Week 2: Predictions that Matter to Us

1. What would you, personally, most like to know about the future? 
Phrase your answer as a question, and explain it in just a few sentences.  The question can relate to your own personal future, or a societal-level future.

2. Think about ways that people (not necessarily you) anywhere, today, would seek predictive answers to the question you posed above. Write just a few paragraphs (not more than the equivalent of 1 page) about the predictive systems the person seeking to the answer to your question might use.  Consider questions such as: When/where did the system originate? Is it likely to be reliable? How can you evaluate uncertainty using it? Would you use this system? in answering this part.  No need to answer all of these sample questions, and feel free to include other thoughts--our goal as a group in our Seminar meeting in Week 2, will be to discuss the nature of various predictive systems in the context of the questions you raise.

Instructions about how to post your answers to PredictionX.org (which will generate a URL) will be sent via email. Feel free to get started on your answer using any editor you like, and move it to the PredictionX.org site any time before Wednesday morning.

Climate, Ahan

How will climate change affect our planet and our people?

Being a Miami native, I have already seen some of the effects of climate change first hand –flooding, beach erosion and severe weather. I am worried not only about the future of my home town but about the many other areas that will be affected by rising seas. Sea level rise has the potential to trigger one of the largest human migrations in the world and can create mass geopolitical tensions. 

It may seem that the future of climate change is already known, but these are all projections. The first attempts to understand climate date back to the Greeks with Eratosthenes and Ptolemy, and have evolved ever since, from conceptual to physical models. Since the 1960’s, the advent of computers has allowed for more calculations with more data. Today’s climate models can ingest hundreds of thousands of data points from around the world to help make short term and long term predictions. I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of these climate change models, but they are often similar to the models used to predict global weather and hurricanes.

It would seem that such models should be accurate, especially given their large data backing. Humans have been recording climate data, such as temperature, for hundreds of years. However, these models can be varied. Just like your weekly weather forecast isn’t always accurate, it is quite difficult to predict these global systems. Just this past week, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center had difficulty predicting the path of Hurricane Irma. As the storm neared Florida, even less than 96 hours before landfall, the path was shifting wildly as underlying models were quite skewed. If I can get a bit technical, the superior European models (ECMWF) was significantly more accurate in the actual path, but there was hesitance due to fluctuations in the American (GFS and NAM) models.

However, I think that these prediction models are often out of the reach of most people. These models are publicly available, but most people do not have the time or knowledge to interpret the results accurately. I feel that many are still in the dark about the future and if we would like the general public to take action, they must be able to comprehend possible futures and have faith in those predictions. I hope that as we improve forecasting models, add computational power, and collect more data, we will be able to improve these models and increase public trust.

Works Cited

Edwards, Paul N. “History of climate modeling.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, vol. 2, no. 1, 2010, pp. 128–139., doi:10.1002/wcc.95.

Eradicating Abject Poverty, Nila

Will we ever eradicate abject poverty throughout the world?

In recent years, as aid organizations, NGOs, and various governments have made substantial strides in reducing the amount of starvation and homelessness throughout the world, the possibility of living in a world in which abject poverty is eradicated appears increasingly possible . While poverty will always remain relative, the situation of poverty in which humans lack access to basic necessities such as food and water has the potential to be completely exterminated. While discussions of poverty and global inequality ensue, I sincerely wonder if the eradication of poverty is something we will always work towards but never achieve, or if all humans can live with basic necessities.

 

If we can eradicate abject poverty, when will be able to do so? If it is possible that all humans can live with basic necessities, new questions and predictions are brought to light about when this may occur.

 

One might go about attempting to predict the future with regards to this scenario by analyzing trends in the reduction of poverty throughout the years. One might also compare the trends of abject poverty with trends throughout history of situations that have been eradicated (ex. smallpox). They may also look towards specific case studies of countries without complete abject poverty and use those examples to create deductions about the world as a whole.

 

These methods may be inaccurate because poverty in many ways acts differently than other human conditions that have been eradicated. Additionally, examining studies of specific communities is may not indicative of the world as a whole, considering the world has a great diversity of communities, distribution of resources, cultures, etc. If, however, one were to do a quantitative statistical analysis comparing trends in poverty with a large amount of other trends, one may be able to create an semi-accurate prediction and calculate the level of error in said prediction.

 

Friends Revival, Katherine

I would like to know about the future: will Friends ever make a comeback? It was one of the most popular TV shows of all time – yet tragically ended after just a short 10-season run. In the near future, would the creators of Friends attempt a reboot of this iconic show?

