Monkeys, Dartboards and Predictions

November 11, 2013

A few years ago Nick Holmes submitted his response to the annual call-out from SCL seeking predictions. It closes with a reference to a Berkeley study that followed 80,000 forecasts over the course of 20 years and found that experts have about the same level of accuracy as dart-throwing monkeys. After looking through the predictions made over the last three years for SCL, I think that might be an optimistic view. If the forthcoming dinner at the House of Commons should somehow end up with a trip to a local pub with any of my predicting experts, I shall stand well away from the dartboard. Suffice it to say that my review of past predictions has not made me think that SCL contributors are the all-seeing, bastard child of Cassandra and Nostradamus.

But there really is a discernible increase in accuracy if one forgets about the target year. For example, where developments were predicted for 2011, they rarely happened but in quite a few instances the development has emerged recently. I am not counting totally accurate predictions of the inevitable such as ‘there will be some disagreement over the data protection reforms which will lead to delay’ – that is a ‘the sun will rise’ statement not a prediction – and ‘there will be increased use of predictive coding’ is trunk-central rather than out on a limb.

Those who know me well will not be surprised to discover that I was quite impressed by my own predictions but Charles Christian, Paul Heritage-Redpath, Charles Holloway, Richard Graham, Mathew Lavy, Judith Rauhofer, Andrew Tibber and Lilian Edwards could all make claims to even greater accuracy (although Lilian’s pessimistic Olympic predictions rather let her down). Paul Gershlick might even claim, on the basis of the sort of warped interpretation worthy of the followers of Nostradamus, to have predicted Edward Snowden.

It is Edward Snowden that inspires the slight twist to the call for predictions this year; nobody {i}really{/i} saw that coming, or its considerable and on-going fall-out, but it surely was the biggest development of 2013. So I am asking contributors to suggest the most surprising development of the last few years – let’s say the last three years – or perhaps the most surprising non-development. What has happened that was never expected? What hasn’t happened that we thought was a cast-iron certainty (cookie consent mayhem might be a candidate here)?

Please do feel free to contribute even if you have not received an invitation. A number of potential contributors have been neglected for sure – lots of my invites have bounced. I am looking for at least 50 words per person, but if you want to provide more that’s fine – 150 seems to be the going rate; as in previous years, some predictions might well make a short independent article.

Contributions will be displayed on the SCL Web site with full attribution, including contact details and description (which you may provide but please don’t make them too long). There will again be a series of Predictions blog postings. I expect these to begin on 1 December. I hope to publish selections in the Dec/Jan issue of the magazine from those replying by 10 December.

Submitting a prediction will be taken to include permission for the prediction to appear on the SCL LinkedIn Group pages as well as the normal SCL outlets.

Do feel free to encourage your colleagues and clients to contribute. I would especially value contributions from outside our normal circles – most obviously but not exclusively from technologists and e-commerce entrepreneurs who say something that IT lawyers would find useful.