In Ancient Greece, the prophetess was sought out for her ability to predict the future, gazing deeply into the burning fire of the crucible. Our modern Crucible is where we provide you with insights and first glimpses of our vision for the future.
In their excellent book, "Superforecasting, the art & science of prediction", Professor Philip Tetlock and co-author Dan Gardner introduce us to the philosophy of Archilochus - "The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing". Hedgehogs see the world through a single idea or perspective; in their words "like a pair of green-tinted glasses that the hedgehog never takes off".
Foxes instead seek information from many sources to arrive at evidence-based conclusions, expressing their level of doubt openly and plainly. Hedgehogs are beloved by news broadcasters with limited time, and they escape censure because we do not routinely evaluate the accuracy of predictions. But Tetlock and Gardner did just that in their 21-year study into "Expert Political Judgement: How Good Is it? How can we know". The foxes showed real insight, and the hedgehogs did slightly worse than random guessing.
So where does that leave the hedgehogs? Maybe the recognition that within their numbers could be a small minority, who I would term the "reflective hedgehogs". These individuals might realise that they are not particularly good forecasters, in predicting what will happen when, because they lack the ability to assimilate many different streams of information (foxes). These eclectic few, spared the onslaught of information, have the time to conceive a big picture formed from their limited observations of the world around them; a picture of a destination rather than a journey.
A reflective hedgehog might observe that health is held to be a universal good. Individuals, healthcare professionals and society work collectively to improve individual and population health, with many failures and frequent relapses. Healthcare systems are trying to shift from treating disease to prolonging health, but it is a long battle. The foxes are vital allies in forecasting how risk factors will change or treatments will be discovered. But it is the reflective hedgehog who will observe steadfastly that the collective drive will continue until the goal of optimal health is achieved, whether it takes a decade or a century.
“Mr Hunt, this isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you”. So Anthony Hopkins berates Tom Cruise in mellifluous tones for his lack of ambition in the Mission Impossible series. For actuaries, “Mission Impossible” has long been the ability to accurately predict the future of mortality, many years hence. Enriched by new sources of data from around the world, generation after generation have sought to develop more sophisticated models that capture volatility and quantified scenarios. However, all that past trends tell us with certainty is the scale of achievements or disasters from the past, perhaps denying future generations the benefit of repetition.
The pertinent questions are what remains to be unlocked – by who and by when. Perhaps inspiration should come from a celebrated statesman and author. A mere 500 years ago, Sir Thomas More gave us the concept of Utopia – an imaginary idyllic island where people live in harmony and perfect health. If we can conceive a time-dated definition of perfect health, then we have a framework for how much further improvement may be possible, at what cost and where efforts should be focused. We should build our model of Utopia on a clear evaluation of the successes of public health from antibiotics to vaccines to smoking cessation. The future levers to improved health are many – molecular imaging, precision medicine, improved adherence, digiceuticals, as are the obstacles we put in our path. But the destination continues to beckon, irrespective of our course. The question for actuaries is simply how long will the journey take – whether at the country, societal or individual level.
A daunting challenge indeed – but one where our understanding improves with every step. UTOPIA – our next mission!
"Nobody ever went in and nobody ever came out". Those haunting words from Roald Dahl set the scene for the grand re-opening of Willy Wonka's eponymous chocolate factory. For three years the factory sat silent - and then miraculously one day the machines came back to life. On 30 June 1971, cinema audiences around the world were able to see for the first time inside the Chocolate Factory, and imagination become reality - Chocolate Waterfalls, Edible Trees, Everlasting Gobstoppers.
39 years later, almost to the day, my research factory shut down. For 9 years, the Mortality Morbidity Service brought forth a kaleidoscope of models, analyses and expert opinions, bringing together doctors, statisticians, epidemiologists and actuaries. Maybe the Bulletins were not as delicious and breath taking as Wonka's creations but I still remember the exquisite sense of relief and achievement as they sped on their merry electronic way and the sandwich lunches that greeted each new arrival.
Now, 10 years on, the factory is showing signs of life once more. This year, the doors will re-open under new management. Common research understanding provides the basis for individual exploration and experimentation. COIOS Research aims to bring that shared knowledge to you - and deliver tasty goodies through the Crucible. Welcome back!