Most people, or just those who fall into the narrow category of Friends fanatics, would go about predicting (or perhaps hoping to influence the certain outcome of) a Friends reboot by harassing NBC staff through letters, email, and calls despite multiple irrefutable ‘no’s until restraining orders need to be taken out. However, if I were to magically transport myself to the top of the ladder at NBC, I might begin to think about whether or not getting the gang back together for a Friends 2 was a good idea, and I would go about this in the following ways:

The best way to predict this weighty question is to analyze the television industry for similar shows in the past that were declared finished by the show runners, only to be revitalized soon after. 

The demand for certain shows changes year by year based on a variety of factors from political climate to film artistry movements. As I am not a Hollywood executive, unfortunately, I cannot comment on the possibility of a nearing demand for Friends 2, but a studio executive could very easily recognize the conditions that guaranteed shows such as Gilmore Girls Revival to be a success. 

However, this predictive system has its limitations; namely, that very few television shows, rebooted or otherwise, approach Friends in quality, following, or icon status. Therefore, Friends’ status introduces a level of uncertainty which means that a model predicting the return of, say, the X-Files might not be accurate when predicting the return of Friends. 

Future Careers, Elizabeth

What kind of career will I have in the future? This question is rooted in the uncertainty I, and many of my fellow freshman, feel coming into college. Your professional career has an impact on many aspects of your life, from where you live to how much you travel to the likelihood of having a family. Knowing what kind of job and career you’ll have can illuminate so much about your future, especially in a time when most are in a state of flux and barely know what they’ll major in.

Obviously, this question is not like predicting the weather. You can’t analyze previous data to attempt to forecast the future because life has so many unforeseen twists, and human behavior (even your own) can sometimes be impossible to predict. However, people may still attempt to glean information about the future using other methods, one of which is astrology.

The invention of astrology, the study of the celestial bodies, their movements, and the impact theses bodies have on the human world, is credited to the Babylonians, who used it as a science to predict seasons and other celestial events. Many recognizable historical figures and powerful empires made use of astrology, from Plato and Aristotle to the Ancient Romans and Arabs. Astrology quickly spread and gained popularity in various societies around the world. Originally it was used to predict weather, but as it became more popular it was used to forecast wars, natural disasters, and political affairs. Like the oracles of Ancient Greece, astrologists often found a seat at the table with kings and other rulers and were in a powerful position to offer counsel and advice.

Today, you can find horoscopes in magazines, newspapers, and hundreds of online Buzzfeed quizzes. I even took a free horoscope profession quiz on clickastro.com, which generated pages of information on my career, my romantic future, and various objects, numbers, and symbols that would bring me luck. The long, sometimes contradictory answers predicted me being anything from a lawyer to a workman in a fishery. It’s always exciting to read a horoscope and sometimes even a little shocking when they manage to correctly identify your favorite ice cream flavor just by knowing you’re a Gemini. Some people believe that the forces of the planets truly have an impact on the “energy” of the world; however, I personally place very little faith in the truth of astrology. Evaluating uncertainty in astrology is difficult to do because the science behind whether celestial bodies and their orientation to each other have an impact on the world is relatively unproven, and, because the predictions generated in this field are so vague, general, and sometimes contradictory, you could argue that at least one part of any generated horoscope report will come true. Personally, I would take a horoscope quiz for fun, but would never place any real faith in horoscopes. I guess I’ll just have to wait to see if I’m destined to smell like fish for the rest of my life.

Sources

“History of Astrology.” Astrologer.com, American Federation of Astrologers, Inc. Accessed 11 Sept. 2017.

 

Handy link added by AG: Here's the "Practitioner's Guide" page on Astrology from PredictionX. 

 

Sci-Fi Movies

How will technology shape the future we live in? Unlike environmental anomalies or presidential elections, the technology we have in 1, 5, or 10 years from now will build off what exists today. In this sense, one may assume that predicting the future of technology and its influence on society has a predictive and linear nature. From hindsight, one knows that this is not the case. 

Most people would look to the past trend of technology and create a linear project to the future. In some cases, this works. For example, Moore’s law accurately predicted, for the past 40+ years that the number of transistors for a fixed area would double every two years. In other cases, these predictions have failed miserably. For example, when commercial airlines became mainstream in the 20th century, people predicted faster and faster travel times. As a result, projects like the Concord came into fruition. However, it never became integrated into society. This was the result of a motley of problems from exorbitant fuel costs, noise pollution, and a misunderstanding of the consumer’s desires: cheap flights. As a result, responding to consumer’s needs, aviation technological innovation shifted from speed to efficiency. 

