Monday, September 28, 2009

Homework 7

Due next Monday (in a week)

1. Assemble all the information you have gathered about your term project topic into one document. This includes any notes from the Delphi method, discussions in class on TRIZ or prediction markets relevant to your topic, etc. Whatever you have and can remember (here is where you wish you had taken more notes - well it's never too late to start!). Don't worry about organization for this question, just get it all in one place. Add in a list of references to useful Web sites and other information. Check the blogs of the others in the class as for HW #6, people were asked to provide some Web sites and reviews of them. You may quote the reviews in your document (use quotation marks) if you like. The basic idea here is to assemble everything together so you have something to work with.

2. Design an outline for your report (if you are going to do a report). If you are going to write a story, design something about it (a plot? An outline? Some alternative possible themes? Whatever - if I had experience as a creative writing instructor I might be able to provide further guidance, but since that is not the case, you're on your own. That's ok, the idea is to do something useful, regardless of what it is.) If you want to do something besides a report or a story (say a program, or whatever it is), you are welcome to check with me for suggestions, or just figure out yourself what to do that is equivalent.

3. Reorganize what you have to fit the outline, write a little bit of your story, something for your program, etc.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chasing the Future: Spoil Sports of the Prediction Game

"You can chase the future. But you'll never catch it."

Can one predict the time evolution of a system?

(Weather, pool, family relationships, Brownian motion, the world's technology of ___, etc., etc., etc....)

Ever have a day when everything went wrong? Say you predicted you would have a normal college day. But your alarm clock didn't ring. Already running late, you couldn't find your backpack (or whatever you use). Finally you stagger out the door, but your car won't start. Later, you find out you missed a surprise quiz. It's a bit like that for the entire field of forecasting... here's why.

Spoil Sport of Prediction #1: the Observer Effect

To figure out what happens next, you need to know where things are now. For example, if you hit a billiard ball, you can't predict what will happen next unless you know the current layout of the pool table. Unfortunately, as a matter of principle, the observer effect holds that the act of finding out "where things are now" (i.e. determining the current state of the system of interest) changes it to something else (i.e. perturbs the system). In physics this is most noticeable for very small things or faint effects. In principle though, it applies to any scenario.

Light pushes

Electrical measurements effect the electricity

Asking someone something about themself changes them

This Kelly Neill apparently sings, but is not the same Kelly Neill who teaches voice at Harding U. in Searcy

She also narrates

A little more detail...

Not sure what this is trying to say, beyond that the observer effect sure must be cool...

It is also a Star Trek episode:

So. . .

. . . Can you think of some examples of the observer effect?
Does the observer effect help understand any of the topics of interest?
. . . Cybernetics
. . . How long will Homo sapiens sapiens be the dominant species on planet Earth?
. . . Broadband Internet speed/download speed projections
. . . Speed of future commercial air travel
. . . Will Microsoft lose dominance in the software market?
. . . Future of more automated driving
. . . Future of home energy use, such as with lighting
. . . How will the average human lifespan change?
. . . How will DNA database(s) grow and be used?
. . . Future of "green energy" technologies
. . . Future markup for data

Here are a few more
. . . if you are watching over kids, they act different
. . . people in general - remember we mentioned the social competition theory of human brain genesis?

. . . Ever try to look at the back of your head using two mirrors? It makes you move your head around!

. . . If you use a camera with flash to take a picture of airborne dust in a dark room, the light will affect the dust a little bit. Or dust in a sunbeam. Or dust in the air in a dark room viewed with a flashlight

. . . What about watching a pool game?

. . . What about measuring the weather for weather forecasting?

. . . What about measures of the economy printed in newspapers?

So you've controlled the observer effect

. . . now just figure out the 6-D position-&-velocity of everything

. . . . . . and crunch with a computer to tell the future! Right?

. . . Unfortunately, no. This just brings us to:

Spoil Sport of Prediction #2: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

Nota bene: it applies to all particles, not just electrons

Here it is with photons (light)

. . . And now, let's try it with a laser pointer and a piece of black plastic cut from a notebook cover!

The Uncertainty Principle says that you cannot know both the position and momentum of a particle exactly. The uncertainty in position, delta x, time the uncertainty in momentum, delta m, = h/4*pi where h is Planck's constant. Since momentum is velocity times mass, we have uncertainty about velocity too (and mass too, for that matter). So there is uncertainty about place, velocity, and mass of any object. Let's focus on position and velocity, out of tradition.

To fully describe a system, such as the universe, or some smaller part of the universe, we need simply list the position and velocity of everything in it. How many numbers are needed to describe the position? Three, a side-to-side location, a front-to-back location, and a height (also known as x, y, and z coordinates). How many numbers are needed to describe the velocity, where velocity consists of a speed and a direction? Three - a side-to-side speed, a forward backward speed, and an up-down speed. This concept is easiest to visualize in a 2-D simplified example.

