Oct 17, 2020 - Technology

How crowd forecasting can predict the future

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A forthcoming report outlines how the wisdom of the crowd can be used to predict coming changes to the tech-security landscape over the next five years.

Why it matters: Predicting the future is key to good policymaking, and crowd forecasting has repeatedly proven to be more successful than the judgement of single experts.

What's happening: Axios was given an early look at a report out Monday from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology's (CSET) Foretell crowd forecasting pilot project.

  • CSET developed three scenarios about the future of the AI industry and tech tensions between the U.S. and China: one where there is tense economic and security balance, one where tensions have subsided as the global AI industry grows, and one where globalization breaks down and AI is increasingly national.

How it works: Crowd forecasting is good at placing clear probabilities on specific, near-term events, but it struggles with the big questions that are meaningful for policymakers.

  • To overcome that, CSET broke down the scenarios into shorter-term predictors.
  • They then identified clearly observable metrics, like the level of U.S.-China trade and the size of Defense Department AI grants that Foretell's 1,000 members could forecast.

What they're saying: The report's authors write that "preliminary findings suggest two outcomes — both involving increasing U.S.-China tensions and Department of Defense AI R&D investments — are most likely."

  • As further data comes in on AI investments and globalization trends, the forecasters should be able to figure out which of those outcomes is most likely to come true.

What to watch: The full report publishes on Monday, and CSET will hold an event on Foretell at 2 p.m. EDT that day.

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