Since taking a linear approach is not always accurate, emphasizing the consumer’s expected desires rather than past trends can provide a more accurate method in predicting technology's future impact on society.  How can one possibly devise a system to predict this? Turns out, there is already a multi-billion dollar industry that tries to depict people’s expectation for the future of technology: sci-fi movies. The classic example is Back to the Future II. Wireless video games, handheld tablets, video conferencing, and the whole genre of wearable tech can all be traced back to this film. Even though the hoverboards or flying cars are not around today (at least not yet), this film provides a surprisingly accurate system in predicting the future of technology. Lastly, unlike a linear approach, sci-fi movies delve into completely novel fields of technological applications and challenges human desires. 



 

Gabriel’s Horn: Convergence of Prediction

How accurately can artificially intelligent systems predict the future?

In a very meta sense, I am interested in predicting how far computational models for prediction can go. The geometric figure known as Gabriel’s horn refers to a three dimensional figure with infinite surface area but finite volume. Much in the same vein, predictive models in general may reach a convergence point. Despite the fact that time may continue endlessly, the accuracy of computational models may reach a maximum. This course itself follows the history of prediction, I am interested in its cloudy future.

There already exist certain models that seek to chart the course of predictive models, the earliest of which in modern society were concerned with the capabilities of computers. In a 1965 paper on computer science, Gordon E. Moore described arguably, the most important and accurate trend in computer performance. Only about 20 years after the inception of the first modern computer, Moore estimated that approximately every two years, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles, and thus the performance of the computer will double. The correlation between transistors and time has so accurately followed this trend, that Gordon’s prediction has been coined as “Moore’s law”, after its certitude. Not surprisingly, the capabilities of artificial intelligence have followed a very similar trend of exponential growth, that shows no sign of slowing yet.

This system of predicting prediction is wholly observational. Moore, as well as other computer scientists who attempt to chart the course of developments in computing, looked at trends in computing to divine the future of the industry.

In addition to this observational system, other prominent figures in the industry have imparted their own predictions. A prime example of this has been Ray Kurzweil, who is somewhat considered an oracle within the field of artificial intelligence. His predictions seem to have no basis, but he has successfully predicted many of the computing innovations of the past 25 years with startling accuracy. In 1990 he successfully predicted that by 1998 a computer could defeat a world chess champion. In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated then-world-chess-champion Garry Kasparov. In 1990 he also made the prediction that by 2010, PCs would be capable of answering questions by accessing information via the Internet. Needless to say, he was correct.

Kurzweil’s predictions for computing for the next 25 years are eerie to say the least. Among them are the ability to upload a human consciousness to a machine, and non-biological intelligence becoming a billion times more intelligent than natural intelligence. While it is easy to look at his prior success and be fearful of an impending Terminator-esque future, his predictions for the future have been decried as being unoriginal and light on empirical backing.

 

Gaming The Stock Market or Preventing the Next Epidemic? Caty

Which businesses will the stock market favor in 20 years? What disease will mutate into the next epidemic-causing illness? Who will win the Harvard-Yale football game this year? These are some of the questions that pop into my mind when asked what one might want to know about the future, and while some have far more serious and far-reaching consequences than others, there seems to be some common themes in the types of questions we humans would (and do) go to extensive pains in attempt to find an answer.

At first glance, we can see that one’s ability to accurately predict the outcome of the events above would prove beneficial to the predicter. If we knew how the stock market will behave in the future we might make different investments today; if we understood how and why a little-known virus would mutate to become a superbug we could take preventative measures now, and if we knew that Yale will win the football game we might place our bets differently. These kinds of inquiries into the future are inextricably linked to the present in that our motivation for asking them seems to come from a human desire to shape our own destinies. Logically, by understanding tomorrow’s weather, we can make decisions today that will prevent us from being caught in the snow with sandals on.

Predictions related to this kind of question were exemplified multiple times in this week’s reading and throughout history – would it not be easier for rulers to understand, with certainty, the consequences of going to war for their country? Be it the Oracle of Delphi or WeatherBug, those who possess (or seem to possess!) the ability to answer our burning questions about snowfall, war, economics – even romance – hold tremendous power over the masses of us who do not understand how these predictive systems work. Although today we use apps and algorithms instead of entrails, tea leaves, or the stars to aid us in our decision making, we still give much credence and power to whoever can give us answers.

