About Swans

about Taleb’s “Black Swan”, dealing with the reality of our times and leaving the laboratory

a computational black swan

Why do I say this after reading the book?

The book basically deals with trying to understand what happens when the world transforms into our present one.

“history does not crawl, it jumps, going from one dislocation to another, with a few vibrations in between”.

In the book, our accepted ways of dealing with uncertainty are presented as opening up to a number of fallacies:

  • Silent proof fallacies, which take place when we don’t consier failed attempts in our estimates: want to know “how to become a millionaire in 10 steps”? You just cannot take 100 of millionaires and ask them how they did it, because in this way you will miss all the ones that filed. We don’t look at the cemetery.
  • Ludic fallacy, according to which what happens in games and casinos is inadequate to describe and model real-life uncertainty: there are certain rules and spaces, and you can only move within them. Game theory is inadequate to deal with Black Swans and, thus, with unforseeable, world-changing events.
  • Poincaré: when making predictions on the future, a growing precision on the knowledge of process dynamics which is being modeled is needed, as error rates grow rapidly.
  • Von Hayek: the problem of scientism in predictions and forecast, as the world could want to avoid following scientific formulas.

Data is in the air

In all of this, the role of data is stongly highlighted in the book.

The Issues

For me these are among the most pressing issues of these times.

The availability and accessibility of data

Data, today, is an extractive industry.

Where are the people?

While advocating the need to “abandon theory” (I am simplifying for the sake of brevity here, read the book to understand what it means), and the need to be able to deal with complex reality, the book itself comes from the closed space of the laboratory.


We are in perilious times. Times of populism and anti-science. Here, in these times, we run the risk of forgetting that science is part of society. Which does not mean the populist notion of the anti-expert, of the anti-scientist, or that “anyone can be the expert”. It means that science should not be an isolated phenomenon, and that it should be a shared process that involves all of society.

and, in the end…

In our little, tiny existence, we have always promoted this vision, for example through the concept of the Third Infoscape and of the Digital Acupuncture, which opens up access to the myriads of micro-histories which we collectively generate as a society to design interventions, up to the concept of Near Future Design, in which data is collected in radically diverse ways to continuously understand and construct simulacra of possible changes, in trasmedia, diegetic ways, and to engage society at large in this process, or trough our research center, Human Ecosytems Relazioni, which sees data and computation as cultural phenomena and which has an entire department dedicated to Data+AI+Arts, and which is promoting a new concept for a neighbourhood school which uses AI and data to investigate the existential condition of human beings.

Artist. President at https://www.he-r.it/, founder at http://www.artisopensource.net/. Teaches Near Future Design and Transmedia Design.

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