Sunday, March 19, 2006

Predictions, Henchmen and Philanthropy

This is a very long, multi-topic posting.

I want to start with something that serves as an arching theme. A bit self-serving, but bear with me....

EarthHCPredictive hits from the novel EARTH (1989)... so far...

. . Blatant and Obvious

* The Web as a vehicle for personal expression
* Partition of the Soviet Union
* Blogging
* The Web as a vehicle for mass democracy movements
* Privacy as a vanishing commodity
* Global warming and rising sea levels
* Levees breaking and cities flooded on the Mississippi & Gulf Coast


. . Trends and Breakthroughs with Citation


* Purely mental control of electronic devices
* "Dazers" who use biofeedback to alter consciousness in druglike ways without using illegal substances (http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/mar06/3044)
* People adjusting their web "shells" or search behavior to only admit views that fit their preconceptions
* Crotchety elders using high tech to harass kids


. . Trends Needing Citation
(I had the links but misplaced them)

* Subvocal silent input devices.
* Manmade black holes taken seriously
* Crisis habitat arks
* Eyeglass cams
* Eyeglass VR overlays on real environments
* Brain imaging->personality profiling
* Geological-scale sculptures

. . Trends/breakthroughs that are desperately needed, now!

* Prediction registries
* Disputation Arenas
* Henchman Prizes for whistleblowers
* A worldwide uprising by educated citizens against secrecy.

Note that I leave out a lot of stuff... after all, EARTH had everything in it, including every kind of kitchen sink. (e.g. the North American Church of Gaia, whew!) Still, the "hits" have been accelerating, lately, at such a pace that I figure it might be fun to start a running count on this blog list and invite people to contribute. In any event, I could use help filling in relevant links to the hits in category two.

See a collection on Technovelgy cataloguing the predictive hits and misses in Earth.

==Breakthroughs needed now==

What about that last category? Forecasts that we desperately NEED to see come true? Well, I am trying my best!

philanthropy1. there will be news soon about my application for a patent in the broad area of Methodologies for representing interactions between users in future Web and game applications. Hrm. Pretty good news.

2. I continue hoping that an umbrella organization might arise -- possibly funded by some visionary millionaire -- that might help seed some great ideas out there (see Horizons and Hope: The Future of Philanthropy. )

3. Two of the ideas rise to the very top. We need them so desperately.

Henchman-- Henchman's Prizes: This is a generic term for some kind of private foundation action aimed at enhancing, encouraging and protecting whistleblowers. Naturally, this can only be truly effective if accompanied by legislation, especially protecting such a foundation from liability to lawsuits, if they lure accusations that are later deemed actionable. It's a complex endeavor, when examined closely. But can you think of anything that could better help the world that a million dollar prize, plus protection, for whoever blows the whistle on the "worst thing" in any given year?

Can anybody doubt that only fierce threats are forestalling a tsunami of tattles, even now, without any prize?

See the example of Stephen Heller, the man who took 500 pages of internal documents from the Diebold Company to the California Secretary of State, to show that the company deceptively introduced voting machines that did not meet state standards. He now faces prosecution for "theft".

(In fact, I do not take a purist position utterly defending Heller from all punishment. The theory of civil disobedience is a complex one, if you read Thoreau and Ghandi and King. A certain amount of punishment actually honors the protestor and is - in any event - necessary in order to separate heroes from mere opportunists. But clearly the massive felony charges filed by the LA County District Attorney are not being demanded in a spirit of honor. They are meant to repress and terrify. And to deter anyone else from standing up.)

PredictionsRegistry-- Predictions registries: You've all heard me talk about this before. (See Accountability for Everyday Prophets: A Call for a Predictions Registry.)

But Russ Daggatt has given the topic fresh punch:

Weeks after the invasion of Iraq began, Fox News Channel host Brit Hume delivered a scathing speech critiquing the media's supposedly pessimistic assessment of the Iraq War. "The majority of the American media who were in a position to comment upon the progress of the war in the early going, and even after that, got it wrong," Hume complained in the April 2003 speech (Richmond Times Dispatch, 4/25/04). "They didn't get it just a little wrong. They got it completely wrong."

