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CarlShulman comments on Assessing Kurzweil: the results - Less Wrong

42 Post author: Stuart_Armstrong 16 January 2013 04:51PM

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Comment author: CarlShulman 16 January 2013 08:04:20PM 6 points [-]

Yes, if one has a source of abundant likely, obvious predictions one can arbitrarily 'juice' one's overall accuracy rate even if most of the surprising predictions go wrong. On the other hand, judging 'obviousness' in hindsight is very tricky.

One also has to pay attention to the independence of predictions. E.g. one could predict the continuation of Moore's Law as one prediction or as many predictions with connected answers: a prediction about chips in laptops, a prediction about chips in supercomputers, a prediction about the performance of algorithms with well-understood hardware scaling, etc. In the extreme, one could make 1000 predictions about computer performance in consecutive minutes, which would almost certainly rise or fall together.

Kurzweil's separate predictions aren't perfectly correlated (e.g. serial speed broke off from supercomputer performance in FLOPS) but many of them are far from independent.

Comment author: TechnoToad 29 January 2013 10:13:35PM -1 points [-]

Carl is basically pointing out that assessing predictions is tricky business, because it's hard to be objective.

Here are a few points that need to be taken into account:

1. People have a lot to gain from being pessimistically defensive. It prevents them from being disappointed at some point in the future. The option for being pleasantly surprised, remains open. Being defensively pessimistic also prevents you from looking crazy to your peers. After all... who wants to be the only one in a group of 10 to think that by 2030 we'll have nanobots in our brains?

2. The poster assessed Kurzweil's predictions because he felt the need to do so. Why did he feel the need to do so? Is this about defensive pessimism?

3. It is safe to assume that a random selection of assessors would be biased towards judging 'False' for two obvious reasons. The first is the fact that they are uninformed about technology and simply aren't able to properly judge the lion's share of all predictions. The second is defensive pessimism.

4. Why is it judged that a 30% 'Strong True' is a weak score? In comparison to the predictions of futurologists before Kurzweil, 30% seems like an excellent score to me. It strikes me as a score that a man with a blurred vision of the future would have. But blurred vision of the future is all you can ever have. If the future were here, you'd be able to see it sharply in focus. Having blurred vision of the future is a real skill. Most people (SL0) have no vision of the future whatsoever.

5. How many years does a prediction have to be off in order for it to be wrong? How would you determine this number of years objectively?

6. Why did the assessors have to go with the 5-step-true-to-false system? Is that really the best way of assessing a futurologists predictions? I understand that we are a group of rational people here, but sometimes, you've gotta let go of the numbers, the measurements, the data and the whole binary thinking. Sometimes, you have to go back to just being a guy with common sense.

Take Kurzweil's long standing predictions for solar power, for example. He's been predicting for years that the solar tipping point would be around 2010. Spain hit grid parity in 2012 and news outlets are saying that the USA and parts of Europe will hit grid parity in 2013.

Calling Kurzweil's prediction on solar power wrong just because it's happening 2 to 3 years after 2010, is wrong in my opinion.

Kurzweil deserves some slack here. In the 1980s he predicted a computer would beat a human chess player in 1998. And that ended up happening a year earlier in 1997.

Kurzweil has blurry vision of the future. He might be a genius, but he is also just a human being that doesn't have anything better to go on than big data. Simple as that.

Instead of bickering about his predictions, we would do better to just look at the big picture of things.

Nanotech, wireless, robotics, biotech, AI... all of it is happening.

And be honest about Google's self driving car, which came out 2 years ago already: that was just an unexpected leap into the future right there!

I don't think Kurzweil himself saw self driving cars coming in 2011 already.

And to really hammer the point home, the self driving car had thousands of registered miles when it was introduced at the start of 2011. So it was probably already finished in 2010.

For all we know, the Singularity will occur in 2030. We just don't know.

Kurzweil has brought awareness to the world. Rather than sit around and count all the right and the wrong ones as the years pass by, the world would do better if it tried turning those predictions into self fullfilling prophecies.