Don’t like to “do the Math?”  You’ve got company.

Take the Austrian Social Democrat party.  Due to an error in an Excel spreadsheet, it announced the wrong party leader last Saturday.


Time to ditch Excel and embrace AI?  We’ve been told that AI will transform the world economy, why not party elections?  Then again, AI may lead to global economic hardship.

It’s hard to say.

Why?  Because we have a problem with “facts.”  So much of what we accept as factual will change over time.  Technology will improve, environments will change, hypotheses will be disproved, and more data will be collected and analyzed.  Like radioactive materials, facts have half-lives.  Today, scientists can measure how long it takes for half of a subject’s knowledge to be overturned; they really can do the math. 

This particular science is detailed in Samuel Arbesman’s book, The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date.  While almost ten years old, the book is even more relevant now.  Why?  Because facts are changing more rapidly than ever.


My energy efficient appliances of the 2010s are no longer efficient.  The environmentally “safe” Freon replacement in my air conditioner is not.  Safe.  Caffeine is a healthy indulgence this week.  Next week, not so much.  Fusion power is a reality, that isn’t.  I could go on and on.

So, be cautious and remember, many online “facts” have the same annoyingly familiar unpinning, Mathematics:  They are presented in an effort to increase viewership, add more likes, augment advertising income, or yield higher stock prices . . ..  The half-lives of many such facts can be measured in days, not years.

Do the math.  You may not like it, but it’s more important than ever.

Peter Dragone - Co-founder of Keurig.