Monday, October 31, 2005

Am I a good "predictor"?

I have continued to probe at the idea of Predictions Registries, in hope that it may eventually lead to some kind of accountability engine (or arena) that would help evaluate a very critical question that may determine the future of humanity and civilization... is there any way to identify which individuals tend to be right a lot - distinguishing them explicitly from those who mask with flashy legedermain the fact that they are often terribly wrong?

PredictionsRegistryWhat possible service would be more valuable? It is a GENERAL concept, that could enhance every other human endeavor, from government to philanthropy. And yes, with profound potential commercial uses, as well. The first to invest in such a process might benefit profoundly. So why have people only nibbled at the edges?

(I believe this is closely related to the mypoia that has kept people from studying the fundamental common elements of markets, science, democracy and law, treating each of them as completely separate when, in fact, their basic processes have deep, common roots.)

All I can do is keep tossing out there items that seem relevant, hoping they may add up. Here are a few interesting sites I have found so far (one of them admittedly self-serving):

1. Marketocracy Data Services is a research company whose mission is to find the best investors in the world and then track, analyze, and evaluate their trading activity. (I'm going to get my son an account.) At www.marketocracy.com folks compete to become the best investors. For over 3 years they have tracked, analyzed, and evaluated their virtual trading activity and have accumulated a massive database; following over 10,000 stock positions at any one time and more than four million trades. Marketocracy constantly analyzes and ranks the stock picking ability of members using a complex algorithm that incorporates long and short-term performance, as well as an attribution analysis that accounts for market, sector, style, and trading contribution so that they can isolate comparative returns.

These guys appear to be the closest to the real thing so far. You could squint and imagine their software and approach being applied on a much broader scale to predictions across a huge range of topic areas, from politics to sports... and even to science. If I ever find time, I may try to contact them about this possibility. I can think of few endeavors that have greater potential for helping a society in flx, than to come up with methodologies for identifying people who are right a lot... and those who are too often wrong to deserve our credibility and trust

2. Then there's this: "Prediction Company is bringing two main forces to bear against this changing environment: world class technology and world class science. Our technology allows us to build fully automated trading systems which can handle huge amounts of data, react and make decisions based on that data and execute transactions based on those decisions - all in real time. Our science allows us to build accurate and consistent predictive models of markets and the behavior of financial instruments traded in those markets." http://www.predict.com/

Unfortunately, all is not as it seems, in a group's self-serving public statements. I have it from other sources that these guys followed an all-too familiar course, betting so heavily on their computer model's infallibility that they did not take into account any model's inevitable failure. Still, gotta envy their URL.

3. Someone recently pointed to the Technovelgy Site - a very cool attempt to cite technological predictions made in sci fi novels. This is nothing like the systematic approach to registering predictions that I am urging but it certainly is a step... though a glance at my own entry seems fairly skimpy, given that my novel Earth just had its 14th predictive "hit".

(Alert! Danger! Egomaniacal preening is about to begin!) Right off the bat I can think of plenty of other items that someone (ahem) might suggest to the site manager. (I think they also want to cite an actual passage from the book, making this process more complex and too time consuming even for an egotist like me, alas.) For example:

Subvocal user-computer interface shown in EARTH (1989) which NASA reports inventing in 2003.

Personality profiling (SUNDIVER) which is now a hot topic using PET scanning... though no one is using yet the inherently superior method of eye-tracking.

Uplift genetic engineering of animals (um....)

WOM or Write Only Memory (Brightness Reef) a recording device that is required to be carried on all ships or cars, that cannot be read until the owner releases the information, or for an extended time.

Predictions Registry (EARTH) hey, might as well get credit for this, too.

EMILYPOST viral politeness programs (EARTH) target rude internet users.

Information sieves (EARTH) - programs that sift the Net for content according to your tastes and priorities, learning as they go. They can either enhance productivity or be used to exclude all incoming information that might disagree with your favorite illusions. (Sound like Rush dittoheads?)

Illusion-breaker programs that pierce these sieves and force Net users to perceive news or opinions outside their tailor-made perception range. (EARTH)

Hostage Gas (The Uplift War) forces a population to voluntarily go to internment camps in order to get antidotes to a toxin.

