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Future forecasting

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Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction'

Ever since mankind has grasped the concept of time, we have been trying to predict the future. Whole cottage industries have sprung up around the process of prediction. Knowing what is coming next is a need that borders on the obsessive within our culture.

But is it even possible to predict what has yet to happen?

According to 'Superforecasters: The Art and Science of Prediction' (Crown, $28), the answer is yessort of. Social scientist Philip Tetlock and journalist Dan Gardner have teamed up to offer a treatise on the nature of prognostication. Not only do they discuss the many pitfalls of prediction, but they also offer up some thoughts on that small percentage of the population who, for a variety of reasons, are very, VERY good at it.

Tetlock has spent decades researching the power of prediction. Basically, people are pretty terrible at it. He himself uses the oft-offered analogy of a chimpanzee throwing darts the implication is that random chance is at least as good at predicting future outcomes as the average forecaster. Even the well-known pundits, the newspaper columnists and talking heads even they struggle to outperform the proverbial dart-tossing simian.

But over the course of Tetlock's years of study by way of his ongoing Good Judgment Project, he uncovered an astonishing truth. Yes, most people have no real notion of how to predict the outcome of future events. However, there are some who can outperform the chimp. They can outperform the famous names. They can outperform think tanks and universities and national intelligence agencies and algorithms.

Tetlock calls these people 'superforecasters.'

These superforecasters were among the tens of thousands that volunteered to be a part of the Good Judgment Project. They were part of a massive, government-funded forecasting tournament. These people folks from all walks of life, filmmakers and retirees and ballroom dancers and you name it were asked to predict the outcome of future events. And so they did. These people soon separated themselves from the pack, offering predictions about a vast and varied assemblage of global events with a degree of unmatched accuracy.

In 'Superforecasters,' we get a chance to look a little closer at some of these remarkably gifted individuals. Tetlock offers analysis of some past predictions that were successful and others that were failures. We also get insight from prominent figures in the intelligence community and from people ensconced in the public and private sectors alike. And as Tetlock and company dig deeper, it becomes clear that the key to forecasting accuracy to becoming a superforecaster isn't about computing power or complex algorithms or secret formulas. Instead, it's about a mindset, a desire to devote one's intellectual powers to a flexibility of thought. The accuracy of these superforecasters springs from their ability to understand probability and to work as a team, as well as an acceptance of the possibility of error and a willingness to change one's mind.

There's something inherently fascinating about predicting the future. One might think that Tetlock's findings are a bit complex and they undoubtedly are. However, what he and co-author Gardner have done is condense the myriad complications of his decades of research into something digestible. A wealth of information has been distilled into a compelling and fascinating work. It's not quite pop science it's a bit denser than that but it's still perfectly comprehensible to the layman. In essence, this book gives us a clear and demonstrable way to improve the way we predict the future.

'Superforecasting' is a fascinating and compelling exploration of something to which many of us may not have given much thought. It's not all haphazard chance there are actually ways to improve your ability to predict the future, some of which are laid out right here for you. If nothing else, you'll never look at a pundit's prediction the same way again.

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