Hume was perhaps correct--but almost entirely in the opposite sense. Days or weeks into the war, commentators and reporters made premature declarations of victory, offered predictions about lasting political effects and called on the critics of the war to apologize. Three years later, the Iraq War grinds on at the cost of at least tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

Around the same time as Hume's speech, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas declared (4/16/03): "All of the printed and voiced prophecies should be saved in an archive. When these false prophets again appear, they can be reminded of the error of their previous ways and at least be offered an opportunity to recant and repent. Otherwise, they will return to us in another situation where their expertise will be acknowledged, or taken for granted, but their credibility will be lacking."


Oh, how wise! And oh! How naive! Before such an archive can be built, somebody must fund several man-years of R&D, all toward a system that can be seen as credible even when partisans see their own side proved wrong! That's not easy to do. It will take breakthroughs in the representation of opposing ideas. But the payoff could be stunning.

Till then? Well, Russ Daggatt gathered a handy list of statements from the last few years that ought to be credibility destroyers. Some of them are utter howlers, uttered by neocon shills on Fox and CNN. I will post some of them below, under “comments”, because I have taken more than enough space on the upper level, already.

Good night, and good luck.

good-nightA wonderful movie, by the way! Especially, David Strathairn is terrific as Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck. There are flaws. Director George Clooney relies far too much upon our “common knowledge” about the McCarthy era and does a poor job portraying a real sense of the threat and terror. 

 What carries the movie, in fact, is the words of Murrow himself, conveyed brilliantly by Strathairn. And, of course, the staggeringly on-target way that those words apply today.

24 comments:

David Brin said...

Here's a mere sampling of "predictions" made by pundits on Fox etc, back in 2003, that should have affected their credibility, and would, if we lived in a world of accountability.


"Tommy Franks and the coalition forces have demonstrated the old axiom that boldness on the battlefield produces swift and relatively bloodless victory. The three-week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics' complaints."
(Fox News Channel's Tony Snow, 4/13/03)

"The only people who think this wasn't a victory are Upper Westside liberals, and a few people here in Washington."
(Charles Krauthammer, Inside Washington, WUSA-TV, 4/19/03)

"We had controversial wars that divided the country. This war united the country and brought the military back."
(Newsweek's Howard Fineman--MSNBC, 5/7/03)

"The war was the hard part. The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war."
(Fox News Channel's Fred Barnes, 4/10/03)

"We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits."
(MSNBC's Chris Matthews, 5/1/03)

"What's he going to talk about a year from now, the fact that the war went too well and it's over? I mean, don't these things sort of lose their--Isn't there a fresh date on some of these debate points?"
(MSNBC's Chris Matthews, speaking about Howard Dean--4/9/03)

"Maybe disgraced commentators and politicians alike, like Daschle, Jimmy Carter, Dennis Kucinich, and all those others, will step forward tonight and show the content of their character by simply admitting what we know already: that their wartime predictions were arrogant, they were misguided and they were dead wrong. Maybe, just maybe, these self-anointed critics will learn from their mistakes. But I doubt it. After all, we don't call them 'elitists' for nothing."
(MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, 4/10/03)

"Over the next couple of weeks when we find the chemical weapons this guy was amassing, the fact that this war was attacked by the left and so the right was so vindicated, I think, really means that the left is going to have to hang its head for three or four more years."
(Fox News Channel's Dick Morris, 4/9/03)

"It won't take weeks. You know that, professor. Our military machine will crush Iraq in a matter of days and there's no question that it will."
(Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, 2/10/03)

"Even in the flush of triumph, doubts will be raised. Where are the supplies of germs and poison gas and plans for nukes to justify pre-emption? (Freed scientists will lead us to caches no inspectors could find.) What about remaining danger from Baathist torturers and war criminals forming pockets of resistance and plotting vengeance? (Their death wish is our command.)"
(New York Times' William Safire, 4/10/03)

Stefan Jones said...

Contrary hat on!

* RE "Henchman Prizes:" I've always wondered about the choice of words. It sounds like a program for rewarding resourceful Evil Scientist peons. (e.g., for the guard who takes that mirror away from James Bond, preventing him from reflecting the laser beam set to bisect him.) :-)

What's wrong with "Whistleblower?"

There already are protections and rewards for whistleblowers. Perhaps what we need is for them to get security. Expert legal representations, a job offer, etc.

I'd love to see Soros support a program like this.

* I got a big kick on out of Dagget's list. But I'm not sure if it MATTERS to these people!

In the past, the shocking blunder Dagget lists might have resulted in disgrace and a ruined career. FOX doesn't care, as long as they come up with new tough talk. The other networks aren't going to call them to task . . . not in any serious way, at least.

