25. Exaggeration of prognostic values of extrapolation
In futurism, there is an "extrapolation mania" by which futurists take present trends, extrapolate them outwards, and predict the future based on those. However, trends often change. As an example, Moore's law, the improvement in the cost-performance of computers, is already starting to level off. Our experience with futurism shows that extrapolation of curves tends to only be suited to short-term forecasts. Extrapolation poorly accounts for feedback effects between predictions and future events and the effects of fundamental innovations.
An example of an extrapolation that failed was Malthus' prediction that human beings would run out of food at some point during the 19th century. He failed to account for a number of future innovations, such as artificial fertilizer and the Green Revolution. Besides being too pessimistic, it is possible to be too optimistic. Many futurists today anticipate an era of abundance where all global risks are under control5. However, technological progress may prove to be slower than they anticipate, and global risks may remain threatening for a long time, past 2100. We ought to be wary of simple extrapolation and not take our models of the future too seriously, because models are made to be broken. Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, a famous Prussian general, said “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”