Thinking about the future is hard, and many people have made assumptions that have ended up being particularly wrong. Some of them are laughable now that we can look at them from our privileged positions of « people from the future ». And others seem to be a simple and obvious prediction when technology is already in place. It was so obvious that Internet was going to play a key role in our life right ?

Well, no.

In order to try to shed some lights on why are predictions so easily wrong, we are launching a mini series on cognitive biases, ego and a few other reasons explaining our recurring mistakes. In this post, we will focus on a research by Jeffrey Sachs & al. Basically, what the authors say is that memory (the past) plays a key role in our understanding of … the future. As they put it : ” Memory for related past experiences can guide current perceptions “. This seems quite intuitive : I have learned for years on that, when I put the key in my door, it opens it and I can enter my house.

These « predictions » about the output of an action are due to the fact that I have been doing that for years and that for each door that I have opened, I am reinforcing my predictions. This theory is called « event memory retrieval » and « comparison theory ». This model is summarize below and clearly explains how representations and actual (ongoing) perceptions inform our predictions.

Source : “Memory guides the processing of event changes for older and younger adults” in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Now, what is interesting in our case is the difference in performance between adults and younger people. In the study, the authors have shown to these two groups a video showing two days of an actor. A week later, they were shown the same video, but some activities were repeated, and some where slightly changed (waking up to a cell phone and not an alarm clock for example). The people who tracked the changes had a better memory of what happened during the rest of the day in the video. So basically, if you can spot the changes you should have a better memory of what happens after. Otherwise you are not, because you are depending on your own experiences to predict what happens after. So it might be that when you notice a change in an event, you are recreating a new understanding and enriching it.

Interestingly, the results also show that younger adults detected and remembered more than older adults.

So, if we summarize this thing : in our daily life, we base our expectations for what is going to happen on our memories of previous events. Also, if we do not notice changes, we will keep using memories that are not « updated » in order to plan for the next actions. And finally, getting older seems to put you in a more difficult place for « acknowledging that a change has happened »

This profound cognitive process explains why forecasters and futurists tend to favor the search for “weak signals”, to be wary of singular events and to try to discover curious habits that emerge in remote areas of the world. They seek to identify potential disruptions to discover possible trends. they explore emerging phenomenon and seek to understand them.Obviously with the intent of predicting if they are epiphenomenon or the premises of great transformations.

However, this quest is not enough. We must also convince ourselves of the plausibility of a change. Or, on the contrary, not be impressed by the fact that any change is beneficial because it upsets our natural preferences for the status quo.

As such, projective imaginaries are interesting. Given the sheer volume of material created, it is a laboratory of gigantic creativity. It is easy to misunderstand them, however, and to look only at the latest technological inventions to see a conservative material. The uses and “bricolages” that are made from the archetypes of the genre offer new insights and users’ inventiveness is constantly renewed. As a result, they mix novelty and conservatism, an interesting “sauce” to help apprehend novelty with greater ease?