More importantly, I'm not sure if it matters to their audiance. We're not dealing with the "Reality Based Community" here. To use Orwell's terms, they practice "blackwhite" or "doublethink." The ability to believe two contradictory things at once, or to believe something despite evidence to the contrary.

What has happened, over the last few months, is that the reality has become unignorable to an increasingly large majority. I find this a very heartening development. It's true . . . you CAN'T fool all of the people, all of the time.

It's hurting Bush . . . but there's no blowback to the pundits. Arghhh! That's where a Disputation Arena would help. But fat chance getting self-righteousness addicts like Rush and O'Reilly on board.

* Let's see some NEW predictions. Time for a ripping new novel!

Stefan

Doug S. said...

Again: the rush to Baghdad to oust Saddam worked amazingly well.

"It won't take weeks. You know that, professor. Our military machine will crush Iraq in a matter of days and there's no question that it will."
(Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, 2/10/03)

"Tommy Franks and the coalition forces have demonstrated the old axiom that boldness on the battlefield produces swift and relatively bloodless victory. The three-week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics' complaints."
(Fox News Channel's Tony Snow, 4/13/03)

These two aren't far off. Where everyone got it wrong was about what would happen AFTER the "victory."

"The war was the hard part. The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war."
(Fox News Channel's Fred Barnes, 4/10/03)

In hindsight, this comment is, in fact, bloody stupid. It's really hard to set up a democracy when there are enough people with guns who would rather be a dictator or dictator's favored flunky.

On an unrelated note, what advice would you give to Israel regarding Iran's nuclear program? It seems to me that Israel had basically two options that don't result in its own destruction:

1) Make a pre-emptive strike using massive millitary force, including the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary. Israel has nukes and Iran doesn't, and as long as that situation holds, Iran can't win a war.

2) Pursue a strategy of nuclear deterrance, in the form of mutually assured destruction. Of course, the problem with mutually assured destruction is that, well, blowing up your enemy after you're dead doesn't bring you back to life.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Hmm.

Maybe I'm missing something.


A prediction registry would be *easy* to make.


Very easy.


Very, very, very, easy.


The difficult part is getting people to use it.


But making it?

All you need is a database.

One table for users, I suppose. Login, password, an ID, all that stuff. This is necessary mostly in order to establish "identity" across the system.

Then have the prediction table:
The prediction, in plaintext, as written by the submitter.
A date, for when they expect the prediction to be verified or contradicted - allow either specific dates (ie, "On September 11th, 2001, the World Trade Center will be destroyed") or vague ones ("Sometime in the next decade, the Republican Party will lose political power in the United States").

Then have ratings - people can rate a prediction on "specificity" (The first of my example predictions is rather more specific than the latter), and accuracy. Maybe add a comment.

And it records the date a rating was made, and the date a prediction was entered.

Easy. Very easy, if people are willing to participate.

And for those who have made documented public predictions - you can stick a precise record of their predictions in there.


And then that allows for some verrry interesting data extraction, too.

You could see how specific a given predictor's predictions are generally considered to be ... and how accurate. (I'd also include the stddev on accuracy - that helps detect partisanship in ratings)

If they're not specific but are accurate, well... so?

If they're very specific and not accurate, well, they're disproven pretty clearly.

If they're very specific and ACCURATE? Well then, maybe we've got a good predictor here, huh?

And the problem of postdiction is simply eliminated by the expedient of keeping timestamps.

You can throw in various other things, so that maybe some people are considered more "reliable" for their ratings - which can be done either dynamically as you do aggregation (in which case the viewer casn set up their own filters), or statically, based on various types of ratings (perhaps in a slashdotesque metamoderation system).

So. Easy. I'd go so far as to say very easy. Maybe a few hours to write up the basics with PHP and a MySQL database, say. A bit longer to throw in the nifty aggregation and the like, but eh.

Tony Fisk said...

3) Cheer on the Iranian underdogs for all their worth, while sticking completely to the sidelines.

(where *did* they get that Mathews bozo from? Sounds like a 'shock jock' to me!)

Speaking of whistleblowers, I may have stopped mentioning the Al Jazeera memo, but that's only because the trial is scheduled for April 24. Stay tuned.

WorldMaker said...