So we need six numbers for every object to fully describe the system (actually seven, since each object has a mass as well). Unfortunately those six numbers are in principle impossible to get with full accuracy, beause they include both velocity and position values. The Uncertainty Principle tells us that higher accuracy for one results in lower accuracy for the other.
In short, if the observer effect doesn't stop our prediction ambitions, the Uncertainty Principle will. But what if we can control both, enough at least to predict futures with confidence? Alas, we're not out of the woods, because of the esoteric physics phenomenon called "quantum tunneling."

Spoil Sport of Prediction #3: Quantum Tunneling
According to quantum theory, objects are not as localized in space as we intuitively think. Instead, they have wave-like characteristics and are actually "smeared" over a space within which they may be said to exist with some probability at each point within that space. A tiny object like a subatomic particle, if near enough to a thin barrier, thus has a certain probability of being on the other side of the barrier. If it is, it has thus "tunneled" through the barrier without making a hole in it. This is quantum tunneling.
Actually, the term quantum tunneling is applied to the ability of objects to "tunnel" through other kinds of barriers than a solid one. For example, consider the somewhat notorious example of an idealized pencil balanced on its tip.

If the tip sharp, except for a tiny flat spot (say, a couple of atom wide) it might be difficult to balance, but one might think that with sufficient care it could be done. Well not exactly. Because the pencil is actually "smeared" a little bit, it has a certain, rather small probability of being tipped enough to lose balance and fall. Since the smearing is symmetric, it could in fact fall in any direction. The probability of being tipped enough to lose balance is small enough that a single such pencil would be unlikely to fall for a long time (Easton, 2007, p. 1103). But get enough pencils together and one will fall soon enough. For example, balance an array of 1000 x 1000 pencils and one will fall, knocking over other pencils and leading to a general domino-like conflagration with an average (but unpredictable) delay of around a month. What pencil will start the general crash and in what direction the pencils fall is impossible to predict.
But maybe the system we're interested in predicting the future of is not so finely tuned. Maybe we can handle the Observer Effect, the Uncertainty Principle, and quantum tunneling adequately for our system. Our troubles are still not over.
Spoil Sport of Prediction #4: the Butterfly Effect
The idea: a butterfly flapping its wings will create a small atmospheric disturbance. That disturbance will propagate unpredictably. Some time later (how long?), the paths of hurricanes will be determined by those tiny flaps.
One mathematical description of atmospheric cycles whose future behavior depends seemingly unpredictably on small present events, may be modeled by a special kind of water wheel.
“When our results concerning the instability of nonperiodic flow are applied to the atmosphere, which is ostensibly nonperiodic, they indicate that prediction of the sufficiently distant future is impossible by any method, unless the present conditions are known exactly. In view of the inevitable inaccuracy and incompleteness of weather observations, precise very-long-range forecasting would seem to be non-existent.” [emphasis added]
— Edward N. Lorenz
Let's discuss what butterflies might affect our topics of interest:

. . . Cybernetics
. . . How long will Homo sapiens sapiens be the dominant species on planet Earth?
. . . Broadband Internet speed/download speed projections
. . . Speed of future commercial air travel
. . . Will Microsoft lose dominance in the software market?
. . . Future of more automated driving
. . . Future of home energy use, such as with lighting
. . . How will the average human lifespan change?
. . . How will DNA database(s) grow and be used?
. . . Future of "green energy" technologies
. . . Future markup for data

So you think you've controlled the Butterfly Effect and all those others? Then welcome to...

Spoil Sport of Prediction #5: External perturbations
To figure out what happens next, you need to know where things are now. But you also need to know what outside influences will impinge on the system between "now" and "next," whenever that is. Those influences can affect the evolution of the system - that's why they're called "influences."

Imagine, for example, the Lorenz water wheel, but while it's raining. Every raindrop is another butterfly whose tiny actions change the direction of the wheel at some future time. More generally, every external nudge to a system is like that butterfly.

Let's identify some external influences likely to affect the future course of some of our topics of interest:
. . . Cybernetics
. . . How long will Homo sapiens sapiens be the dominant species on planet Earth?
. . . Broadband Internet speed/download speed projections
. . . Speed of future commercial air travel
. . . Will Microsoft lose dominance in the software market?
. . . Future of more automated driving
. . . Future of home energy use, such as with lighting
. . . How will the average human lifespan change?
. . . How will DNA database(s) grow and be used?
. . . Future of "green energy" technologies
. . . Future markup for data

Computer round-off error is another source of perturbations from outside the system under study.

