Tricia Wang – Technology ethnographer
In ancient Greece, when anyone from slaves to soldiers, poets and politicians, needed to make a big decision on life’s most important questions, like, “Should I get married?” or “Should we embark on this voyage?” or “Should our army advance into this territory?” they all consulted the oracle.
So this is how it worked: you would bring her a question and you would get on your knees, and then she would go into this trance. It would take a couple of days, and then eventually she would come out of it, giving you her predictions as your answer.
From the oracle bones of ancient China to ancient Greece to Mayan calendars, people have craved for prophecy in order to find out what’s going to happen next. And that’s because we all want to make the right decision. We don’t want to miss something. The future is scary, so it’s much nicer knowing that we can make a decision with some assurance of the outcome.
Well, we have a new oracle, and its name is big data, or we call it “Watson” or “deep learning” or “neural net.” And these are the kinds of questions we ask of our oracle now, like, “What’s the most efficient way to ship these phones from China to Sweden?” Or, “What are the odds of my child being born with a genetic disorder?” Or, “What are the sales volume we can predict for this product?”
I have a dog. Her name is Elle, and she hates the rain. And I have tried everything to untrain her. But because I have failed at this, I also have to consult an oracle, called Dark Sky, every time before we go on a walk, for very accurate weather predictions in the next 10 minutes. She’s so sweet. So because of all of this, our oracle is a $122 billion industry.