From Mr Giorgos Georgopoulos.

Sir, John Kay points out that big data “can help us understand the future only to the extent that the future is . . . contained in the present” (“Big data lets us see a little further into the unknown”, February 12). Professor Kay is correct in that the future is contained in the present, but we need not be limited by the possibilities of the present alone.

For millennia, human societies have made some sense of the future without data – through imagination, through pattern matching, through analogy, and through inference. While often derided, these approaches to social sense-making underpin some of our most sophisticated organisational forms.

Today, technology enables us to multiply the power of these organisational forms through the scale of the web. Such “collective intelligence” connects individual forward-looking human abilities with the networked capabilities of large scale collaboration. It is an approach being used to forecast global events through data-informed human judgment, create a future city without cars in Stockholm, and explore the role non-governmental organisations should take in future humanitarian crises similar to Syria.

Yes, we should be grateful for investment in big data that allows us to know it will be sunny again tomorrow. But we should also ensure that investment in collective intelligence continues, so that we can deepen our collective imagination and speculate creatively about the shared problems we face – beyond tomorrow’s weather alone.

Giorgos Georgopoulos, Futurescaper Ltd, London EC2, UK

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