Spoil Sport of Prediction #6: Existentialist Angst - Why Care (About the Future)?

Does the future matter?


Does the existence of humanity matter?


Does it matter what kind of existence?

. . . Difficult struggle for existence

. . . Prosperity

. . . Expansion beyond any set boundaries

. . . Regardless of what we should do, what do we actually do?

"Eat dessert first" - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die" - Isaiah 22:13

"Don't Worry, Be Happy" - Bobby McFerrin

Decisions often focus on the short term

. . . Business decisions focus on short term

. . . Political decisions focus on short term

. . . Many people focus on the short term

. . . What about animals?

. . . Why is it good to focus on the short term?

. . . Why is it not good to focus on the short term?

. . . Why is it good to focus on the long term?

. . . Why is it not good to focus on the long term?


A school of philosophy

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was a key figure in its development

. . . Danish philosopher & theologian

"...focused on subjective human experience rather than the objective truths of mathematics and science..."

"...interested in people's quiet struggle with the apparent meaninglessness of life..."
- Wikipedia,

Discussing the future of humanity is nice, but what about my future??!

. . . If life is meaningless, then does the future matter?

. . . Is life meaningless?

. . . Is the question meaningless?

. . . Is it important to give life meaning?

. . . What should one try to do with life?

. . . My conclusion: the answers depend on frame of mind, not logic

. . . . . . You could pick pessimistic answers, but you could pick optimistic ones too

. . . . . . Pure logic won't say which is right

. . . . . . Better to pick the optimistic ones

. . . That's not strictly logical, but is common sense

How societies "think" (actually, act) about the future

Source: J. Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Recall pre-"discovery" Easter Island and the canoes
A big palm tree was needed to build a good canoe
A good canoe was needed to get plentiful seafood
Hence the question made in Earth 2100 about cutting down the last palm tree
It's from Diamond's book; let me read the passage now (p. 410)
Why societies can collapse
Failure to recognize a critical problem before it happens
Example: foxes and rabbits in Australia
Anasazi civilization (Arizona) did not anticipate local climate change (drought)
France built the Maginot line for defense, but lost WWII in mere weeks
Etc. (can you think of any)
Failure to recognize the problem when it happens
Examples: any slow-moving trend obscured by short-term effects
Recall noise-and-signal (
Also called "creeping normalcy"
Let me read from Diamond (p. 426) more about the palm trees...
Etc. (Can you think of any examples?)
Failure to try to solve the problem after it is recognized
Why on Earth would anyone or any group do that??
Yet according to Diamond this "failure is the most frequent"!
. . . Failure may benefit influential special interests that therefore push it
. . . Greenland Norse leaders kept cows (unsuited to the cold)
. . . The few pike fishermen stocked pike in Montana waters, destroying trout for the many more trout fishermen (p. 427)
. . . "Throughout recorded history, actions or inactions by self-absorbed kings, chiefs, and politicians have been a regular cause of societal collapses" - p. 431
. . . Any examples of benefiting a few at the expense of the rest?
. . . Is this rational behavior?
. . . Unregulated access to common resources
. . . . . . "If I don't take as much as I can, someone else will"
. . . . . . Pretty soon it's gone!
. . . . . . Any examples?
. . . . . . Is this rational behavior?
. . . . . . Solutions?
Irrational causes of societal collapse
. . . Beliefs that aren't right
. . . Taking a gamble and losing
. . . Etc. (any others you can think of?)
Failure to be able to solve the problem
Greenland Norse colony: "The cruel reality is that...Greenland's cold climate have posed an insuperably difficult challenge to...a long-lasting sustainable economy." - p. 436

Spoil sport of prediction #7: The care horizon

How much is the future of the human race worth? We'll increase it later, but let's start with an admittedly bargain basement $100. If you had $98.04 now, and put it in the bank at an interest rate of 2% per year, then in a year you'd have $100. That means getting $100 one year from now is only worth having $98.04 now, at least from a "Time Value of Money" perspective. Similarly, getting $100 in 2 years is only worth $96.12 now, because adding 2% to $96.12 gives $98.04 in one year, and compounding by adding another 2% gives $100 a year later. Extending this reasoning further, the human race in a modest 233 years would be worth just under a dollar now. In 466 years? Less than a penny.

It's safe to say that a hundred dollars is an underestimate for the value of the entire human race, at least to us. So let's increase it to a fair (or at least fairer) price. We might multiply the number of people by the value of the life of each and every person on the planet. What is the value of a person's life? Economics (known as the dismal science, even to economists) tells us that the de facto value society places on a human life can actually be calculated, and courts of law in fact sometimes do such calculations. Answers vary, of course, but a few million dollars is often not that far off the mark. Multiply that by the number of people in the world and you get a biggish number, $100 quadrillion at the most for the value of the human race.

