Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Impact of the Highly Improbable

WED, MAY 19, 2010 (51:33)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, renowned expert on risk and randomness, discusses The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. This bestselling book is now out in paperback with a new essay, "On Robustness and Fragility."

A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was. The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives.

Why do we not acknowledge the phenomenon of black swans until after they occur? Part of the answer, according to Taleb, is that humans are hardwired to learn specifics when they should be focused on generalities. We concentrate on things we already know and time and time again fail to take into consideration what we don’t know. We are, therefore, unable to truly estimate opportunities, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorize, and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the “impossible.”

This lecture contains strong language.

+ BIO: Nassim Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has devoted his life to immersing himself in problems of luck, randomness, human error, probability, and the philosophy of knowledge. He managed to transform his interests into three successful careers, as a man of letters, businessman-trader-risk manager, and university professor. He is currently Distinguished Professor at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute and Principal of Universa. His books Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan have been published in 31 languages. He is widely recognized as the foremost thinker on probability and uncertainty. Taleb lives mostly in New York.

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