27.06.2016 The unbearable lightness of forecasting

     Forecasting has always been challenging. The world history knows countless more of less failed prophecies.

A bit over a century ago we were living the time just before motorization. The city planners of the late 19th century in New York were worried about the manure produced by horses. The public and private transport was handled with closed wagons, horse carriages and carts. It was counted, that one horse produces on average 11 kilograms of manure in a day. The farmers used manure as a fertilizer, but as the number of horses increased the situation changed and the manure was wanted rid off.

In the end of the 19th century New York had 150 000 horses producing 540 000 tons of manure in a year. It was predicted then that by the end of 1930s the city of New York would be buried under a three-meter layer of manure. However, this didn't happen.

Horses had to make way for the automobiles. Simultaneously countless jobs and industries disappeared. Nobody was in need of stable keepers, blacksmiths to make horseshoes or transportation for the horses. Automobiles were run by gasoline, they needed maintenance and roads. New jobs and industries were born, like auto repair shops, tire manufacturers, gas stations and road builders and maintenance workers.

Digitalization has started a social change, which radical effects we will be witnessing for the next 10-20 years. The change will be faster and more intense than we have been able to imagine or predict.

Instead of forecasting we could think that in what speed will these digitalization's radical changes arrive in the European and more of Finnish society. The history of IT includes a strong advantage – the long "hyped" new technologies have often shored in Finland, but usually with at least a few years behind.

Will we perchance get to see cars without drivers, virtual lawyers exploiting AI in specialist work or robots in service industry in Finland already next year?

The ongoing change can and will be painful for many organizations, but simultaneously a big opportunity for an innovative and well educated Finland. Time will tell the speed of the change. The change itself is won't be needing forecasting. We can at the time discuss about whether we really need sensor-controlled smart-fridges (that tell what is needed from the store/order the right products from the store after they are consumed from the fridge) or smart coffee makers? Some will for sure.

The ancient Greek playwright Euripides expressed his opinion on the matter on his own way already before the Common Era: "the best prophet is common sense."