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What if … We discover we can see the future

By ernestbeck • 8 months ago • 176 views • 4 comments
What if … We discover we can see the future

A supercomputer fed with enough information about the universe might be able to predict what's in store for us – for better and worse

HUMAN beings are adept mental time travellers. Our ability to envisage how things might be in the future, which seems unmatched by any other species, is arguably what has made us the cultured and civilised animals we are. But if visualising possible futures is a game-changer, being able to predict the future would be nothing short of revolutionary.

Debate has long raged about whether that is even possible. According to one school of scientific thought, known as determinism, it is. Given enough data about each atom in the universe, we can know tomorrow’s football scores with as much certainty as yesterday’s.

This mindset suffered a couple of blows during the 20th century. First, Heisenberg’s notorious uncertainty principle said it was impossible to know everything about a quantum system such as an atom. Second, chaos theory taught us that the future behaviour of any physical system is extraordinarily sensitive to small changes – the flap of a butterfly’s wings can set off a hurricane, as the saying goes.

But even if it’s theoretically impossible, in practice we might get as close as makes no difference. Computers are already producing ever more accurate simulations of future reality, from tomorrow’s weather to long-term climate trends to the eventual fate of our galaxy. Extrapolating from current number-crunching capabilities, near-perfect climate prediction, for example, should be possible within a century or so, says climate scientist Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. …

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