But wait - maybe you don't trust the financial and legal wizards with something so important. After all, we already trust them with some pretty important things, and they periodically betray that, seriously screwing things up. Maybe we should use a higher number, just to be more sure we aren't under-valuing ourselves.

How about a dollar for every single atom in the known universe? That's around $10^80 (1 followed by 80 zeroes dollars)? It is a lot of cash. Way (way way) more than the United States has ever printed. There are literally not enough atoms in the known universe to even print that much money. Yet, if that is the value of humanity's existence 9070 years from now, the value at present would be...$100! A scant 466 years after that? Less than a penny. How about the present value of humanity existing in a million years? The answer is a fraction of a penny so tiny that popular spreadsheets, calculators and computer programming languages can't even state it. They typically just think it is 0, but if you must know, it's actually about  $0.000<insert 8,513 more zeroes here>0001.

Wait - someone in the back has a question - yes? "But it's not just the value in year on million we're after. We also need to add in the value in year 1,000,001, year 1,000,002, etc., forever and ever. That's got to add up, eventually." Well, only a little, it turns out. The value now is "bigger," but still less than $0.000<insert 8,511 more zeroes here>0001 even at a dollar an atom. The upshot of all this is that there is no good reason to care whether humanity exists in ten thousand or a million years, at least according to the time value of money approach favored by economists. Therefore there is no need to plan that far into the future, or go to trouble and expense to preserve the Earth indefinitely, or even to bother predicting that far ahead. The time value of money seems indeed to be a spoil sport of the prediction game.

Making it personal. Maybe you are still unconvinced. Such sophistry fails to capture the real facts at a gut, common sense level, you might say. Then consider the following argument.

You care about yourself, so you don't want humanity to end while you are still alive (it might not be pleasant). You care about your children (or you will if you have any some day, or maybe you care about some or even all other children), so you don't want humanity to end during their lifetimes, even if you are already gone. You probably even care (or will care) about your grandchildren because you will hopefully get to know them personally. Furthermore, you care about their grandchildren (if maybe a little less) simply because you care about your grandchildren, who care about theirs. But you have no gut level reason to care about the generations after that, because neither you, nor anyone you care about will ever know them. To put it another way, how much do you care about your grandparents' grandparents, and how much did they care about you? Still care in some more abstract, dispassionate sense? Then see the previous paragraph.

Maybe you are a fast enough breeder, and long enough liver, that you'll care about your great grandchildren and theirs, instead of just grandchildren. Yet that is still only 6 generations into the future, not even the biblical 7, a couple of centuries or so at the most. So relax, quit worrying, eat dessert first.... In particular, don't bother with predicting past the 2-century "care horizon," because there's little point to it. The care horizon is, thus, our last spoil sport of the prediction game.

Postscript. Do you still want to predict the future, despite all the arguments to the contrary? If so, you are like me. Read on!


D. Easton, The quantum mechanical tipping pencil - a caution for physics teachers, European Journal of Physics, vol. 28 (2007), pp. 1097-1104.

R. Posner, Catastrophe: Risk and Response, Oxford University Press, 2004

"Time Value of Money": TVM is standard terminology in the finance and accounting world.

"Well, only a little, it turns out." There is a formula for calculating the sum of a geometrically decreasing, infinite series. Look it up (or play with a spreadsheet instead).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Homework 6

HW 6 Due Monday Sept. 27, 2009

Note: I'm assuming the workload in this class is consistent with other IFSC classes...let me know if any adjustment is indicated.

1. Consider the topics students are currently focusing on (which may change as we go along):
  • Cybernetics
  • How long will Homo sapiens sapiens be the dominant species on planet Earth?
  • When will the broadband Internet speed/download speed offering reach 1 GBPS (gigabyte per second globally (i.e 51 to 49 % being dominant), where downloading a whole movie (approx 2 Gigs) would happen in 3 seconds at max?
  • When will commercial airplanes will be ten time faster?
  • Will Mac take control of the software market from Microsoft?
  • When will cars will be fully automated?
  • How long before the U.S. is much more energy efficient in our homes regarding lighting?
  • What will the average human lifespan be in the US, in the year 2050?
  • DNA database(s) of the future
  • "Green energy" technologies
  • Future markup method for data

This question will help start to familiarize all of us with these topics (leading to interesting discussions in class, for example).

  • a) (16 2/3 pts.) Find three useful Web pages or sites, one for each of three topics above, that someone investigating it would be likely to find of interest. They should not be wikipedia articles (though wikipedia can be a good place to find links to other pages). Similarly they should not be on the first page of search engine hits for an obvious query. That's too easy because the person doing that topic would surely find it without your help.
  • b) (16 2/3 pts.) Review them on your blog. For example, what is each about, what about it is interesting, what about it is not interesting, what do you agree or disagree with, why should or shouldn't someone study it, what questions does it leave you with, etc.
  • c) (16 2/3 pts.) In class, briefly summarize your review(s) orally. (We may or may not have time to do all three, we'll just have to see.)

