Paul Saffo — Embracing Uncertainty

Mr. Saffo is a forecaster. How to spot the future coming.

“The difference between a forecast and reality is that a forecast must be believable and internally consistent”

wildcards make for better forecasting. For example, predicting that a movie star will become the next governor. He also says it helps to be a smart alec. His “movie star” prediction was a smart alec-y response which proved to be a true prediction. If you are pessimistic, appy the Lilly Tomlin rule.

Mr. Saffo is a big believer in the S-curve. 20 years of slow growth before you hit the inflection point. Implications: when people say things are just around the corner, they are 10-20 years out (we are still at the flat part of the S). When people say it will never happen, it is imminent (they haven’t seen it take off in 20 years of effort, so have given up hope. 20 years is the time to inflection).

“Never mistake a clear view for a short distance!”

Next insight– The future has arrived, but is unevenly distributed. Look for the small anomolies. These are the prodromal signs of change. Look back twice as far as you plan on looking ahead.

We fail our way into the future. Silicon valley is not build on the spires of achievement, but on the rubble of failure.

And he makes a prediction. The robots are coming.


  1. DARPA grand challenge. First one, only 4/20 make it out of the starting gate. Next one, 18 mo later, all but 4 finish.
  2. Roomba. Not only do people buy them, they name them and take them to visit friends houses.
  3. Another DARPA grand challenge, city driving. The robots all drove well, on the same day as California had a 100+ car pileup on the freeway.

The trend: changes in computation. The mircoprocessor put a computer on the desktop, and the device was a processor. Optical lasers/fiber optics allowed fast/big bandwith internet and the device became a connection. Now we have cheap sensors (tennis shoes reporting your pace !?!) which give the computer senses. Add wheels and we will have robots.

He called to someone in the audience to illustrate one of his points. They gave the wrong answer. He said “Next time I am going to use a planted response.”


Posted on April 18, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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