Waldo Whale (Sundiver) lets a human swim like a dolphin or orca.

Waldo walker and tools (Startide Rising) allows dolphins to move and work outside of water.

Needle-Gym - A simulation-exercise room with needle floor ("NatuLife"). A million needles on the bottom of a tiny, closet-size "exercise room" rise and fall to simulate any ground or surface, from a street to forest trail, acting also like a treadmill, so that you can run and feel under your feet any surface that the computer shows you in your simulation goggles.

Tether space station. A station in two parts, separated by a 100 mile tether, will orbit the Earth in a way that aligns along a radius, deriving "gravity gradient" forces that let liquids settle and provides a sense of up and down. ("Tank Farm".)

A Womb with a View. Intra-utero teaching unit. Installed to help a fetus learn before birth and get a leg-up on other pre-pre preschoolers. ("Dr. Pak's Preschool")

Fabricows - cattle and other creatures that create gene-designed biomachinery in their wombs. Also complex synthetic chemicals instead of milk. Poor women might also do this, creating super-advanced organic entities the old fashioned way. ("Piecework").

GAZER or gravity laser (EARTH) uses singularity "mirrors" to tap the higher energy levels within the Earth and emit tuned, focused, coherent graviton beams.

I just dashed these off. Any others occur at a thought? Anybody care to compile and tell these guys? (I guess this topic thread can be continued here while we move on.) Hey, these days, below a certain level of fame, you gotta do your own $$#@! preening.

24 comments:

JAK said...

You might check out "Power vs. Force" by Dr. David R. Hawkins. I think you may just find a stepping stone, if not a map.

Good luck.

Rob Perkins said...

Why not just write to them using their form? http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/contactus.asp

David Brin said...

This brings up a problem somebody might help me with.

Used to be on Amazon you had access quickly to the publisher's weekly review of a book and one from amazon itself, leading on to customer comments. Can somebody tell me where the PW and AMZ reviews are nowadays hidden in the new format? Am I nuts? Wasn't that the best way to get a summary of a book and find out what it is about?

Anonymous said...

I just checked the first few items on my Amazon wish list.

Most of them (the ones that had been out for a while) had an "editorial reviews" section with the Publishers's Weekly comments, plus user reviews further down.

Obscure, out of print, and yet-to-be-released items may not have these.

Stefan

Woozle said...

For what it's worth:

Issuepedia Prediction Registry

This is in wiki format, so contributions and editing are invited. (Should I put an exclamation point after that to make it sound more friendly, or will it just sound tacky and advertising-ish instead? No idea. Ok, I'll stop thinking out loud now. Stopping.)

Steve said...

Here are some things to consider:

How do you give credit for self-preventing prophecies like Silent Spring or 1984?

I think there would be two categories, open to view and hidden from view and revealed based on some criteria (maybe time and/or keywords in online newspapers).

The last people to put in their own predictions would be politicians, so there would need to be a way to enter somebody else's predictions based on a quote.

What about predictions that come true at a different time than predicted?

What about the Nostradamus Effect, i.e. if you phrase something "vaguely specific," people can find anything they are looking for. (The article in Skeptical Inquirer about the "Antinous Prophecies" is where I think that phrase came from.)

You would need to stratify based on obviousness or length of time to avoid people getting highly ranked for tossing in a bunch of obvious predictions about tomorrow. Perhaps there are long-term predictors and short-term predictors.

What about selection bias? You list a bunch of Earth predictions that still might come true, but don't mention the ones that didn't or probably won't. This would be true for any gleaning from novels, I suspect.

If I could do database work, I would have set this up - I think it would be valuable!

Anonymous said...

With time, I've come to value less "predictions" and value more SF whose view of the future is comprehensive and fair.

The whole prophetic, "things to come" aspect of SF is overblown, driven by clueless press people trying to find something they think general audiances will be interested.

What made (for example) Earth fascinating to me is not the many "predictive hits," but its breadth. The first part of the book took its own good time poking its nose in interesting places.

