How to predict the future

June 19, 2011

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what the weather is going to be like next week? What the stock market is going to be like tomorrow? What the housing market is going to be like over the next decade?

This BBC Radio 4 episode of discusses how accurate experts are at making predictions. It turns out they are not any more accurate than random chance. It may seem like they get a lot of things right, but if we don’t keep careful records, we may be selectively remembering their hits better than their misses.

So, what can make an expert better at predicting?

According to experiments, a few of the experts have modest predictive abilities. These experts were characterized by a willingness to be honest about their uncertainties, using numerical, probabilistic terms, and getting regular, precise feedback.

There does seem to be a different kind of style of thinking in some experts which is much more cautious…These people tend to be a lot better at making predictions.

Don’t trust an expert who is certain about the future. They tend to be only as good as chance and they are unlikely to improve as the feedback comes in.

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