In January of 2014, I wrote the following tweet and then Pinned it to my profile, so it would be the first tweet everyone saw from me on Twitter.
I’m 4 months away from losing this prediction.
This prediction and its impending deadline has been on my mind this week, and here are my unorganized reflections.
Will I Lose?
I’m pretty certain I will lose this prediction.
I’m 99.99% certain that I will not be able to publish my Visa # number on the internet without repercussions in 4 months.
However, I bet this problem has already been solved. Morgan Housel at Collaborative Fund wrote a nice blog post where the title is a perfectly concise summary: “When You Change the World and No One Notices.” (I need Morgan to teach me how to write blog post titles). I bet this exists, but we are likely still in the early stages of proper security-by-design for credit card payments. Only bleeding edge adopters can appreciate the baby step into the future this innovation has taken. The solution is not yet broadly distributed. The spirit of my prediction was more than just the technical possibility; it was an idea coupled with distribution wide enough that people broadly could publish their credit card #s freely, not just alpha geeks. So, I still will lose.
What Does The Future Look Like?
It’s possible that the solution to publishing a credit card ID online without repercussions already existed when I made this prediction in January of 2014, and the future just looked so unrecognizable in the context of the present that I was blind to it. For example, if Bitcoin replaces all government-backed fiat currencies, then my prediction was wildly boring and the problem was already solved. Today (and also in 2014) I can publish a Bitcoin public key that can be used to both send and receive money broadly. Knowledge of that public key alone is insufficient to transact, so its safe to publish broadly.
In fact, here’s my bitcoin address: 1JzkJQgQnacKvogCiKrL2bFwszfLK1ZMzQ
My Bitcoin address is not credit-backed (though it could be… but isn’t broadly; we are back in alpha geek territory), and it’s not widely accepted (I can’t buy my next burrito with it). So, this isn’t even close to winning my prediction.
Worse still, Bitcoin didn’t win the race to payments public key publishing; not even by a decade. Instead, you’ve been able send and receive payments with me via Paypal with my email address since the late 90s. Again, my email address is not credit-backed and my local burrito shop will still look at me sideways if I try to offer it as payment. So, no win.
But all this begs the question of what does the future look like from the view of the present. Computers in the 1940s were humans… clerks that could do math quickly. Did ENIAC really look like the future of (human) computers in its contemporary time (1946)? Hard to say without being there and experiencing the zeitgeist first hand. Naming ENIAC a “computer” was a sign that people aspired to replace these clerks with machines, but how obvious was it really looking a loud room of cables and vacuums?
The Value of Predictions
Predictions provide a stake in the sand. They are reference points you can look back upon to see how both your thinking and the world has evolved over time.
Anyone can make a prediction; that’s not the difficult part nor the valuable part. I don’t put much value in a prediction if it lacks accountability. Accountability could be a post-mortem if the prediction is past its expiration. Or accountability could be a system for measuring the progress of the prediction if it hasn’t arrived yet.
I am most inspired in my interest in predictions by the Long Now Foundation. Michael Chabon’s take on the Long Now Foundation’s first project, the Clock of the Long Now, is just perfect in capturing the spirit of long term predictions. It is, as Michael points out, on the longest of time horizon, an issue of the existence of the human race.
The Long Now Foundation tracks long term bets and predictions. It’s a system more robust than my simple approach of Pinning a tweet. The geek in me especially appreciates this meta-bet contending the continued existence of the Long Now Foundation’s bet tracking system. This is a wonderful example of prediction accountability and well worth a five minute diversion down the hyperlink rabbit hole.
Part of my interest in predictions comes from the essential role predictions play in my day job. An investment in a company is a prediction about the future. While most forms of investment are a rather dry prediction about future capital appreciation, early stage venture capital is most successful when its a (correct) prediction that a set of Founders are going to make a dent in the universe over the next 5–7 years. The time horizon of these predictions makes feedback loops to improve future performance painfully long. But, there’s something intellectually satisfying about scanning down a Schedule of Investments sheet and seeing dates, names, and amounts spanning back past a decade lined up neatly against their resulting outcomes, so cleanly delineated without any cognitive biases. It’s another great example of prediction accountability.
The Rate of Change
In January, when I lose my prediction, I will be eager to make it all over again. I’m convinced the security model of credit cards is fundamentally broken and billions of dollars in fraud (and cost of fraud detection) could be avoided though some form of security-by-design that decouples a credit card ID number from its authorization.
The trap I fell into with my 3 year prediction is an incredibly common one. I overestimated how quickly things would change. Here’s Bill Gates on this subject:
We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.
- Bill Gates, The Road Ahead
I’ve bastardized Bill’s quote over the years and usually retell it as: We overestimate the rate of change and underestimate its impact once it catches fire. This is part of why I like making predictions and why I enjoy reading through the Long Now Foundation’s Long Bets; they help develop pattern recognition for protecting against this all-too-common mistake: overestimating the rate of change.
Play It Again, Sam
Between now and January, I’ll find a new prediction to make, and then Pin that one to the top of my Twitter profile. The criteria for my next one will be: a provocative idea, that is a minority-held opinion, that if true will be a big change, and won’t take more than 5 years to come about. Feel free to play along at home.