Stefan

Simon Neville said...

This touches on what "Steve said... "

But lets say there is a prediction registary and people that are right quite often are listened too.
After awhile that becomes self-defeating, because had people listened to your prediction on New Orleans and then taken action to prevent it, the percentage of your predictions coming true would lower making you a less likely person to be listened too!!!! and the snake swallowing its tail goes around and around.

Simon Neville

Tony Fisk said...

All this reminds me of the genetic lottery in Larry Niven's 'Known Space' series (esp. Ringworld). Turned out it was selectively breeding for lucky people, which led to a lot of speculation about causality violations.

Turning to a true tale: I don't recall the details, but wasn't there a group of economics professors in the nineties (nobel laureates, even) who worked out, not only a predictive formula for futures trading, but a system of bet hedging to 'fix' the relevant parameters and allow them to make a killing?

Except, they got greedy, and their activities started to effect the behaviour of the overall market, requiring ever increasing hedges to keep the predictions valid. They had to bail (or was it 'get bailed'?) when the required hedges started to exceed total global wealth: a singularity you *don't* want to meet!

So, the 'self defeating' feedback loop in a predictive registry mentioned by Simon Neville might not be an entirely bad thing.

So long as the net result is an improvement.

David Brin said...

Great comments.

"How do you give credit for "self-preventing prophecies" like Silent Spring or Nineteen Eighty Four? "

For my answer see: http://www.davidbrin.com/tomorrowsworldarticle.html… Heck, I am the guy who COINED "self-preventing prophecies"!

In fact, this is my answer to Stefan. I am like you, somewhat amused by "prediction" in SF per se. But I am fascinated by accountability. Which boils down to be held to whether you are right a lot or wrong a lot.

I may preen about my ‘score’ in SF novels. But that’s just ego blather and you are right that it’s not the best part of Earth. Still, if it can get me more influence….

"Predictions might be posted in two categories, open to view and hidden from view and revealed based on some criteria after time. The last people to put in their own predictions would be politicians, so there would need to be a way to enter somebody else's predictions, based on public statements."

I will post online my full article on predictions registries. It will answer many of these questions. Including: "What about the Nostradamus Effect, i.e. if you phrase something "vaguely specific," people can find anything they are looking for."

Oh! Thanks for the amazing work on http://www.issuepedia.org/index.php/Prediction_Registry !!

Wow. When my article on registries is posted online, feel free to copy it over there or link. I think it will be needed in order to explain the reasons. Much gratitude.

HarCohen said...

Would a prediction registry work better with a population that ignored it or accepted it?

I've seen many inaccuracies even in simple project estimates. And I've observed projects fail outright, even when using fairly well understood technology.

I would say the tendency to be right a lot has a lot to do with tending to do a lot of things right. I've come to appreciate 'The Apprentice' shows just for demonstrating that fact. I think you'll have more fun exploring all the varieties and facets of leadership than finding 'natural' predictors. In that regard, I recommend Leading Minds, An Anatomy of Leadership by Howard Gardner. It's probably a book with which you're already familiar.


Since consultants never actually do anything, it is particularly difficult to distinguish those who are right from those with just hype.

I can't find the specifics right now, but there are large sets of data regarding software projects that are being analyzed for lessons learned. (Guess what. Small teams can get things done faster than large teams, but with more performance variance.) So I suspect a lot of predictor registries do exist and are domain specific, with a limited set of participants.

Genetic uplift of animals? Should we include Buddha? Daniel Defoe? Jules Verne. And there are some good twentieth century stories.

Rob Perkins said...

I think the most interesting thing about Earth was the characterization. You spent a lot of time introducing us to the teen boys, for example, which paid off when they chose their fates later on in completely believable ways (having been a teenage boy, and having survived it, I know a thing or two...) :-)

The same goes for the other characters. The only one who was much of a maguffin was Manila, there in plain sight Uplifting the human race...

Forgive me. I'm a fan. :-)

Steve said...

"Since consultants never actually do anything, it is particularly difficult to distinguish those who are right from those with just hype."

