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Beware false prophets

Sept 07,2017
In 1994, Rabbi Levi Saadia Nahmani predicted that a nuclear disaster would occur between North Korea and the United States.
In times of uncertainty, false prophets become rampant. At the end of the 20th century, false prophets warned of the apocalypse and generated commotion. The 21st century is no exception. This time, science and technology are developing so quickly that people are surprised by the present and unsure of the future.

Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, who oversees artificial intelligence research at Google, wrote in his 2005 book “The Singularity” that technology was moving toward the singularity, citing Moore’s law. He himself was not sure what precise point technological advancement had reached, but no one objected to his argument about the direction that technology was heading.

Lately, false prophets have been emerging under the assumed title of futurists. They talk about a precise future that not everyone can understand. But futurology is not the study of predicting the future. The future cannot be defined, and it is not singular. It cannot be predicted accurately.

Once someone predicts the future, the prediction affects the future. The navigation apps that many people use to drive are bound to be wrong when predicting traffic. If the app shows that route A is jammed and route B is not busy, most people will choose route B, which results in a traffic jam there. So true futurists are those who can define a future that is not predicted but dreamt and created, and they try to establish a strategy by studying the different possibilities of change.

Recently, an organization claiming to be an academic society created a weekend program called the “Fourth Industrial Revolution Future Strategy Leadership Course” featuring former ministers and leading industry figures. It advertised that the program would award licenses for “future prediction strategy specialist” and “fourth industrial revolution instructor.” Those who attend the course over three weekends will earn an “expert” license. Since licenses are registered under the ministry formerly known as the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, I inquired about the program at the current Ministry of Science and ICT.

The ministry explained that the licenses are not state-certified but a civilian license, and according to the law, the government is obligated to accept civilian licenses as long as they are not banned. Hopefully, the “experts” that this organization trains for three weeks won’t talk about one kind of future.

In his 1983 book “Previews and Premises,” Alvin Toffler wrote that the futurist’s job is not to predict something, and that those who claim to know the future are either astrologers or crooks. “There is no single future waiting for us out there — only multiple possibilities. . . . I think we should make maximum use of all the quantitative tools — all the statistics and systematic models and computer aids. But once we have, I think we should remain skeptical of the results.”

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 6, Page 34

The author is a deputy industry news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.