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US Intelligence Agencies Want to Crowdsource the Future (Sign Up Here!)

80beatsBy Valerie RossJuly 13, 2011 1:20 AM


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What's the News: America's intelligence agencies are in the business of predicting the future, using limited amounts of information to divine world events. But even expert analysts and sophisticated algorithms can make mistakes. That's why IARPA---which takes on high-risk, high-reward research projects (read: awesome longshots) in US intelligence---is turning to crowdsourcing, reports Adam Rawnsley at's Danger Room. Applied Research Associates will launch an IARPA-backed website this Friday to test whether those of us without security clearances can point the clandestine services in the right direction. How the Heck:

  • The Aggregative Contingent Estimation (ACE) program, or Forecasting ACE, as the website is called, will work on the same principle as many other crowdsourcing projects: ask lots of people what they think.

  • Forecasting ACE will essentially work like an online survey, Rawnsley reports. People will be asked whether they think something will happen, and how likely they think it is to happen.

  • The crowd will be polled about social, political, scientific, military, and economic events. Example questions range from "What is the probability that the WHO will declare a flu pandemic in 2011?" and "Will India obtain a permanent seat on the UN security council in 2011?" to "How many members will Facebook have by the end of 2011?"

  • The program will put more weight on predictors who tend to be accurate, and will also help participants make their forecasts better---for instance, clueing them in if they tend to be overconfident.

  • Forecasting ACE is still a work in progress, and the researchers plan to tinker with it as they go along to see what works best, whether it's letting users collaborate or asking people to elaborate on how they came to their predictions.

  • Likewise, it's not clear yet exactly how crowdsourced forecasts would be used by intelligence higher-ups; that will depend on if, and how well, the program works.

What's the Context:

[For the full story, read more at Danger Room. To try your hand at predicting the future, sign up here.]

Image: Flickr / William Brawley

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