5

Example:

The language programmers use to create software sound a lot like the fairy godmother's incantation: grep, mov, end if, cur_x, and selField. And software really is magical. You slide a DVD into your PC, or you invoke your PC-maybe with a touch , maybe at the sound of your voice-or you point at a little picture with a mouse and click, and suddenly all these things begin to happen that could only be witchery. Beautiful color images and voices and sounds emanate from your Pc. The software looks at a few numbers and predicts banana futures in three months. Ask for information on a person, a country, or a date, and the software responds like a crystal ball. You ask the software to take you to another computer on another continent, and in seconds you' re there; magic carpets really can 't compete. — p. 54, How Computers Work, by Ron White and Tim Downs, 2014

How do you understand the term banana futures?

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    I believe this isn't a GR question; the meaning isn't explicit enough for the OP. – M.A.R. Sep 2 '15 at 12:51
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    @inɒzɘmɒЯ.A.M What's a GR question? – heinrich5991 Sep 2 '15 at 18:59
  • @heinrich5991 GR stands for "general reference". Those are questions that should be answered with a dictionary or alike. I reached this question through the close vote queue, and I didn't agree with the close reason that states "this question is entirely answerable with a dictionary." – M.A.R. Sep 2 '15 at 19:03
13

COMMODITY futures is common market shorthand for "future prices of COMMODITY": the price which the commodity will command in the future. In your example, the software predicts what bananas will cost three months from now.

COMMODITY futures is also used for "future contracts in COMMODITY": the present purchase of the commodity for future delivery. If I am a manufacturer of frozen banana cream pies I want to assure my plant of a future flow of ripe bananas. I may contract with a specific grower or distributor of bananas to deliver so many tons of bananas in September, so many in October, and so forth.

And COMMODITY futures is also used for the "current prices of banana contracts for future delivery". There are international markets where standardized futures contracts are traded: there will typically be a distinct current price for each future month: September bananas, October bananas, and so forth, each representing the collective guess about what bananas will cost in those future months.

In effect, all three are the same thing: a prediction of future prices under which the producers and users of bananas balance future supply and demand by separating the physical commodity from the risk and opportunity of future price movements, which they sell to speculators. The producers and users get the commodities at a certain price, and the speculators get the opportunity for profit.

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    It's worth pointing out that "predicting banana futures" doesn't have any specific relevance to the topic of computers and programming languages. Instead, it was picked by the author as an arbitrary example of computer use. Pretty much anything else that a computer can do could be substituted, without substantially changing the meaning of the paragraph. – R.M. Sep 2 '15 at 17:45
  • @StoneyB: you gave a literal definition, but banana futures aren't a real thing, as whimsical as witchery or magic carpets. The phrase is a hyperbole: not meant to be taken literally. – Erik Olson Sep 4 '15 at 0:17
  • @ErikOlson There is, to be sure, no 'public' trading of banana contracts, and near-monopoly by a handful of traders has severely distorted the international trade in bananas. But future contracts in bananas, and fluctuating prices on those contracts, are normal at both ends of the trade. And 'soft commodities' are beginning to become standardized: frozen orange juice concentrate contracts were introduced on the ICE just 8 years ago. – StoneyB Sep 4 '15 at 2:39
4

I think it refers to this acceptation of "futures":

  1. (futures) Finance Contracts for assets (especially commodities or shares) bought at agreed prices but delivered and paid for later. Compare with forward (sense 2 of the noun).

(Source)

Without digressing too much into the financial aspects of futures, they are usually high-risk transactions; predicting futures' revenues / losses is something really desirable, so the fact that software can predict "banana futures" is, much like the whole snippet, a praise to software itself.

1

"Banana futures" is tongue in cheek - I don't think there is such a thing. You might as well say "predict solar bogon flux" -- it's technobabble but sounds amazing.

As others explained, "futures" refers to a market price at which buyers and sellers think the item will trade at a future date. For instance, the price of orange juice next September. You can usually look up this number.

But I don't think "banana futures" refers to looking up the prices of currently trading commodity futures (which doesn't exist anyway for bananas.) Instead, a computer would seem magical if it looked up some other data (say, weather forecasts) and ran a model to predict a number that may be higher or lower than the traded futures price. If your computer gave you information nobody else had, and you knew how to use this information, it could be profitable.

Essentially, "predicting banana futures" refers to uncovering hidden information that may be quite valuable (if you can trust your computer model.)

Or it may refer to an impressive-looking calculation to get a totally bogus result.

"Banana" connotes craziness, as in "Go bananas", or a fake thing as in "Banana Republic". If you understand that futures markets on things that spoil are a generally bad idea, you laugh at the crazy idea of a "banana future".

In the company of "magic incantations", "crystal ball" and "magic carpet", the term "banana futures" can be understood as one more fantastic made up thing. The tone of the paragraph is hyperbole: computers can do miraculous things!

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    I'd be surprised if there wasn't a banana futures market. They're a reasonably large commodity. For example, there is a cocoa futures market. – David Richerby Sep 2 '15 at 19:18
  • AFAIK the only internationally recognized "soft agricultural" futures markets are canola, cocoa, coffee, cotton, frozen orange juice, sugar, and various grains. Of course individual importers will most likely do "futures" deals with banana growers in the sense of fixing a price for future delivery, but that's not the same as a "futures market" where most of the trading is speculation on future price movements, with no intention of ever buying or selling the physical commodity. – alephzero Sep 2 '15 at 19:50
  • I second your first suggestion. It's a placeholder for something you could make money with if you could predict it. P.S. The passage is vaguely familiar. OP, what's the source? Scout's honour, without googling, P.J.O'Rourke? – user22857 Sep 2 '15 at 21:16
  • I think that you're trying to say that it's a "hypothetical" – meant to highlight the versatility of the device – which I would agree with. – J.R. Sep 2 '15 at 21:28
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    @David: I have experience in financial markets and I've never come across a traded banana contract. It sounds like a silly thing, like pets.com, because bananas spoil. Futures markets thrive on commodities you can store. Thousands of futures contract ideas have been tried only to wilt away for lack of motivated buyers or sellers. I couldn't find any old or new information on bananas (try for instance cmegroup.com) – Erik Olson Sep 3 '15 at 23:52

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