Black Swans were predictable. We think that if we can explain why something happened in the past, we can explain what will happen in the future.

But with better models and more computational power, won’t we get better at predicting Black Swans?

We know from chaos theory that even if you had a perfect model of the world, you’d need infinite precision in order to predict future events. With sociopolitical or economic phenomena, we don’t have anything like that. And things are getting worse, not better, because the growing complexity of the world dwarfs any improvement in sophistication or computational power.