On the Umbrella Organization ("Eye of the Needle"): I'm not sure if you've seen it, but I find The Omidyar Network an interesting experiment on that theme. Its a fractious, sometime chaotic, philanthropy network established by Pierre and Pam Omidyar, the couple that founded eBay. Its an attempt to use an Internet community for a somewhat enlightened democratic philanthropy endowment.

Chris said...

One of the 'predictions' that always struck me and that I'm seeing more and more of is collaboration on projects by people that have no relation other than the project at hand. As I watch more and more open source projects develop as well as people investigating and reporting on news and phenomena it reminds me of the people in the book that were collaborating over the network to try to make sense of it all.

As to a wiki, how about this for a start?

http://earthbydavidbrin.pbwiki.com/

David, email me for the password (tchansen@xmission.com) or anyone else that would like to contribute.

Jack K. said...

Crotchety elders using high tech to harass kids

I hope you don't mind my making this link.

Gilmoure said...

Something like an RBI, for public figure prediction, would be cool. Just a stat's page somewhere, that you could couple to the TV, anytime that person's name came up.

entropy said...

" . . Trends Needing Citation (I had the links but misplaced them)...* Manmade black holes taken seriously"

The May 2005 issue of Scientific American discusses the use of particle accelerators to create artificial black holes in the article "Quantum Black Holes" on page 48.

Tony Fisk said...

Good for you, Chris! That sounds like an interesting site initiative.

I'd thought of pointing out the wiki wiki web (http://c2.com/cgi/wiki), which is open access, and which already has a few pages devoted to David's works.

It does have the whiff of mothballs about it, however. Do people prefer mothballs or peanut butter sandwiches?

Project collabarations is an interesting use of the web (although I have seen precious little of it professionally!:-(.
Alastair Cockburn in his Agile case studies ('Agile Software Development') covered one project which did this. Given his stress on rich communication channels in order for agile methods to work, he had thought they would have problems but was pleasantly surprised to find that this particular group had overcome them. He noted the great emphasis and energy spent by the coordinator on building trust between members.

Woozle said...

(I'm still not clear on whether all blog links cause problems for DB's browser, or just the ones he creates, or what, so I'll just do links for now.)

Related wiki pages:

Issuepedia Prediction Registry (needs to be updated with Brin's latest list, and yeah it's not a full-blown Prediction Registry; working on that)

Also, Issuepedia has a number of pages for tracking performance, statements, etc. of various public figures, and the only reason there aren't more such pages is that I haven't had the time. Others are welcome to help out with this. ;-)

George W. Bush
Rush Limbaugh
Bill Clinton
John Roberts

...and others in Category:People

Please feel free to add pages for anyone else you'd like to track.

W.

Woozle said...

Another note – advocates of transparency may be interested in this:

http://peteashdown.com/

Pete Ashdown is the founder of xmission.com, which (my source tells me) is a very technically-savvy and non-evil ISP based in Utah, and he is running for Senator from that state.

The interesting thing is that his web site apparently includes a blog, live chat, and a wiki (with some actual content and discussion apparently taking place).

Tony Fisk said...

Woozle, you might have a look at Chris Hansen's email address!

Speaking of issues, kleptocrats and all that, take your anti-indignation shots before checking this out (via Tim Bray):

In which John Snow puts his faith in the marketplace, and keeps his money dry (well, what else would an individual do with all that cash: start a foundation?)

Erik Wennstrom said...

Woozle:
Your predictions wiki seems like a good start, but I really think that there needs to be a very, very strong distinction between predictions that are actually posed as predictions of the future, and those that appear in works of fiction. There is no way to compare statements made in public addresses that are clearly put forth as the opinions of the speaker with aspects of speculative fiction that can be interpreted as predictions of the future. I'm personally interested in both sorts of predictions but for different reasons.

I want to know which media pundits and politicians are full of it, and I want to hold them accountable for making incorrect claims about the future and then not owning up to their mistakes when they turn out to be wrong. This is a political interest of mine. I want to know just how well important people interperet their world, so I can make informative decisions.

I want to know when the world starts to look like fiction because that's entertaining to me. This is a personal interest and has little to do with any decisions I might make. There are plenty of great works of fiction that are obviously very bad predictors, even ones that intended to be accurate representations of the future. I enjoy them anyway. Of course, some works of fiction are meant to sit as warnings of the future and have quite a bit of political content. But the authors of such works are not necessarily claiming that the events in their fiction will come to pass. So accountability is impossible. Are we supposed to call David Brin wrong because there wasn't a major flu epidemic in 1996 or nearly right because of the current concerns about the Avian Flu? Are we supposed to consider Kiln People predictive of clay robots or of the sorts of problems associated with the possibility of storing one's mental state? Or is it meant to be predictive at all?

