BY MANUEL CEBRIÁN
Corporate America’s historical singularity arrives when BOOM INC. gains the ability to predict the behavior of every other company in the world. Ten years before the singularity, an intern at BOOM INC., at the time a medium-sized data analytics company based in Redmond, is assigned the task of predicting the next year’s hires of its main competitors. The intern, Mr. Cornelius Calecci, a U-Dub Ph.D. student and expert in deep learning — a sophisticated predictive technology at the time — thinks of it as a fun little project and is ready to enjoy the best summer of his life.
Near the end of his internship, Cornelius meets with his BOOM INC. supervisor, Dr. James Colon, and gives him a presentation summarizing his work. Not only he can predict, using all sorts of public and private data, whom of this year’s graduates will join a particular competitor. He also obtains a by-product of such inference: the specific skills for which those individuals get hired in those companies. In other words, Cornelius and his algorithm correctly guess the product lines where the new employees get placed. Dr. Colon, stunned by this finding, decides to report it immediately to BOOM INC.’s board, extends a generous offer to Cornelius — who drops out of his doctoral program — and provides him a generous budget to form a team and expand on his tool as fast as he could.
A highly secretive investors meeting takes place downtown, Seattle. In it, Dr. Colon and Cornelius show a select few that, over a 10-year series of historical data, they can predict every single product launch of all Silicon Valley-based tech companies. No spying or direct contact with its employees involved. The investors are highly impressed, decide to put $1.5B into a new round of funding for BOOM INC., and embrace ta new motto: “BOOM INC.’s goal is to forecast the product lines of the Fortune 500 companies, builds them and releases them earlier into the market.”
By the time BOOM INC. becomes the most valued company on NASDAQ, most of its competitors are out of business. It is no secret at the time that BOOM INC. makes money by anticipating other companies products, and many lawsuits ensue. The supreme court rules that BOOM INC. is free to continue operating, as it does not incur into any act of intellectual theft. In the words of the Honorable Judge Irwin Hoëller Jr., who presides the court ruling: “It is not fair to blame BOOM INC. for being able to see the future.”
BOOM INC. becomes the largest corporation in the world, and by some estimates, the only real company operating in it. Capitalism as we know it ends. As soon as any new business appears, technological or not, BOOM INC. anticipates its product lines, and deploys them faster, cheaper. No company can grow under BOOM INC.’s gargantuan shadow, and that is not a bad thing, with the world’s GDP growing by 15% every year under BOOM INC.’s dominance. The historical period comes to be known as “The Great Upswing.”
There is, however, one thing that BOOM INC. is not good at: predicting its future behavior. The algorithm does not work on BOOM INC.’s own data. Forecasts for its employee growth, sales, hires, or any other variables of interest contain rather large error. This is extremely worrying for the people at BOOM INC.’s helm. Particularly so, to the pioneer of its core technology, Cornelius Calecci.
Cornelius, now the CEO of BOOM INC. devotes all of his energy to uncovering the source of the errors. After months of hard work, he finally discovers what the problem is. BOOM INC.’s is unpredictable precisely because, unlike the other companies, BOOM INC.’s reacts to its own powerful predictions and uses them to change its strategy, making such predictions futile.
Cornelius comes up with a genius idea to circumvent this limitation. He decides to perform an experiment. He sets up MOOB INC., a replica of BOOM INC., with its very same organizational structure, product lines, director’s profiles, and engineer backgrounds. The same architect designs MOOB INC.’s offices. By doing so, he is now able to test whether BOOM INC. is capable of predicting the behavior of MOOB INC., and thus, BOOM INC.’s own future — once it is acting as a separate company, and cannot react to it own predictions.
This experiment produces highly unexpected results. BOOM INC. predicts a healthy future growth for MOOB INC. However, MOOB INC., also equipped with the capacity to guess the fate of companies, predicts that BOOM INC. would do very poorly and eventually close down. Alarmingly, they are both issuing inverse predictions of each other.
