[FoRK] Black Swan

Contempt for Meatheads jbone at place.org
Thu Apr 15 11:53:56 PDT 2004

Via jrobb:


New Post to Global Guerrillas
  Was 9/11 a Black Swan?  Black swan events are unpredictable outliers.   
It is possible to mitigate the impact of future vicious black swans if  
hindsight bias is avoided and new thinking is rewarded.



Was 9/11 a Black Swan?

Nassim Taleb, a scientist-philosopher-businessman, makes the case that  
9/11 was a black swan. A black swan is a unpredictable event that  
defies prediction. An outlier. I agree. He expands:

A vicious black swan has an additional elusive property: its very  
unexpectedness helps create the conditions for it to occur. Had a  
terrorist attack been a conceivable risk on Sept. 10, 2001, it would  
likely not have happened.

In an attempt to guard against black swans (which by definition will  
likely never be repeated), human beings engage in what is called  
hindsight bias. This bias is composed of the following elements:

1) Excessive specificity. The tendency to focus on the event specifics  
at the cost of developing general knowledge of how to prevent future  
disasters (ie. finger pointing).

2) An assumption of infinite resources. It is impossible to guard  
against everything. Those things you guard against are less likely to  
occur, however, most areas are still exposed.

3) An inability to incentivize behavior that prevents future black  
swans. Prevention of uncertain events is almost impossible to quantify  
in any meaningful way -- a necessary step for the establishment of  

His recommendation: the government should hire creative thinkers that  
can imagine the impossible.

This analysis is smart. The attack on 9/11 was an outlier in scale,  
scope, and breadth in comparison to previous terrorist incidents. In  
some ways it pointed to the future of terrorism (unintentional aspects)  
but in others it was a continuation of an existing pattern (see the  
Terrorist Deathmarch). Future attacks (also black swans) will likely  
look much different than 9/11 since terrorism is in the process of  
evolving into a new form. These attacks are not predictable in their  
specifics, however, some broad measures based on forward thinking may  
mitigate their impact. Stay tuned.

Posted at 10:16 AM in Complex Networks | Permalink

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