So while I'm interested in keeping track of both types of "predictions," I think they need to be handled seperately.

Erik

Ghost Particle said...

Earth is one of the best SF novels that explained in detail the near future world full of technological inventions, climate changes and radical science running loose...kudos to you Mr.Brin

Leviathan said...

RE: Heller:

I'm troubled by his actions for one reason: He wasn't a Diebold employee, he was a contractor at Diebold's law firm. I have a real problem with a Law Firm's employee violating privelege in this way.

Anonymous said...

The Henchmen's prizes might meet the same fate as Jim Bell's Assassination politics

Tony Fisk said...

And this is the beauty of *reciprocal* accountability: Jim Bell's idea probably dies with Jim Bell, (at the time for which someone makes a suitably large donation. Who'd do a thing like that?). Henchmen prizes, on the other hand, get verified in a non-terminal fashion by due process. Assassination politics could make for an interesting story, though (if it hasn't already)

A reminder that, if anyone wants to help add some meat to the Earth Predictions wiki that Chris Hansen has set up, then please start doing so. I've added David's initial list, and done some arranging (to my tastes, if no one else's!)

I'm rather surprised that no one else other than Chris and David has done anything. David hasn't got the time and I haven't got the reference material! So, come on! It's not going to happen on its own (and I'm not maintaining it on my own!).

I've even left the password under the hint doormat, so don't use ignorance as an excuse!

Genius said...

Maybe you can start with a small set of people - maybe presidential candidates - and take testable statement / theme from each of their speeches in a sort of wikipedia sort of way (so there is a general consensus on what is the statement). Then after a while encourage politicians to speak to the data base "you can quote me on that" or you can "wikipredict" me on that (in which case the statement would of course be exactly as worded).

You have to start out small though in order to be credible - otherwise you get really bad analysis on a large number of people. Besides this only takes a few really dedicated people to at least somewhat work.

I think many people would be interested to work on this - maybe it could be a university project, if that was the case you could fill it with people with goals other than partisanship. Otherwise you have to hope they will just cancel out.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

If your standard is "verifibility¨ akin to wikipedia's Reliable Sources policy... partisanship doesn't matter so much.

Get at least one partisan on each side and fabrications won't last, after all.

Pat Mathews said...

Rereading EARTH - the one thing you got right that really impressed me because it's so rare among people who weren't there, is how well you caught the flavor of a postwar period. You said you deliberately included a major Crisis Era war to leave its scars on the next generation. Well, I was born in 1939 and spent all my school years in such a period and you truly called it on the nose - complete with juvenile delinquents whose bad behavior was so mild not even women were afraid of them! (That part is pure 1950!)

More on request, but I am impressed. Do you know how many writers just assume the flavor of their own period will go on forever?

JesseM said...

Speaking of "prediction registries", you might be interested in this book, which describes the results of a study that tried to quantitatively evaluate the predictions of pundits and political "experts" over the long term:

Expert Political Judgement: How Good Is It? by Philip Tetlock

And here is a review of the book, from the New Yorker. Basically, Tetlock found that most of the experts didn't do much better than chance, although "foxes" who see a complex variety of causes behind events did better than "hedgehogs" who favored single big causes or all-encompassing theories of history.

Markbnj said...

Doug S said: On an unrelated note, what advice would you give to Israel regarding Iran's nuclear program? It seems to me that Israel had basically two options that don't result in its own destruction:

1) Make a pre-emptive strike using massive millitary force, including the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary. Israel has nukes and Iran doesn't, and as long as that situation holds, Iran can't win a war.

2) Pursue a strategy of nuclear deterrance, in the form of mutually assured destruction. Of course, the problem with mutually assured destruction is that, well, blowing up your enemy after you're dead doesn't bring you back to life.

My answer is interesting.
In a little known interview, the admrial of the Israeli Navy let a secret out of the bag: Israel has Tactical AND strategic Nukes, AND Israel has submarines capable of carrying out STRATEGIC attacks (ie, in my opinion, NOT based near Israel's shore!) See HERE
http://markbnj.blogspot.com/2006/03/mideast-interesting-interview.html

cheers