The Prediction Machine

Image of sign offering choice between past and future
Photo by Hadija Said on Unsplash.

In this VENI project, funded by NWO, Jacob Ward uses historical research to investigate how prediction became so important to government and explores the consequences of these predictions on government. Predictions about the future underpin state authority, but the futurological methods for these predictions, such as computer simulation and scenario planning, changed significantly during the late twentieth century. Government itself also changed much during this time, as neoliberalism transformed the shape and function of many nation-states. This project hypothesises that changes in the state’s predictive practices underpinned the neoliberalisation of government, and will investigate this using a case study of futurology and prediction technologies in British government. The UK played a paradigmatic role in advancing and spreading neoliberal forms of government and new forms of prediction to the rest of the world. Furthermore, the UK’s transition from a heavily nationalised-imperial economy to a globalised economy is emblematic of wider changes in Western liberal democracies. Studying futurology and prediction in British government thus permits unique insight into the mutual construction of futurology and neoliberalism, while also revealing wider trends in how futurology has mediated the globalisation of Western states. This project will examine prediction technologies and futurological practices in five policy domains – industry, energy, transport, defence, and science. The project will result in several articles and a book project, and has planned knowledge utilisation activities in the form of popular articles, museum exhibitions, and a knowledge exchange workshop with contemporary futures practitioners.