Here we go again. After having failed—spectacularly—to make any worthwhile predictions over the past few months, the pollsters are back to their unreliable methods of making predictions based upon polls that reflect how people ‘feel’. And computer technologists continue to tom-tom how emerging technology can predict the future. In a Harvard Business Review blog a few days ago, the authors talk about the falling price of being able to use computing for making accurate predictions. They say that “as the cost of prediction falls, not only will activities that were historically prediction-oriented become cheaper—like inventory management and demand forecasting—but we will also use prediction to tackle other problems for which prediction was not historically an input”.
Human beings have an unquenchable desire to be able to predict—and therefore manage—an uncertain future. While the ancients may have contented themselves with the ranting of an Oracle at Delphi, or in one of innumerable shrines all over the earth, we now seek a mathematically precise way of being able to remove the fear of the unknown. In truth, this need to have complex mathematics behind prediction was not lost on our ancients either; ‘Vedic’ astrology, for example, is based on sidereal calculations which are extremely mathematically complex, and are beyond the comprehension of most normal humans. Charlatans in the guise of genuine astrologers abound, as they would, in a business that revolves around fear, uncertainty and doubt, but there are also several genuine practitioners of this science who truly understand the underlying mathematics and the plethora of permutations and combinations that deliver the actual predictions resulting from such mathematical gymnastics.
Whether these mathematically derived predictions are any better than those of the charlatans is up for debate—and is a matter of personal belief, I guess.
This idea of providing mathematical proofs or computational output to shore up what in truth are random predictions has always been with us and will always stay, and when enabled by technology marketers, or by publications using supposedly sophisticated poll-based mathematical methods, they take on added meaning for us chrono-phobic humans.
So, as one should have expected, the pollsters have been co-opted yet again, this time by that venerable weekly, The Economist, to analyse what people ‘feel’ and whether the idea of globalization is dead or dying, at least in the Western world, in the wake of the recently concluded Brexit vote and US presidential election. To be fair, the weekly presents as balanced a view as it can, by tempering the coroner’s announcement of the death of globalization with the fact that the Western youth seem to think that globalization and immigration is actually a force for good. It also presents a non-Western view, which unsurprisingly, is more nuanced.
I admire the lucid writing style that all the writers at The Economist share, but have always been leery that the publication itself often has an unabashed view that British colonialism was good for the world. This flies in the face of the intrinsic sense of fair play I have found in most British people I have encountered. In an article published a few years ago, the magazine had the gall to claim that it had crunched through enough data to prove that Indians had stolen more from other Indians through corrupt governance and bribes post-Independence than the British had ever stolen from India during their occupation and colonization of this country. I binned that issue particularly quickly; wistfully thinking that maybe one day the magazine will have the ability to compare apples with apples—by weighing what an invading and occupying Indian military force had stolen from the British Isles against what was looted from India between the Battle of Plassey and 15 August 1947. This would be a much fairer exercise than counting what Indians have transferred from their right pockets to their left pockets and then comparing that internal transfer to what was picked from both those pockets by the British. Maybe it was because the magazine could quite confidently predict that the chance of a forced occupation of Britain by India will always be zero.
Now that I have had my rant, let’s get back to globalization. Globalization is certainly not dead, despite the fact that some countries might now make their borders less porous after their most recent elections. Much like the fear of the future, the need to explore the world and enrich itself as much it can by doing so has been with mankind ever since the first humanoid Lucy’s descendants left Africa to roam the rest of this world. It continued on through Alexander the Greek to the Mongols, whose marauding armies under Genghis Khan laid waste to most of Europe. And it was the great Khan’s genes that the European colonists, in turn, took with them to America, Africa and Asia when they colonized those lands.
Any country that has resisted integrating with the rest of the world has always found itself reintegrated into the global economy—either because of economic suffering like the resulting starvation that North Korea is now rumoured to be facing—or by force of the kind the US Navy Commodore Matthew Perry used on Japan in the 1800s, contributing to the Meiji Restoration and the eventual modernization of Japan.
We don’t need polls, mathematical models or sophisticated technology to predict that globalization will endure. All one needs to do is to look back at history and rest secure in the knowledge that it will repeat itself.
Siddharth Pai is a world-renowned technology consultant who has personally led over $20 billion in complex, first-of-a-kind outsourcing transactions.