I’ve been casually following h+, the latest magazine by R U Sirius, the man behind the Mondo 2000 and many other subsequent publications, but until the latest issue (#4) I’ve always felt it’s been a bit too … let’s say transhumanist for my tastes. This issue, though, is quite nice. There are articles about open source medicine, how it feels to have a new sense (perfect sense of direction, in the form of a device called Northpaw), augmented reality on cell phones (Layar etc.), eliminating suffering through brain science and genetic engineering, and much more.
Perhaps the most interesting article from the point of view of this blog is called Open prediction – How sports fans can help save the world. It’s about On the Record Sports, a sports prediction site where sports fans make open predictions, visible to all. The idea is that by aggregating predictions from lots of users (you could call it crowdsourced predictions), you are likely to get a better prediction than if you had asked a single, though knowledgeable, person. However, since the predictions are all open, you can also track your own (and others’) prediction performance and relate it to everyone else’s.
The fact that large groups of people tend to to well when their guesses are combined is well-known and has been discussed at length in, for example, Ian Ayres’ book Supercrunchers. Even aggregations of different prediction algorithms (such as in the machine learning techniques bagging and boosting) usually work well – as evidenced by the recently completed NetFlix competition – presumably because algorithms (like people) make prediction errors due to slightly different biases, which can be smoothed out in a combined approach.
On The Record Sports may therefore soon be sitting on a very interesting database of aggregated predictions. (At what point will they just go to the bookmaker and bet the farm using the crowdsourced predictions?) The h+ article mentions that the company has a pending patent related to the notion of prediction as entertainment, which sounds intriguing. Of course, prediction can be a sport in itself, as the article points out.
All in all, worth checking out.