Predictions part 2_with checkmarks

I always avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place. – Winston Churchill

A good forecaster is not smarter than everyone else, he merely has his ignorance better organised. – Anonymous

In Sports Illustrated’s October 5, 1964 preview of the Tokyo Olympics, the editors stuck their necks out and picked the medalists.

As stated in Part 1, guessing US or USSR in track and field, particularly for the men, was probably not a bad bet. But here’s a few examples of why “you play the game,” as they say.

 

Al Oerter_Life_17July1964
Al Oerter, Life Magazine, July 1964

 

Discus thrower Al Oerter had already won gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and 1969 Rome Olympics. There was no way he could keep that going, or so SI thought. Oerter, despite ripping his rib cage in Tokyo, he still sent his discus soaring the furthest for gold.

The sprinting heir-apparent to Wilma Rudolph in 1960, was Edith McGuire, a member of the famed Tennessee State University Tigerbelles. Clearly, SI hadn’t heard about Wyomia Tyus, who won the 100-meters championships and the crown of fastest woman in the world, but didn’t merit a listing in SI’s top three in that event.

Elvīra_Ozoliņa_1964
Elvīra_Ozoliņa 1964

SI didn’t have to stretch too much to pick Elvira Ozolina for gold in the women’s javelin. After all, the Lativan representing the USSR was the Rome Olympic champion as well as world record holder in 1964. But she did not win, and in fact finished an embarrassing (for her) fifth. However, she still got the press coverage for famously shaving her head bald after the competition.

And finally, SI can be forgiven for getting it wrong for the decathlon. After C. K. Yang’s heartbreaking loss to gold medalist, Rafer Johnson, at the 1960 Rome Olympics, the Ironman from Taiwan was expected to win gold in Tokyo and be crowned the greatest athlete in the world. But, as the great baseball manager, Casey Stengel, once said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.”

Willi Holdorf and C. K. Yang in 1964
Willi Holdorf and C. K. Yang in 1964

 

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SI_5Oct1964 edited

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future. – Nils Bohr, Nobel laureate in Physics

 

A good forecaster is not smarter than everyone else, he merely has his ignorance better organised.  – Anonymous

In Sports Illustrated’s preview of the Tokyo Olympics, the editors offered their very specific predictions for gold, silver and bronze medalists for each of the Olympic events. Not only did they provide the names and orders of victors, they offered a bit of analysis for practically each event.

If we consider that this is 1964, when the only practical way to share information real time was the telephone, and shorter term by telegram, telex and snail mail. Using their considerable global connections at the time, they put together a pretty impressive set of predictions.

Let’s take a look at the 17 track and field events shown at the top of this post. Of that 17, SI identified the actual gold medalist 11 times, as you can see the green check mark I applied to an accurate prediction. In four events (indicated by a gray check mark), they didn’t identify the eventual gold medalist, although the one they picked made it to the medal podium.

Predictions part 1_with checkmarks

In fact, on this particular page, SI got only the marathon and steeplechase gold medalist wrong. They picked Ron Clarke for gold in the 10,000 meters, who eventually took bronze. No one knew that a kid from Kansas named Billy Mills would come out of nowhere to take gold and become one of the darlings of the ’64 Games.

True, men’s athletics were dominated by the US and USSR, and the American press were very aware of the USSR stars, so maybe these selections weren’t huge gambles.

Still, I’d be happy with this success rate.

Flushing Meadows_five
Me, several years after the closing of the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows.

First things first. Novelist and futurist, Isaac Asimov had a caveat. If the world is destroyed by a thermonuclear war, his predictions would be meaningless. Got it.

isaac asimov
Isaac Asimov

Since there has been no nuclear war of significance, here are a few of the predictions Asimov made in the New York Times in August, 1964. Asimov visited the huge, big-tent event in the world that year that was not the Tokyo Olympics – the World’s Fair in New York, which happened to be in my backyard of Flushing, Queens.

By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button. A quick search reveals that available in the marketplace is electroluminescent advertising displays (which are paper-thin flexible panels), electroluminescent paint, electroluminescent wallpaper, and something more commonly known, electroluminescent fashion.

There is an underground house at the fair which is a sign of the future. Suburban houses underground, with easily controlled temperature, free from the vicissitudes of weather, with air cleaned and light controlled, should be fairly common. The reason Asimov gives for this idea is Man’s urge to control its environment, as well as expand the amount of land to grown more food to feed a growing world population. But another reason will be the Mega-city Trend, the continued massive migration to big cities that puts tremendous pressure on the infrastructure. Singapore, where I lived for a few years, has a population of 5.5 million people on a land mass of 710 square km, a country half the size of Los Angeles. The Red Dot, as it is affectionately called, will be considerably more dense as the government predicts the population to grow to 7 million in the near future. Singapore has built upwards with its skyscrapers, and outwards with land-fill areas, but is now planning underground working facilities on a scale not commonly seen. Designs for the 300,000 square-meter Underground Science City will be 30 to 80 meters below the surface, with plans to hold a working population of over 4,000.

Singapore Underground Science City
The planned Singapore Underground Science City

Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The I.B.M. exhibit at the present fair has no robots but it is dedicated to computers, which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the “brains” of robots. The way Asimov describes robotics, and I suppose, artificial intelligence is far less aggressive than his imagination in his novels. I haven’t read that many Asimov works, but I do know that he was one of the most significant minds behind a philosophical framework or set of rules regarding the relationship between Man and Robot: The Three Laws of Robotics. Additionally, I recall his brilliant character, Hari Seldon in Asimov’s Foundation Series, a man who developed psychohistory, a precursor, to me, of what we now call Big Data.

If you want to watch something historic, as well as geeks geeking out, here’s an incredible video of IBM’s Watson beating two humans at Jeopardy. The two humans are Jeopardy champions.

Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with “Robot-brains” vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver. I suspect one of the major attractions of the 2014 fair will be rides on small roboticized cars which will maneuver in crowds at the two-foot level, neatly and automatically avoiding each other. Two obvious parallels to today’s technology: self-driving cars, which are all the rage, as well as maglev technology. By 2020, there are some who claim that Japan will have significant driverless transportation on the roads when the Olympians arrive.

The maglev train, which is already operational in Shanghai, will connect Tokyo to Osaka in an hour, achieving a speed of 500 kph, although it won’t be in operation until 2027.