Uncertain futures: what can we forecast and when should we give up?

17 August 2021

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Statistical Society of Australia AGM, 17 August 2021
Australian Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers, 24 August 2021.

Why is it that we can accurately forecast a solar eclipse in 1000 years time, but we have no idea whether Google’s stock price will rise or fall tomorrow? Or why can we forecast the daily electricity consumption for the next week with remarkable precision, but we cannot forecast daily COVID-19 cases with the same accuracy?

In this talk, I will discuss the conditions we need for predictability, how to measure the uncertainty of our forecasts, and how to evaluate whether we are uncertain enough.

I will draw on 30 years of forecasting practice, including forecasting Australia‚Äôs health budget for the next few years, forecasting peak electricity demand in 20 years time, producing weekly forecasts of daily COVID-19 cases for all Australian states since March 2020, and forecasting the post-pandemic recovery of Australia’s tourism industry.

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