Prediction Tools

Noni Mausa sends a link to Science News:

Predicting the future is not very hard, according to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita: a little mathematics is all you need. Figuring out how to manipulate a situation to achieve specific aims is a bit less straightforward, but Bueno de Mesquita says his mathematical tools can usually do that, too.

The New York University political science professor has developed a computerized game theory model that predicts the future of many business and political negotiations and also figures out ways to influence the outcome. Two independent evaluations, one by academics and one by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, have both shown that about 90 percent of his predictions have been accurate. Most recently, he has used his mathematical tools to offer approaches for handling the growing nuclear crisis with Iran.

The elements of the model are players standing in for the real-life people who influence a negotiation or decision. At each round of the game, players make proposals to one or more of the other players and reject or accept proposals made to them. Through this process, the players learn about one another and adapt their future proposals accordingly. Each player incurs a small cost for making a proposal. Once the accepted proposals are good enough that no player is willing to go to the trouble to make another proposal, the game ends. The accepted proposals are the predicted outcome.

To accommodate the vagaries of human nature, the players are cursed with divided souls. Although all the players want to get their own preferred policies adopted, they also want personal glory. Some players are policy-wonks who care only a little about glory, while others resemble egomaniacs for whom policies are secondary. Only the players themselves know how much they care about each of those goals. An important aspect of the negotiation process is that by seeing which proposals are accepted or rejected, players are able to figure out more about how much other players care about getting their preferred policy or getting the glory.

One of his most famous past predictions also concerned Iran. In 1984, the model predicted that when Ayatollah Khomeini died, an ayatollah named Hojatolislam Khameini and a little-known cleric named Hasheimi Rafsanjani would rise to succeed Khomeini as leaders of Iran. At the time, most experts considered that outcome exceedingly unlikely, since Khomeini had designated a different person as his successor. But in fact, when Khomeini died five years later, Rafsanjani and Khameini succeeded him.

Bueno de Mesquita says he also predicted that Andropov would succeed Brezhnev long before experts considered it likely. He foresaw that China would reclaim Hong Kong 12 years before it happened, and he predicted that France would narrowly pass the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty.

Assuming this guy is for real (i.e., that his prediction can be verified… also, how good those predictions were (I’m not sure how unlikely betting on Andropov was even five years before Brezhnev died, since at that time he was heading the KGB, and he managed to amass so much information the rest of the Politburo wanted him booted up… now, I’m no Sovietologist, but had he picked Chernenko to succeed Andropov a year before it happened…)) I’d love to see his tool.