Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Wisdom of Crowds:" crowd-sourcing geopolitical forecasts

I thought people might get a kick out of this news story, "So You Think You're Smarter Than a CIA Agent" (Alix Spiegel, NPR April 2, 2014), given our current course themes. It reminded me of one of the 5 claims that Daniel Kreiss et al. critique concerning the advantages of peer production - that peer production performs equally well across different domains of social activity (p. 253). Intelligence prediction might be one domain where peer production is, in fact, superior.

The question the NPR story explores is: "How is it possible that a group of average citizens doing Google searches in their suburban town homes can outpredict members of the United States intelligence community with access to classified information?"

The probability argument behind "wisdom of crowds" explains a lot, but I liked what the pharmacist/ super forecaster had to say about her anonymity and her ability to give an honest appraisal (which, unfortunately, reminded me of "intelligence" and the lead up to the last Iraq invasion):
"I'm just a pharmacist," she said. "Nobody cares about me, nobody knows my name, I don't have a professional reputation at stake. And it's this anonymity which actually gives me freedom to make true forecasts."

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