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  • Writer's pictureKaren Divya Shekar

Fortune Telling: From Delphi to Big Data (ChatGPT Version)

Throughout my life, I've had a deep fascination with what lies ahead. I've often pondered questions about my potential wealth, fame, marital happiness, family size, overall contentment, and even the prospect of reaching heaven in the afterlife. This obsession with foreseeing the future has remained unwavering for me, and I've often wondered how many others share this preoccupation.

Interestingly, modern science, mathematics, and statistics offer some insights for those of us consumed by thoughts of the future. Surprisingly, mathematics, equipped with tools like regression and correlation, has demonstrated the ability to make predictions about various aspects of life, such as customer preferences, stock market trends, loan eligibility, and much more. Data analysts harness immense volumes of data, often measured in billions of gigabytes, to delve deeply into the past, construct various models, identify patterns within these models, and then make projections about what lies ahead.

However, does predicting the future truly work as seamlessly as this process suggests? My thoughts turn to the original seers of destiny, such as the prophets of the Bible and the Delphian oracle. They made accurate predictions about events without the aid of science, massive datasets, or statistical mathematics. This raises the question of how these entities foretold the future so accurately.

In contrast to today's data-driven approaches, these ancient predictors relied on intuition or other mysterious means. Consider Madame Cassandra as well, another enigmatic figure known for her prophetic abilities. These examples highlight humanity's enduring quest to tame the unknown and gain control over the uncertain. In reality, as a species, we are often gripped by fear. Living in a world characterized by constant unpredictability, deep-seated animosities, and the inevitable specter of mortality, we yearn for stability, peace, serenity, and equilibrium. Our pursuit of understanding randomness and the hope that chaos might reveal a semblance of order is driven by this fundamental human desire for control.

I encountered Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book "The Black Swan" in my early twenties, and while I couldn't grasp every nuance at the time due to my limited wisdom, I did appreciate his insights about outliers. In the realm of scientifically predicting the future, no one should disregard these outliers. They represent the obscure data points where black swans, those unforeseen and cataclysmic events, often lurk. These are the random occurrences, peculiar disasters, and supposedly "unpredictable" stock market shocks that can upend our expectations.

So, why do we still have faith in predictive analysis? Predictive analysis indeed helps businesses generate profits by anticipating future developments. It operates by estimating where the next disruption may originate, quietly contributing to a more convenient and efficient world—until it stumbles and makes errors.

With Big Data, you are essentially peering into the future from the vantage point of the past. In contrast, the Delphian oracle simply looked into the future, period. Big Data identifies patterns, and we can draw insights from these patterns. While it may appear straightforward on paper, the reality is more complex. Predicting the future remains a pursuit that perhaps only deities can master; mere mortals can strive to decipher the patterns. Photo by ilgmyzin on Unsplash

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