Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers

Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers

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Some uncertainties are resolvable. The insurance industry’s actuarial tables and the gambler’s roulette wheel both yield to the tools of probability theory. Most situations in life, however, involve a deeper kind of uncertainty, a radical uncertainty for which historical data provide no useful guidance to future outcomes. Radical uncertainty concerns events whose determinants are insufficiently understood for probabilities to be known or forecasting possible. Before President Barack Obama made the fateful decision to send in the Navy Seals, his advisers offered him wildly divergent estimates of the odds that Osama bin Laden would be in the Abbottabad compound. In 2000, no one—not least Steve Jobs—knew what a smartphone was; how could anyone have predicted how many would be sold in 2020? And financial advisers who confidently provide the information required in the standard retirement planning package—what will interest rates, the cost of living, and your state of health be in 2050?—demonstrate only that their advice is worthless.


The limits of certainty demonstrate the power of human judgment over artificial intelligence. In most critical decisions there can be no forecasts or probability distributions on which we might sensibly rely. Instead of inventing numbers to fill the gaps in our knowledge, we should adopt business, political, and personal strategies that will be robust to alternative futures and resilient to unpredictable events. Within the security of such a robust and resilient reference narrative, uncertainty can be embraced, because it is the source of creativity, excitement, and profit.

Title:Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers
ISBN:9781324004783
Format Type:

    Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers Reviews

  • Athan Tolis

    For a hyper-discursive one-idea book, this was actually rather good!Here’s the idea: Economics would do well to turn its mathematical prowess away from the idea that economic agents are busy maximiz...

  • Mehrsa

    I've read both Kay and King's individual books and am a fan of both. This book needed some editing help, but the insights are worthwhile, incredibly relevant, and essential for everyone to understand-...

  • Marks54

    This is a book by two well known British economists, both of whom are accomplished scholars and analysts of economics, corporate strategy, and finance. The premise is fairly straightforward and starts...

  • Sarah Clement

    I admit to starting this book and being a bit bored because I read a lot about uncertainty and risk and how that affects decision making. I have read so many books about mathematics, statistics, model...

  • SH Leung

    Sorry nothing here if you have already read Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan and Antifragility.The book is 140,000 words long and the main idea could perhaps be summarized in one-tenth of the book. Many ch...

  • Otto Lehto

    Radical Uncertainty makes an important contribution to the current debate. It challenges the role of technocratic experts, and the mathematical models that they hide behind, in decision making. It put...

  • Drtaxsacto

    I've spent some time this year thinking about contingencies in life - COVID has forced all of us to do that. I am not sure who recommended the book to me but I am glad whoever it was did.The book's fu...

  • Laurent Franckx

    I didn't rate this book so highly because I learned so much from it (most of it confirmed my existing views) on the topic, but because I think it should be read by anyone who uses (policymakers, milit...

  • William T

    I am not finished, but I will say that the central thesis of this book is compelling. I am not convinced that the same couldn't have been accomplished in a shorter book, but I will have more to say wh...

  • Mateusz Urban

    Kay and King do something quite remarkable here - they attempt to draw our (economists', policymakers' etc.) attention to the notion of what they call "radical uncertainty", which, with a bit of overs...