Yet predictive systems do not have to be as complicated as prediction-polls and stock market forecasts. It seems that we make predictions every day without the aid of technology; about everything from the wait at a restaurant to how others will react and behave in response to our actions. When we do this, we make predictions based on our previous experience and knowledge of the factors involved – and this seems to be the functioning a predictive system – the use of present and past data to make a reasonable assumption about the future. In this way, prediction is not just a useful tool, but the core of science, as its very practice assumes that patterns must exist within nature.

Mahlon Reihman -- Human Devestation?

1. Is mankind on a track towards self-destruction?

 

Explanation: Through global warming, nuclear threats, overpopulation, and fossil fuel dry-ups, it is no surprise to most people that there is fear and uncertainty towards the future. We live in a scary period of time where the threat of nuclear armageddon is actually feasible, and we can contribute to the health and wellbeing of our world through our personal actions. A pressing question of our time is simply knowing how much longer our advanced species can live on Earth before we destroy it for ourselves.

 

2.      Seeking the answer to my previously stated question is certainly an ongoing effort and goal among scientists from multiple fields. Scientists who attempt to predict long term effects of global warming work to create effective models to summarize their findings and beliefs. These scientists often draw from historical data and patterns to create accurate models. This field is often prone to criticism because of the sheer difficulty of their task. Essentially, these scientists are tasked with showing people something that they truly don’t want to believe in a way that is both informative and helpful. This way of thinking is relatively new in the spectrum of human existence. The rise of environmental consciousness was not discovered until the early 1900s, and actual action didn’t begin taking place until much later on (1960s).

 

        The question of reliability often comes up when analyzing climate change models. 

People who seek predictive answers to the afore stated question are forced to analyze and estimate trends rather than events. To analyze uncertainty and accuracy in these models, people can always reevaluate old predictions when they reach the time they are trying to predict, such as looking at graphs made in  2010 when we reach the year 2030. While not always entirely accurate, these models can give a great guess to what we can expect in both the near and distant future.

 

The topic of human crowding also becomes more pressing by the minute. Our population sits at around 7.5 billion people, and is on the rise. Some people predict that based on our current rate of change, it will take about 200 years for our population to double. This may not be an issue that will affect our generation , but it certainly will have repercussions in years to come. This prediction, unlike the climate change models, are likely to be more accurate. By analyzing population growth rates dating back hundreds of years, scientists are able to piece together a relatively accurate model predicting how growth will develop in the next few hundred years.

The Future State of the United States, Sandip

What will be the state of the United States in the near and distant future?

This question is of particular interest to me as a proud yet concerned citizen of the United States. The state of our country is important with regard to domestic issues (jobs, Social Security, civil rights, etc.) as well as international issues (diplomacy/conflicts, international commerce, outer space activity, etc.). Indeed, all of these issues affect the daily lives of all Americans. If I could accurately predict the future state of the US, I would be able to make informed career decisions and lifestyle choices in a manner that would benefit me in the long run.

Today, professionals ranging from financiers to educators to politicians constantly seek to anticipate future fluctuations in the state of the United States. One common method for predicting the future is to conduct thorough analyses of the past. For example, investors scout out past trends in various stocks’ performance that might be indicative of future behavior. Similarly, historians conduct in-depth studies of landmark historical events, primary source documents, and public policy to understand how/why individuals and institutions reacted to social changes in the ways that they did. Since much of the human experience is rooted in a few common ideologies, understanding the past can provide insight into how American society may evolve in the future.

An increasingly powerful tool for “predicting” the future is the analysis of massive quantities of data. According to this philosophy, the outcomes of important events in the United States–from presidential elections to sports games to crop yields–can be predicted by crunching numbers. Organizations like 538 pool survey data from thousands of Americans to forecast the winner of each election, which can have quite an impact on the future of the United States! The idea of using big data is that numbers are objective representations of real-life situations, whereas historical analyses can be subjective and/or biased. However, one crucial factor that numbers cannot always account for is human behavior, which can be unpredictable and is constantly modulating. Given the size and diversity of the American populace, fluctuations in human behavior are a crucial wild card that often precludes social scientists from developing accurate predictions of future popular mindsets.