Cornelius loses many weeks of sleep over this mystery. BOOM INC. investors get increasingly worried. The predictive technology never fails, and this issues doom and gloom forecasts for BOOM INC. Cornelius assures the board that the two companies are equivalent, and there is no reason for them to have such divergent forecasts. He will find, again, the glitch in the whole process. He just needs time to figure it out.
Ten months later, Cornelius offers his resignation to the board, as he cannot find the source of this problem. All investment diverts to MOOB INC. and BOOM INC. is liquidated. The CEO of MOOB INC. Doctor Jennifer Xixi, who attended graduate school with Cornelius back in their times at U-Dub, offers a ceremony honoring the fantastic work of Cornelius at the helm of BOOM INC. At the end of the event, she announces that a statue of him will be erected at the main entrance of the MOOB INC.’s corporate headquarters.
During the next years, Jennifer and Cornelius remain in close contact. Once a month, they meet over coffee and discuss the mystery behind the experiment that leads to its demise. It was clear that MOOB INC.’s predictive algorithm was correct in hindsight, as eventually BOOM INC. closed down. But there was no scientific reason this could be guessed at the time. The two colleagues imagine myriads of new experiments which may shed light on the puzzle. Alas, Jennifer is troubled by the fact that she still cannot predict the future performance of MOOB INC. Jennifer and Cornelius never convince themselves that any of their ideas would resolve the paradox. Plus Cornelius cares too much about his esteemed colleagued to push her to take the risk just in the name of science.
Time passes fast. Jennifer is ready to retire, and a huge party celebrates in her honor. After all, she has run for over 30 years the most successful company which ever existed. Cornelius attends, in poor health but good spirit, happy to see his dear colleague honored. They seat next to each other at the presiding table during the banquet, drink a bit much, and reminisce about the old times and newest scientific discoveries.
As the party comes to an end, Jennifer and Cornelius head to the banquet entrance, where they wait for their chauffeurs. Jennifer’s car pulls up first. She gives Cornelius a warm hug, whispering in his ear “I’m so sorry.” “Sorry for what, Dear?” — Cornelius replies, with a tipsy voice. “Sorry for faking the prediction about BOOM INC. I’m so sorry you drew the short straw. But you know, it was the right thing to do, the only thing I could do.” Cornelius pales and almost falls to the floor. “Jesus, Jennifer? Why… how, what do you mean?”. “Well Cornelius, this was the only way your experiment could work. BOOM INC. says MOOB INC. will succeed, and it happens. MOOB INC. announces BOOM INC. will fail, and it happens. Had it not been that way, MOOB INC. closes down after the experiment, then BOOM INC.’s prediction is wrong — you and your prediction, Cornelius, are wrong. Your experiment worked, Cornelius — it just worked … I made it work.”
Cornelius Calecci passes away on May 2nd, 2081, and is mourned by scientist and entrepreneurs alike. As he indicated in his last will, his ashes are taken to Lake Sammamish State Park, the place Cornelius spent more of his spare time, fly fishing, drawing, and pipe smoking. As Dr. Xixi scatters the ashes over the lake, she pronounces solemn words in commemoration of his best friend:
“Cornelius monumental contributions to predictive technologies overshadow what in my opinion is his deepest work. The multiple prediction paradoxes he uncovered by his experimental and theoretical work, “Calecci’s Paradox” chief of all of them, hint at laws of the conservation of uncertainty in human behavior. Thanks to Cornelius work we now know that a perfect prediction does not imply a more certain world. Certainty takes the form of a mysterious vapor, always escaping through the cracks of our most precise algorithms.”
Cornelius statue takes over two decades to be finished, but the wait is worthwhile. Its sculptor is Lord Edmund Savage, a world-renowned artist, and MOOB INC.’s Chief Design Officer. Known for its shape-shifting creations, Lord Savage calls this piece his magnum opus. Many say on inauguration day, and for years to come, that the statue is “able to dance with the light,” every ray of sun a different impression, every second a different Cornelius. This account may be, however, hard to believe, as the statue is always the same statue, and the sun is always the same sun.