2) Apply TRIZ to your own topic:

a) (10 pts.) Pick a certain technology relevant to your topic. How could an implementation of it "branch out" and do other things? For example, pencils are a technology that "branched out" to also have erasers, storage bins for extra lead, clips for attaching it to a pocket, and so on. Cars now have air conditioners, play music, even have GPS devices for giving directions, etc.

b) (40 pts.) TRIZ also contains 40 principles for improving technologies (to find out more do a search on the terms 'TRIZ' and '40'). These are summarized in the course notes. Pick 10 of them and apply them to a technology relevant to your topic. What are the 10 possible future advances that you have discovered?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

TRIZ - finding (and making) advances in technology

TRIZ is a way to get ideas about future technologies

. . . But why call it TRIZ?

. . . . . . because it stands for Теория решения изобретательских задач

. . . . . . . . . (of course - what else could it stand for?)

. . . . . . transliteration: Teoriya Resheniya Izobretatelskikh Zadatch

. . . . . . translation: Theory of Decisions about Inventor's Problems

. . . TRIZ tries to make getting new ideas about technology a systematic process

. . . TRIZ was created by Genrich Altshuller

. . . . . . He registered his first invention at age 15

. . . . . . At 20 he invented a way to escape from submarines

. . . . . . . . . (Apparently this did not help the crew of the Kursk)

. . . . . . . . . . . . length: 154m long

. . . . . . . . . . . . height: four stories

. . . . . . . . . . . . was the world's biggest attack submarine

. . . . . . . . . . . . apparently a torpedo exploded, the sub sank to the bottom, about 350 feet down, and 2 min. 15 sec. later several more torpedoes exploded. Some crew survived both explosions but perished later without escaping.

. . . . . . Altshuller worked as an invention inspector for the Soviet navy

. . . . . . . . . (Does this make him the world's second most famous one?)

TRIZ is a compendium of several related methods and approaches

. . . see e.g.

. . . see e.g.

Let's look at TRIZ - and also apply to your topics

. . . One aspect is the natural evolution from doing one key task and "branching out"

. . . . . . pencils that not only write, they erase, store, don't need to be sharpened, clip on, etc.

. . . . . . From keyboards to foldup keyboards, ergonomic keyboards, what other kinds?

Also from TRIZ: usability, aesthetics become factors later

. . . Early cars: "you can get any color car you want as long as it's black"

TRIZ also has a set of 40 Principles of Invention

. . . the 40 Principles of Invention
. . . (see e.g.

. . . . . . "Segmentation": break something unitary into parts, modules, pieces, etc.

. . . . . . . . . E.g. replace large truck with a tractor+trailer design (is that good?)

. . . . . . "Taking out": remove a part

. . . . . . . . . E.g. put a noisy air compressor outside the building where the air is used

. . . . . . . . . E.g. Use the bark but not the dog as part of a burglar alarm

. . . . . . "Local Quality": make something that is uniform, nonuniform

. . . . . . . . . E.g. refrigerator with freezer, moist cold bin for veggies, dry cold bin for meat, etc.

. . . . . . "Assymetry": make something that is symmetric, assymetric

. . . . . . . . . E.g. make a round rod have a flat part so a knob can turn it without slipping

. . . . . . "Merging": assemble similar objects into a larger assembly

. . . . . . . . . E.g. make a network of PCs

. . . . . . . . . E.g. 3 wheels more stable than 2 more stable than 1

. . . . . . . . . You can get emergent properties!

. . . . . . "Universality": make one thing do more than one thing

. . . . . . . . . E.g. pencil can erase, store, attach as well as write

. . . . . . "Nested Doll": (like those Russian dolls)

. . . . . . . . . E.g. set of measuring spoons

. . . . . . "Anti-weight": counter heaviness with flotation

. . . . . . . . . E.g. non-sinking boats; balloons; airplane wings and boat hydrofoils

. . . . . . "Preliminary anti-action": counter bad effects of good things somehow

. . . . . . . . . E.g. lead aprons at the dentist

. . . . . . . . . E.g. slow-release medications

. . . . . . "Preliminary action": do something to an object before it is needed

. . . . . . . . . E.g. put glue on paper before selling it - stickers! Tape!

. . . . . . . . . E.g. sterilize surgical instruments for next time - autoclaves, etc.

