BBC 10 October 2012
Research firm Applied Research Associates, has just launched a website that invites the public—meaning anyone, anywhere—to sign up and try their hand at intelligence forecasting. The website is part of an effort, sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (Iarpa), to understand the potential benefits of so-called crowdsourcing for predicting future events. Crowdsourcing aims to use the “wisdom of crowds” and was popularised by projects like Wikipedia.
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There’s good reason for Iarpa’s interest in finding new ways to collect useful information: the intelligence community has often been blasted for its failure to forecast critical world events, from the fall of the Soviet Union to the Arab Spring that swept across North Africa and the Middle East. It was also heavily criticized for its National Intelligence Estimate in 2002, which supported claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Those failures raised larger questions about how the intelligence agencies come up with forecasts, which is usually a deliberative process involving a large number of analysts. The Iarpa project, known officially as Aggregative Contingent Estimation, is looking at whether crowdsourcing can result in more accurate forecasts about future events than those traditional forms of intelligence estimation.
Applied Research Associates actually started the project last year with another website called Forecasting Ace, which had over 2,000 registered contributors making predictions on everything from the future of space exploration to political elections. On the new website, Global Crowd Intelligence, the company hopes that number will grow substantially by making forecasting more like a game of spy versus spy.
Phi Beta Iota: “Americans always do the right thing….they just try everything else first.” Winston Churchill. Sadly, as long as the US secret world has unlimited amounts of money and is not held accountable for actually producing decision-support, they will never exhaust the “everything else” option. The intellectual decline of US intelligence can be traced to the 1970’s when the discipline of international relations substituted computers for field work and foreign language skills. It became possible to earn a PhD in international relations without ever visiting a foreign country or learning to speak or read a foreign language. HUMINT is dead within the USG, and this initiative, while a quarter century late and only in English and only online, is at root a HUMINT initiative — a first step toward harnessing the collective intelligence of humanity. The continuing obsession of the US secret world with technology to the exclusion of thinking, is a fatal moral and intellectual cancer.