Friday, May 12, 2006

More on that Time-Killing Google Thingie

Murky Thoughts, you do keep me going some days.

In 2004... hmm. Interesting. I don't know how Google keeps track of its results and history, but maybe in 2004 they decided to broaden their vocabulary, or they revised some sort of master thesaurus, so that their search engine no longer automatically conflated "catsup" with "ketchup"?

Maybe Google can explain it. Know how to contact them directly?

There's a John Brunner novel called "Shockwave Rider," wherein one of the ways of predicting the future - social trends, weather, stock prices, pretty much anything - is by polling a huge number of anonymous respondents online. He called it a "Delphi Pool." Recall Admiral Poindexter's incredibly dumb "Policy Analysis Market" idea - basically an easily-gamed futures market for terrorist attacks - and the RAND Corporation apparently developed something called the Delphi Method at the beginning of the Cold War, which was undoubtedly interesting and geek-cool, but of dubious value. Much like the RAND Corporation itself. (Appearance of personal knowledge courtesy of Wikipedia.)

... overall the track record of the Delphi method is mixed. There have been many cases when the method produced poor results. Still, some authors attribute this to poor application of the method and not to the weaknesses of the method itself. It must also be realised that in areas such as science and technology forecasting the degree of uncertainty is so great that exact and always correct predictions are impossible, so a high degree of error is to be expected.

Another particular weakness of the Delphi method is that future developments are not always predicted correctly by iterative consensus of experts, but instead by unconventional thinking of amateur outsiders.

One of the initial problems of the method was its inability to make complex forecasts with multiple factors. Potential future outcomes were usually considered as if they had no effect on each other. Later on, several extensions to the Delphi method were developed to address this problem, such as cross impact analysis, that takes into consideration the possibility that the occurrence of one event may change probabilities of other events covered in the survey. Still the Delphi method can be used most successfully in forecasting single scalar indicators.

Despite these shortcomings, today the Delphi method is a widely accepted forecasting tool and has been used successfully for thousands of studies in areas varying from technology forecasting to drug abuse.

If I may interpret: the "Delphi method" - whatever that means - is largely bs, which arrives at results accurate or inaccurate by more or less by the same chance one would get if one studied a problem closely, and then made an informed guess. "...some authors attribute [the poor results] to poor application of the method and not to the weaknesses of the method itself"? Puh-lease. Mathematicians have a term of art for this sort of method: we call it a WAG - Wild-Assed Guess.

I remember the methodology Brunner described in his novel was vague, but nonetheless unconvincing; but anyway it was interesting and cool enough that it stuck in my mind. But my mind is a storehouse of useless trivia...


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