. . . . . . "Beforehand cushioning": have backup systems incorporated in case of failure

. . . . . . . . . E.g. emergency parachutes, fire escapes, parking brakes

. . . . . . "Equipotentiality": compensate for gravity

. . . . . . . . . E.g. spring-loaded cafeteria dish dispenser

. . . . . . "The other way round": reverse the action; go upside down; make something fixed, movable (or the reverse)

. . . . . . . . . E.g. rotate part instead of tool; treadmills; escalators

. . . . . . "Spheroidality": change from flat or angular surfaces to curved

. . . . . . . . . E.g. domes and arches; ball-point pens instead of quills

. . . . . . "Dynamics": make it movable or flexible

. . . . . . . . . E.g. adjustable car seats; medical scopes in flexible tubes

. . . . . . "Partial or excessive actions": Do a little too much or too little, then fix

. . . . . . . . . E.g. put a bit too much on your plate, then leave a little; almost fill your tank, then top off

. . . . . . "Another dimension": use the 3rd dimension or 4th, etc.

. . . . . . . . . E.g. 3D TV; add wings to car; 2-sided screen; double toothbrush; dump truck

. . . . . . "Mechanical vibration": cause oscillation/vibration

. . . . . . . . . E.g. electric hedge trimmer/carving knife; gall stone destruction; ultrasonic neurostimulation

. . . . . . "Periodic action": keep repeating

. . . . . . . . E.g. hitting nail with hammer; warbling siren

. . . . . . "Continuity of useful action": eliminate breaks

. . . . . . . . . E.g. night light; auto time sharing

. . . . . . "Skipping": do it so fast that harm is averted

. . . . . . . . . E.g. flash freezing; heated ice cream scoop

. . . . . . "Turn Lemons into Lemonade": use bad effect for a good purpose

. . . . . . . . . E.g. make/save money by recycling (reuse blank side; sell cans)

. . . . . . "Feedback": improve performance by examining the effects

. . . . . . . . . E.g. hard to spend money in late spring here; cruise control

. . . . . . "Intermediary": link/separate 2 things with a go-between

. . . . . . . . . E.g. potholder; nailset; shuttle diplomacy

. . . . . . "Self-service": something serves itself

. . . . . . . . . E.g. fertilize with grass clippings; pot liquor to improve flavor

. . . . . . "Copying": save with inexpensive copies

. . . . . . . . . E.g. VR instead of reality; photos; music on CD instead of live, etc.

. . . . . . "Cheap short-lived objects": throw it away afterwards

. . . . . . . . . E.g. paper plates; disposable diapers; anyone remember returnable bottles?

. . . . . . "Mechanics substitution": get rid of moving parts or other objects

. . . . . . . . . E.g. CD instead of vinyl record; acoustic pet fence

. . . . . . "Pneumatics and hydraulics": use gas and liquid instead of solid parts

. . . . . . . . . E.g. gel-filled footwear soles; propane instead of logs

. . . . . . "Flexible shells and thin films": get rid of heavy, solid things

. . . . . . . . . E.g. paper instead of slates; balloons

. . . . . . "Porous materials": make nonporous things, porous

. . . . . . . . . E.g. save weight by making it fluffier

. . . . . . "Color changes": change color or transparency of object or environment

. . . . . . . . . E.g. use red light to see nocturnal critters in a zoo

. . . . . . . . . E.g. use differently colored markers for writing

. . . . . . "Homogeneity": make interacting objects of the same material

. . . . . . . . . E.g. cut diamonds with diamond dust

. . . . . . . . . E.g. make artificial organs out of person's own cells

. . . . . . "Discarding and recovering": it disappears or changes itself

. . . . . . . . . E.g. biodegradable plastic bags; mechanical pencils

. . . . . . "Parameter changes": change properties of a substance

. . . . . . . . . E.g. heat food to cook/kill germs

. . . . . . "Phase transitions":

. . . . . . . . . E.g. freeze liquid center, then dip in warm chocolate

. . . . . . . . . E.g. air conditioning works by vaporizing/condensing a liquid

. . . . . . "Thermal expansion": things expand/contract with temperature

. . . . . . . . . E.g. make thermostats that bend and curve as temperature changes

. . . . . . . . . . . . We could do this in this class fairly easily!

. . . . . . "Strong oxidants": use oxygen-enrichment

. . . . . . . . . E.g. medical use; match heads and rocket fuel

. . . . . . "Inert atmosphere": use chemically inactive stuff

. . . . . . . . . E.g. store priceless artifacts in argon or nitrogen

. . . . . . . . . E.g. add filler when making pills so you can pick them up

. . . . . . "Composite materials": use multiple materials in a substance

. . . . . . . . . E.g. fiberglass; reinforced concrete

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Homework 5

Prediction Markets: Tapping the Wisdom of Groups
(Due Tues. 10/22, which is one week from now)

Recall that prediction markets try to combine peoples' best judgments using a financial incentive to make sure the judgments really are the best they can make. The topic is timely: the blog entry with the lecture on prediction markets is the first posting to the course blog that has resulted in comments from outside. There is also an academic journal that started in 2007 which is devoted to scholarly examination of prediction markets, their structure, how well they work, etc.