Ouch! My consulting clients don't let me get away with that, nor would I let them. If the client's bottom line isn't improved, fire the consultant! (I have the data to prove it to my clients...)

I just re-read Earth and while I got that Manila might have been alien (or at least wanted them to think so), I missed the connection to Uplift. Personally, I am rooting for humans naturally evolving, though I suspect that one possiblility Dr. Brin is leaving open is that humans are the degenerates of the Founders. But I just really dislike Von Daniken's lazy thinking.

I will be buying the next Uplift novel as soon as it comes out...hint hint...

Frank said...

"is there any way to identify which individuals tend to be right a lot"

So, when (or if) we find those real special individuals, what are we going to do with them?

Anonymous said...

Space tourism could be a great
way to bootstrap the process of opening up the solar system.Catering to the rich is slow going 'tho. Instead we should have some sort of lottery for the common people.

Anonymous said...

As much as I dislike "reality" shows, if they get more "non-rich" people into space, I approve. ("The real world, Lagrange point"?)

Jon

Rob Perkins said...

"I missed the connection to Uplift."

I see it this way:

Human beings are sapient. We have ways, albeit imperfect, of transmitting our own memories in detail to other organisms of our species, and theoretically any other sapient species. Animals can't do that; they'd need to be "Uplifted" to a point where their language can handle a prepositional phrase and some tenses. Without such a so-far unattempted thing, they're stuck with gene transfer for instinct, and their memories, however simple, die with them.

We're also beginning to be capable of modifying our own bioform in ways no animals can, without relying on natural selection over generations. In fact, we can *defeat* natural selection with certain technologies, overcoming diseases and calamities which would have culled us as early as 6000 years ago. Heck, as early as 200 years ago!

(We can't really confirm or deny the sapience of dolphins, as far as I can tell, so I won't speak for species which might have something similar to what we have. But I don't think we've seen dolphins develop analgesics or antibiotics. Perhaps they think we're all silly and we'll be thanked soon for all the fish... ;-) )

At any rate, our species has these traits of non-genetic meme transfer methods, as well as a burgeoning technological bent.

If one were to "Uplift" such a species with a least-energy effort, the finest way to do it, I think, would simply be to drop memes here and there, controlling crowds with careful demagoguery, whispering in the ears of individuals at influential nexuses, and drawing attention to things.

If Manila were an extra-T, or the thrall of one (more likely in a Brin story would be that he was an agent of some influential external source, than otherwise), then all he'd have to do to be Uplifting humans would be to do what he did in the story: As a gadfly journalist, cause Alex's singularity to go into a place where he'd find Beta, etc, etc, etc...

Unless he really was a Maguffin? Say it ain't so, David!

Steve said...

"Human beings are sapient. We have ways, albeit imperfect, of transmitting our own memories in detail to other organisms of our species, and theoretically any other sapient species. Animals can't do that; they'd need to be "Uplifted" to a point where their language can handle a prepositional phrase and some tenses. Without such a so-far unattempted thing, they're stuck with gene transfer for instinct, and their memories, however simple, die with them."

Have you seen the research on chimpanzee culture? I have also seen research that cetaceans pass along learned behavior. So I don't think we are the only ones with memes.

That said, there is an interesting argument that technological species no longer evolve naturally, since we tend to protect our less-fit members.

It is fascinating to me that we store so much of what we are in wetware. A gedankenexperiment: you isolate a human child and an animal child from others. Depending on the animal, it could function pretty well but not the human - a lot of what it is to be human is ephemeral acculturation.

Is it possible for an intelligent species to evolve that does not use meme evolution? Maybe not. If so, they sure would take a lot longer.

Rob Perkins said...

I haven't seen research on either cetaceans or chimpanzees, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that what you claim is true. I've seen cats with kittens in situations where the adult cat appears to be lecturing the kittens.

Even so, that's a very simple thing, compared to what humans do. The range of human memes is orders of magnitude greater than what we understand might exist among chimps or dolphins, as far as I know. (Though I'd not lay money that dolphins have no complex language; I draw the idea only from observing that their interactions don't change as fast as human societies can.)

