We have powerful enough computational power in the world today that if you do enter in all the variables required to predict the future then you are most likely to get a very accurate forecast. This exceptional power can blur the line between reality and science fiction. But the challenge in such models is the same as it was 1000 years back. In ancient times you had these spies and look-outs who would track the terrain and enemy movements before a war. In cricket you had the most experienced players. burying their head into the pitch. You had amazing strategists at Kodak predicting the sales of films and you had people in Finland announcing that Nokia was going to be the future.
The problem with this computational power, whether in a supercomputer, in the eyes of the ancient spy or in the equation of the economics PhD student is that of variables. The result is the input of the variable and the problem with most equations is that they leave out a critical variable. I call this the Invisible Variable Syndrome (IVS).
The Invisible Variable Syndrome exists because we think we tend to know things better than we actually do. We go in with at least one percentage of a confirmation bias. In the absence of absolute curiosity which is where the existence of variables becomes known, it is but certain to miss the Invisible Variable. And once you miss a variable you miss another branch that the road could take, andone option less in prediction is never better. As you go ahead you make more decisions based on one or more fewer predictions. By the time you reach the final result, there are a 100 or more unexplored routes. And that is not efficiency. Fancy tools need great inputs and sadly that is still up to us.
So today I pick up 4 stories from different backgrounds and tell you how it works. Is it really Big Tech vs. Washington, is Globalisation ending or is that an IVS, is the most important fight in CRISPR, the development of its technology. Why are school students from poorer families studying less during the pandemic?
At the end of the 4 articles, I request you to look at your work, your companies, your studies and take the framework of the Invisible Variable Syndrome and ask yourself. Are you stuck because you have missed a variable in the supercomputer of your brain. Is your company’s growth slowing down because a new variable came in when you were busy showing off your knowledge of existing variables.
1. Surprisingly Big Tech and slightly smaller tech have the same issues. How do you keep employees happy and ensure that they think you are working in the direction of doing good to the world ! From all the employee protests at Google and Microsoft, keeping the employees placated remains a major driving force. So if you want to read the true inclination of Silicon Valley, don’t look at who is endorsing whom. Look at who the employees are giving donations to. Imagine also a world where employees decide who gets donations for campaigns from their companies. How would that world be? Would it be a world where the weighted average of the smartest people make a move to choose a better government or a world where the biggest companies can control the government. For Biden and Trump, they might have realised the importance of Silicon Valley, they would probably have not thought so much about it’s employees. That’s your invisible variable.
2. After all the Pandemic was just supposed to be the oil that bats poured on the fire made by America and China. The pandemic broke very crucial supply chains and surprisingly that should have been the final nail in the coffin for that utopia of yesterday called Globalisation. The World Trade Organisation had predicted that trade would fall by 15-30%. But it didn’t happen. Trade actually fell by less than 10%. Because of remote working, now there is a higher probability of digital goods being outsourced even more. More medical supply chains are being discussed than ever. The Change in globalisation means it is moving forward not back and that is good news. If COVID was the visible barrier then, remote working is probably the invisible variable.
3. In the last 4 months, this is probably the third time I am writing about CRISPR, but for me it is a huge technology leap. A tech that can edit DNA and save lives should get much more importance than a tech that lets you upload temporary photos. But this was also an apt time to write about it as Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work on CRISPR. You might think that in the halls of great research the biggest challenge would be solving the problems of practical applications of the technology. But the real fight is about who invented the process. It is unsettling that there is PR and propaganda done to take credit away from these two and give it to someone else.
4. So it came to be that recent research showed that in multiple counties (US, UK, France,etc), children from poorer families studied less and did less homework than children from rich families. But generally that seemed odd. In the last 10 years, the lesser income households had been shown to be more open to putting efforts into getting their children educated.Further more lower income families included immigrants who over multiple years had been proven to be more ambitious and serious about their children’s education. So where is the Invisible variable?It is now known that school teachers assigned lesser work to students of poorer families and expected less of them. Imagine the paradox of it. Just imagine.
Keep a lookout for the Invisible Variable !