November 20, 2015
What if you had the opportunity to learn how to improve the quality of your forecasts, measured as the distance between forecasts and outcomes, by 60 percent? Interested? ... Phil Tetlock is a professor of psychology and political science at the University of Pennsylvania who has spent decades studying the predictions of experts. Specifically, he enticed 284 experts to make more than 27,000 predictions on political, social, and economic outcomes over a 21-year span ended in 2004. The period included six presidential elections and three wars. These forecasters had crack credentials, including more than a dozen years of relevant work experience and lots of advanced degrees—nearly all had postgraduate training and half had PhDs. ... Overall, Tetlock’s results provide lethal ammunition for those who debunk the value of experts. ... While famous experts had among the worst records of prediction, they demonstrated “skill at telling a compelling story.” To gain fame it helps to tell “tight, simple, clear stories that grab and hold audiences.” These pundits are often wrong but never in doubt. ... foresight is a real and measurable skill. One test of skill is persistence. High persistence means that you do consistently well over time and are not a one-hit wonder. About 70 percent of superforecasters remain in those elite ranks from one year to the next, vastly more than what chance would dictate. ... second is that foresight “is the product of particular ways of thinking, of gathering information, of updating beliefs.” Importantly, the essential ingredients of being a superforecaster can be learned and cultivated. ... Tetlock and his colleagues found four drivers behind the success of the superforecasters:
- Find the right people. You get a 10-15 percent boost from screening forecasters on fluid intelligence and active open-mindedness.
- Manage interaction. You get a 10-20 percent enhancement by allowing the forecasters to work collaboratively in teams or competitively in prediction markets.
- Train effectively. Cognitive debiasing exercises lift results by 10 percent.
- Overweight elite forecasters or extremize estimates. Results improve by 15-30 percent if you give more weight to better forecasters and make forecasts more extreme to compensate for the conservatism of forecasts.
The Darknet (sometimes called the Dark Web) works on the Tor browser, free software that masks your location and activity. Originally designed by the Naval Research Lab, Tor receives 60 percent of its backing from the State Department and the Department of Defense to act as a secure network for government agencies as well as dissidents fighting oppressive regimes. It is a privacy tool that has been used for both good and evil. Over the past decade, Tor has empowered activists to spread news during the Arab Spring; it has helped domestic-violence victims hide from online stalkers; and it has allowed ordinary citizens to surf without advertisers tracking them. But at the same time, the Darknet, which Tor enables, has become the primary cove for criminals like Ross Ulbricht, imprisoned founder of Silk Road; the hackers behind the recent Ashley Madison attacks; and the international crew busted by the feds in July. As an instrument for both activists and criminals, Tor presents an increasingly difficult problem for law enforcement to solve — exacerbating the hapless game of whack-a-mole facing those who try to bring law to the most lawless part of the Net. And the battle over the Darknet's future could decide the fate of online privacy in the U.S. and abroad. ... Since its inception in 1923, the NRL has been the military's most esteemed research and development lab, inventing everything from radar to GPS. In 1995, Syverson and his colleagues conceived a way to make online communications as secure as possible. The idea was to provide a means for anyone — including government employees and agents — to share intelligence without revealing their identities or locations. With funding from the Department of Defense, Syverson brought on two scruffy graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson, to help bring his vision to life.
Inside the 50-year quest to build a mechanical organ ... each year, only about 1 in 10 patients that need a transplant worldwide receives the life-saving surgery. ... Fewer than 2,000 patients have received an entirely artificial heart in the device's three decades of existence, and most patients haven’t used the machines for long. As with Williams, mechanical hearts are typically just a bridge to an eventual transplant. ... It’s unclear whether plastic and metal hearts can ever truly replicate their biological counterparts, which pump 2,000 gallons of blood every day, service 60,000 miles of blood vessels (more than double the circumference of the world), and work without a hitch year after year.
How did a 1972 exhibition basketball game between Russia and Uganda become a crucible for Cold War tensions at the dawn of Idi Amin’s brutal regime? Ask the former CIA agent who tried to hit the Soviets where it would hurt them the most: on the court. ... In 1972, in the middle of the Cold War, the Soviet military sent a team of all-stars to Kampala to compete in three goodwill basketball games against Uganda’s top players. The Soviets, who were hoping to curry favor with the leader of the new regime, Idi Amin, didn’t know that the best of the three squads, the Ugandan national team, was at that time being coached by an American named Jay Mullen. And they definitely didn’t know that Mullen was an undercover CIA operative, sent to Uganda earlier that year to spy on the Soviets. ... The space race was winding down, but the nuclear arms race was accelerating at a perilous rate despite talks of limitations. U.S.-backed coups were happening all over the world. Courting and deposing regional leaders was a global game being played by dangerous men. ... His 46-year-old son, Tobey, told me that Mullen often speaks without words, pointing at things he wants. I witnessed as much, but I also saw him initiate conversations with strangers like it was nothing, breaking the ice with at least three different people by asking if they had Nordic ancestry. At dinner one night, without warning, he broke into the New Zealand national anthem, not the last anthem he would sing during my visit. The guy can listen, schmooze, or entertain as needed. ... He would be posing as a researcher on African history; there were plenty of other Americans and Brits at Makerere University among whom Mullen could blend in. But his real job would be to get to know the Kampala-based Soviets.