And a though occurs that perhaps the animal meme transmission merely activates latent instinct, but I have absolutely no way of testing that. I can't even keep a fish pet alive, let alone a pride of wild housecats or a pod of dolphins...

Anonymous said...

@Rob

There is a gradation between animals and humans in meme transmission for sure. It becomes an issue of do they lack language bandwidth and/or the biolgical capacity. I believe that the feral child with no human contact would be unlikely to invent much more than a basic language concepts absent some sort of human contact, so there is the software component. But there is also the example of a language created by deaf people who had human company but no training in a sign language, which seems to indicate that we have evolved a biological component to language. (Actually, I think the current hypothesis is that language ability was an accidental by-product of other changes...)

Gorillas and chimps trained to use sign language or other non-verbal communication seem to show an innate understanding of some parts of language (see a critical summary here).

I think any potential uplift will have a way to go, but I think the end product that Dr. Brin describes is realistic - would they not wish for the simple life at least sometimes? Don't we?

HarCohen said...

Sorry. Just following on David's thinking when I mentioned do-nothing consulting "is there any way to identify which individuals tend to be right a lot - distinguishing them explicitly from those who mask with flashy legedermain the fact that they are often terribly wrong?".

A few thoughts prompted by the postings above came to mind.

We've worked around the fact that in a perfect market, being right, as in being competent, will always be reflected in the results. And since we don't have perfect markets we are always at the mercy of accident and
contrivance (or connivance or flashy legerdemain) to provide false positives and false negatives.

Right in terms of prediction can mean a successful (game) play without achieving the optimal result. There are no economical algorithms (pay out exceeds pay in) that guarantees a winner in a zero-sum lottery. I believe all you can do is minimize regret, and regret is subjective.

And which kind of right are we talking about? All the editors Analog ever had would be quick to point out that being right and being correct are not the same thing. The correct answer does not guarantee the desired end. In which case we may alter the model or the system being modeled.

Then there is the right which reflects a conclusion reached in a religion, ethical system, or moral system. An alternate set of premises leads to different conclusions between systems.

Neural nets and genetic algorithms. The lesson to be learned is that learning to be right is a matter of 'training' and requires an environment that does not alter faster than the 'system' can adapt.

As long as I'm here, can we give credit to Mack Reynolds for creating reality television in 'The Frigid Fracas' and 'The Earth War'? In fact I was prompted to re-read 'The Earth War' and shook my head when he talked about television broadcasts of The 'Pink Army' chasing rebels around Afghanistan for the entertainment of the 'Sov-World'. Not too far off in principle from National Guardsmen chasing around Iraq following the entry into Baghdad.

I don't feel '1984' or 'Fahrenheit 451' held that essential element of inspired capitalistic mayhem that Mack Reynolds produced.

Dave Land said...

The Long Now Foundation (with people like Stewart Brand, Brian Eno, Esther Dysan and Mitch Kapor on its board) has a site where predictions and bets for the long term are recorded, tracked and debated: http://www.longbets.org/ -- It's worth a look.

HarCohen said...

Sorry, Rob.

I'll have to go back over the Uplift novels to get a better sense of the concepts behind animal uplift.

"Animals can't do that; they'd need to be "Uplifted" to a point where their language can handle a prepositional phrase and some tenses. Without such a so-far unattempted thing, they're stuck with gene transfer for instinct, and their memories, however simple, die with them.
"

I wouldn't agree that memory transfer has anything to do with language. Howard Gardner describes several types of intelligence. http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm describes such things as music, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and so on. Music intelligence in Gardner's theory is an almost structural parallel to linguistic intelligence.

Also, there are animal studies (primates, but I forget which) where one generation was trained to avoid certain behavior through simple Pavlovian methods. The next generation was trained by the first to avoid the same behavior. Since the experimenters had actually stopped reinforcing their behavior somewhere between the first and the second generation, the second generation primates had actually learned a false meme, an old wive's tale in effect.

Bill said...

I've added a few items; you're up to 19. Any help in finding text references is appreciated!

See David Brin: Science Fiction Inventions.