Less than 20/20 vision

The impossibility of predicting complexity

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  • Published 20200203
  • ISBN: 9781925773804
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

EVEN A PERFECT metaphor runs its course. For decades, 2020 has offered a convenient label for conferences and strategic plans alike – perfect sight about the way forward, a convenient end date for planning. In the 1990s, Craig Emerson, later a senior minister but then a public servant, ran an influential series of public events under the 2020 label, inviting prominent speakers to think aloud about policy problems before that far and distant year. In 2008, I co-chaired a national version of this event, the 2020 Summit at Parliament House in Canberra. A thousand Australians, organised into ten policy streams, speculated about the decade to come. The conversation was invigorating and often prescient, but sadly few of us predicted something far more pressing: just months ahead the global financial crisis waited, which would abruptly end summiteer dreams.

Our fervent desire to guess the future makes us discount the failure of most prediction. There is little consequence for being wrong. Smart people promised a space odyssey in 2001, hoverboards in Back to the Future, fusion power just years away. Who do we now hold accountable for these gaps in our present?

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