Human survival depends on our ability to predict future outcomes so that we can make informed decisions. Human cognition and perception are optimized for local, short-term decision-making, such as deciding when to fight or flight, whom to mate, or what to eat. For more elaborate decisions (e.g., when to harvest, when to go to war or not, and whom to marry), people used to consult oracles—prophetic predictions of the future inspired by the gods. Over time, oracles were replaced by models of the structure and dynamics of natural, technological, and social systems. In the 21st century, computational models and visualizations of model results inform much of our decision-making: near real-time weather forecasts help us decide when to take an umbrella, plant, or harvest; where to ground airplanes; or when to evacuate inhabitants in the path of a hurricane, tornado, or flood. Long-term weather and climate forecasts predict a future with increasing torrential rains, stronger winds, and more frequent drought, landslides, and forest fires as well as rising sea levels, enabling decision makers to prepare for these changes by building dikes, moving cities and roads, and building larger water reservoirs and better storm sewers.
Forecasting innovations in science, technology, and education
Katy Börner, William B. Rouse, Paul Trunfio, and H. Eugene Stanley
PNAS December 11, 2018 115 (50) 12573-12581; published ahead of print December 11, 2018 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1818750115