This HW will hopefully be fun, and will help you gain a hands-on understanding of how prediction markets work.

1) (22.5 pts.) Let's assume you have $1,000 to invest in prediction markets. Naturally, you want to make more money, meaning that when you sell your best judgments you get more than the $1,000 you invested. Identify a prediction market company that you want to pretend invest in. We looked at in class but there are others. Furthermore, has both a set of real markets where you can invest (or some might claim gamble) real money, and a practice market site where you can invest pretend money. You can pretend invest in the real market without signing up for a login, or you can make a login account with them and use the practice market. Or you can find another prediction market other than The one thing you cannot do is open a real account (as part of this HW) because this course does not endorse, or suggest you to spend real money on, any particular company! For the next question let's assume you are making pretend use of intrade's set of real markets.

2) (22.5 pts.) Find 10 prediction markets that you are interested in or know more about than most others. For example, you might pick the prediction market for whether 2009 will be one of the 5 hottest years on record, the prediction market for whether Michael Jackson's death will result in homicide charges, and some other eight. In fact there are dozens and dozens if not hundreds of markets they have easily accessible from their Web site. Make a list them.

3) (22.5 pts) For each of the 10 markets, decide whether the current probability shown on the graph is higher or lower than your best judgment. List the ones for which you judge the current probability to be too low.

4) Invest your $1,000 in the ones you feel are currently too low, as follows.
  • a. (3.5 pts.) Pick one of the markets. Say which one
  • b. (3.5 pts.) Figure out the price of a single contract (a contract is a little like a share of stock). That price is: (the probability in percentage points) x ($0.10). So if the probability on the graph is 65%=0.65, then a single contract will cost you 65 x $0.10, or $6.50, to buy. Give this price in your HW.
  • c. (3.5 pts.) Decide how many contracts to buy (remember you have $1,000 but will want to spread that over a number of different markets). Note the number in your HW.
  • d. (3.5 pts.) Figure out the total amount you are investing in this market. State this.
  • e. (8.5 pts.) Subtract that from $1,000 to find out how much you have left to invest in the other markets. Then go through the above steps again using another market. Repeat until you have invested all of the $1,000 in the markets you have chosen to invest in.

5) (10 pts., to be assigned toward the end of the semester. 10 if you make money, but only 5 if you lose money, sorry!) You may sell any of your contracts at any time during the semester, and buy any new contracts you like with the money you got from selling (or just hang on to the money if you prefer). You are not required to do this, if you just want to keep the same contracts. To sell, just see what the contracts you have are worth, using the graphs at the company Web site, and pretend you've sold them. Keep track of what you do by editing your blog entry for this HW. Toward the end of the semester I will ask everyone to sell everything and we'll see how much money you've made or lost!

NOTE: the focus above is on markets where the probability is too low. If the probability is too high, it is possible to bid a lower price, and the company will automatically buy the contracts if the probability goes down enough to match your bid. But that is outside the scope of this HW.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Social wisdom: prediction markets

Putting your money where your mouth is

People make predictions all the time

. . . about other peoples' reactions

. . . . . . ability to predict the effect of your action on others is useful

. . . . . . you need a theory of mind

. . . . . . you're in a game theory scenario

. . . . . . data shows population density could be the major cause of human brain size

Human brain. Credits: Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator; C. Carl Jaffe, MD, cardiologist. Http://

Chimpanzee brain. Credits: Gaetan Lee; tilt corrected by Kaldari. Http://

. . . . . . . . . this is the social competition theory of human brain genesis (ref.: Bailey & Geary, Hominid Brain Evolution: Testing Climatic, Ecological, and Social Competition Models Human Nature, vol. 20, no. 1, Mar. 2009, pp. 67-79. )

. . . . . . so the need to predict may explain why we're human!

. . . about the weather

Credits: Don Amaro from Madeira Islands, Portugal, upload by Herrick 17:17, 4 December 2007 (UTC). Http://

Waterspout. Credits: 1969 September 10. Photographer: Dr. Joseph Golden, NOAA. Public domain.
. . . . . . The National Weather Service is a large and technical gov't agency devoted to prediction using large computers, etc.
. . . . . . It's not perfect but it's much better than nothing

. . . . . . Group wisdom can be used, e.g. in bet-oriented ways
. . . . . . Will the average global temperature for 2009 be among the highest 5 years recorded?