Furthermore, evaluating the accuracy of one’s predictions is a fairly subjective matter in and of itself. For example, I predict that the price of Google stock will go up. The outcome of my prediction is of significance to both my personal financial well-being as well as to the financial well-being of many other investors in the US and around the world. Well, let’s say that for the next 2 weeks, Google stock ends up increasing by 5% every day, but then the stock price declines back to the original price over the next 4 weeks. Was my prediction accurate? You could reasonably argue both “yes” and “no,” depending on which time frame you considered. Some analysts would call Google “bearish,” while other analysts would say that Google has all the elements of being a high-return stock. If objectively determining the accuracy of a prediction is so challenging, the art of making a prediction becomes all the more muddled. Indeed, it is quite a challenge to predict the behavior of all these highly complex and integrated American systems, from the stock market to the political arena.

Nevertheless, the future of the United States is of great importance to me, and I shall continue to make predictions and speculations about where our nation will go from here.

The Singularity, Cassandra

Can artificial superintelligence exist, and if so, will humans become extinct as a result?

        The massive growth in technology has undoubtedly impacted the lives of billions over the past few decades. We can easily contact people across the world, cars can drive themselves, and the upcoming iPhone X allows users to animate their emojis. Research surrounding artificial intelligence has similarly experienced an immense amount of progress; computers can already “understand” human speech, reply accordingly, and guess your next response. However, what if in the future, these computers become as smart, or even smarter than us? What if these robots discover a way to program and improve themselves until they surpass our limited human intelligence? What if, in a world where computers have superior intellect and capacity, humans become obsolete? Could the “singularity” exist? 

        In order to form a reasonable prediction about the possibility of this sort of future, we can try relying on various measurements of technological growth. One popular theory – Moore’s Law, determined in 1965 by Intel founder Gordon Moore – states that as the size of computer chips decreases, computer power doubles every two years at the same cost. Although this law appeared legitimate for decades, in recent years the theory has fallen apart due to the physical limits reached and expenses created in decreasing chip size. However, despite the demise of Moore’s Law, researchers have discovered alternative methods and materials to the traditional computer chip, even exploring the possibility of quantum computing. In other words, even though Moore’s Law may no longer be valid in predicting future computational power, the theory’s general conclusion about continuing technological growth may not be far off.

        Furthermore, the failure of Moore’s Law demonstrates that as our technology changes, so will perhaps our methods of predicting that change. In fact, given that many modern prediction systems depend on technology – machine learning, computer simulations, etc – how can trust current predictions about technological advancement when that advancement will improve how we predict in the future? While theories like Moore’s Law may prove helpful in the short-term, is there any way we can rely on long-term predictions since our methods of prediction will constantly change as technology does? 

        There may be no way to accurately predict the existence of the singularity; regardless, wondering about the possibility is pretty fun and may just be the best we can do (for now).

 


Sources:
“After Moore's Law | Technology Quarterly.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 25 Feb. 2016, www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2016-03-12/after-moores-law.

What is going to happen if the population continues to grow? Will the human race run out of room to live?

1. What would you, personally, most like to know about the future? 

What is going to happen if the population continues to grow? Will the human race run out of room to live?
With population expanding at such a rapid pace, the world will eventually become overcrowded. Population density will increase and global warming, rising tides and increased severity of weather will cause the amount of viable land to decrease. These combined factors will accelerate the rate this problem shall approach, so it is one we need to begin to think of in the near future.

2. Think about ways that people (not necessarily you) anywhere, today, would seek predictive answers to the question you posed above.
Multiple questions must be solved before any prediction can be made as to what solutions we will pursue or what the outcome may be. First, there should be conducted a study of the minimum amount of space people will be willing to live in as the majority of the world’s population shall trend in towards urban settings. Second shall be the extrapolation of the population growth to find a population curve. These two things combined should give us the approximation of the amount of more space required to host life each year. Following this, a computer simulation will be needed to explore both the expanding requirement of space for habitation, and compare it with the decreasing amount of habitable land. Together, those two simulations should be able to accurately predict at which point the earth shall reach its “maximum” human population. 

Some may point to the fact that most of the world’s population currently exists in only a small portion of its actual topography. Well, we must also factor in the resource dependence of the increasing population, as well as the deforestation, pollution and overall mistreatment of the environment. One quote made me stop and think: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” And so far, we have done a grand job of ruining it, building a debt on the loan that we can not hope to repay before our time. Because of this, the debt and the beaten down Earth are both returned to our children—both burdens placed on their shoulders. All of this points to a time at which the human race will become overpopulated, and decline will be inevitable. To counter this, prediction of when this will happen is necessary in order to best plan for how to avoid this outcome, or at least how to mitigate its negative effects. 

[BBC - Future - Is the world running out of space?](http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150901-is-the-world-running-out-of-space)