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Specters of Uncertainty

Specters of Uncertainty

(p.248) Epilogue Specters of Uncertainty
Looking Forward
Jamie L. Pietruska
University of Chicago Press

This chapter surveys transformations of uncertainty into calculable risk from the 1920s to the early twenty-first century, beginning with economist Frank H. Knight’s influential 1921 work Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit. It focuses on the emergence of war risk insurance, weather insurance, and crop insurance in the 1910s and 1920s as both manifestations of a cultural recognition of the unpredictability of economic life and new forms of risk management. The chapter briefly examines federal risk-management efforts during the Great Depression and World War II as well as Cold War forecasting and futurism. It concludes with a discussion of how probabilistic forecasting, big data, and predictive analytics have promised new, ostensibly objective, methods for calculating the future in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries but are actually shaped by and indeed perpetuate their ideological, political, and cultural contexts. The chapter ends with a consideration of the failure of pollsters and political commentators to predict the result of the 2016 US presidential election.

Keywords:   uncertainty, risk, war risk insurance, weather insurance, crop insurance, calculation, Cold War futurism, probabilistic forecasting, big data, predictive analytics

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