. . . . . . . . . for about 50 "points" ($5) you can bet it will (or won't) and win $10 (or lose)

. . . about sports

Tim Henman serving at Wimbledon, 2005. Credits: Photo by Spiralz; license:

. . . . . . Sports betting has a long history
. . . . . . People want to predict future outcomes and will pay to do it!
. . . . . . An honest "bookmaker" will offer odds that result in equal payoff regardless of outcome
. . . . . . . . . (But why would you think a bookmaker is honest?)
. . . . . . By equalizing the payoffs, the true odds according to group wisdom become evident
. . . About politics
. . . . . . During election season, media and candidates all try to predict
. . . . . . . . . Some of it you don't hear about
. . . . . . polling, trend analysis, and sociological analysis are big
. . . . . . . . . predictions markets have been claimed to do better
. . . about corporate stocks

. . . . . . The stock market is a "leading economic indicator"
. . . . . . Economists pay special attention to leading indicators

If someone asked you to invent a way to collect group predictive wisdom, what would you likely come up with?

. . . Maybe a Delphi-like method
. . . Probably not prediction markets
. . . . . . An early design for prediction markets appears in The Shockwave Rider, by John Brunner, 1975
. . . . . . His term was Delphi Pool
. . . . . . General idea: putting their money at stake makes people generate better predictions
. . . Terrorism and prediction markets
. . . . . . DARPA's PAM (Policy Analysis Market) permitted a prediction market for terrorist attacks
+ we might have forwarning
- terrorists might buy predictions, then make them come true to make money!
. . . . . . In 2003 2 senators found out, PAM was cancelled, and a DARPA program director resigned
. . . . . . . . . not clear that terrorist predictions were ever traded on it
An example prediction market
. . . see, check short video, and look at the site
. . . HW will be sent tomorrow, will be to invest pretend money in a prediction market, and to research and compare prediction markets and the Delphi method

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Delphi Method II


Finish the "Delphi method" (next time - prediction markets)

. . . Recall each remaining student will extract the wisdom of the group by using the Delphi Method on the class

. . . . . . (I will help a little as needed)

. . . Each person will also have a chance to be the recorder

But first let's reflect a bit

. . . What are the differences between how we're doing it for practice and how it would be done "professionally"?

. . . What are the "so whats?" of these differences?

Ambiguity in the question

. . . Often, public parks have rules that make them fun places for everyone

. . . Here is one proposed rule:

All dogs must be kept on a leash

. . . What does it really say and how can we fix it??

And before we start, a figure or two...
Recall from last time:

(Source: JC Glenn and TJ Gordon, eds. Futures Research Methodology V3.0, chap. 4, p. 10)


. . . Entire books have been written on the Delphi Method

Homework 4

Short HW due Monday 9/14/09 (in 5 days, next class)

1. If your Delphi question was done in class on Wednesday 9/9 (i.e. "today"), then find the median and the range of the middle 50% of the responses. Using a graphics editor of your choice (even paint works for this), make a graph that is analogous or similar to the one in the lecture notes, showing the total range, middle 50% range, and median.

On the other hand, if your question was discussed in class last Wednesday 9/2 (i.e. before Labor day vacation), then analyze the question you asked from the standpoint of clarity and ambiguity. What are the different ways it could be interpreted by different people or the confusions they might have in trying to answer it? If you were to run the Delphi method again, would you re-word your question? If so, how?

2. Recall that a project is part of the course, and this project will grow step by step throughout the semester. In other words, you will keep adding to it as we go along, so that in the end it will be a piece of work you can be proud of! Make up a tentative plan for your term project, which will be a paper, software system, combination, skit or musical performance or painting (if you are a fine arts major), or whatever it is. You may analyze the same topic as you used for your Delphi exercise, or change topics but include the Delphi results as an appendix or supplemental report. Also, answer the question, "What would be a good thing to do next on this project?"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Homework 3

NOTE: this is due before class next Wednesday! That way we can apply it directly in class.

We discussed the Delphi method. The questions below will give a more in-depth understanding of the Delphi method. Post the answers on your blog.

1. If your question was one of those that the class used the Delphi method on, find the median and the range of the middle 50% of the responses. Using a graphics editor of your choice (even paint works for this), make a graph that is analogous or similar to the one in the lecture notes, showing the total range, middle 50% range, and median. If your question was not discussed in class, then (1) figure out a way of saying the question that will hopefully work well when we apply the Delphi method to it in class, and (2) explain why you designed the question the way you did.

2. Read up on the Delphi method on the Web (or the library). Explain how the process that we went through in class differs from the process as described in the sources you found.

3. Based on what you can find about the Delphi method, what shortcomings, risks, or other weaknesses do you see for the process that we followed in class? Also do you see a way to fix some of these?