Game theory and future forecasting

Political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is bringing mathematics to bear on what Yogi Berra said is the hardest thing to predict: the future. The New York University professor is profiled in this week's Science News and is also on the cover story in the current issue of GOOD Magazine. He's consulted for the CIA, the Department of Defense, and Fortune 500 companies to help generate forecasts using a computerized game theory model. He's recently worked with the US government on the conflict with Iran. However, he says his private consultancy's corporate policy bars him from saying, "on a commercial basis," who will be the next president of the United States. From Science News:

The details of his study of negotiation options with Iran are classified, but Bueno de Mesquita says that the broad outline is that there is nothing the United States can do to prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear energy for civilian power generation. The more aggressively the U.S. responds to Iran, he says, the more likely it is that Iran will develop nuclear weapons. The upshot of the study, Bueno de Mesquita argues, is that the international community needs to find out if there is a way to monitor civilian nuclear energy projects in Iran thoroughly enough to ensure that Iran is not developing weapons.

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.

Former CIA analyst Stanley Feder says that he has used Bueno de Mesquita's model well over a thousand times since the early 1980s to make predictions about specific policies. Like others, he has found it to be more than 90 percent accurate.

Link to Science News, Link to GOOD Magazine

Previously on BB:
• Failed futuristic predictions Link
• Gladwell on mysteries vs. puzzles Link
• Problems with predictions Link