Can Crowds Predict the Future?

You probably shouldn’t rely on crowd wisdom to make personal decisions, but when it comes to global outcomes, the crowd might be smarter than you think

Concert Crowd
Courtesy of Flickr user Anirudh Koul

The wisdom of the crowd has a patchy record. Crowds have condemned innocent people to death; they have caused revolutions and brought rights to the oppressed. But when it comes to predicting global events, crowds may actually be quite smart.

How smart, exactly? The U.S. government is backing a project that aims to see just how good a mob of people might be at predicting the future. It's basically a contest to build a predictive technology; it's called the Aggregative Contingent Estimation (ACE) Program; and it's run by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). The ACE Program's goal is to "dramatically enhance the accuracy, precision, and timeliness of intelligence forecasts for a broad range of event types, through the development of advanced techniques that elicit, weight, and combine the judgments of many intelligence analysts."

The Good Judgement Project is one of the teams competing in the ACE contest. You can sign up to participate if you think you're a good forecaster of the future and want to play on the Good Judgement team. Here's how they sell it:

If you are invited to join the Good Judgment Team, we can promise you the chance to: (1) learn about yourself (your skill in predicting – and your skill in becoming more accurate over time as you learn from feedback and/or special training exercises); (2) contribute to cutting-edge scientific work on both individual-level factors that promote or inhibit accuracy and group- or team-level factors that contribute to accuracy; and (3) help us distinguish better from worse approaches to generating forecasts of importance to national security, global affairs, and economics.

Basically, the Good Judgement Project is using the IARPA game as "a vehicle for social-science research to determine the most effective means of eliciting and aggregating geopolitical forecasts from a widely dispersed forecaster pool." They're interested in learning just how accurate crowd wisdom can be. The government is interested in accurate predictions. So the partnership makes sense.

Some of the current questions the crowd is considering include:

Will America and EU reach a trade deal ?
Will Turkey get a new constitution ?
Will talks on North Korea's nuclear program resume ?

Here, NOVA scienceNOW dives into these kinds of crowd prediction projects:

NOVA scienceNOW | Wisdom of the Crowds | PBS

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