The Economist who can predict the future
The New York University political science professor has developed a computerized game theory model that predicts the future of many business and political negotiations and also figures out ways to influence the outcome. Two independent evaluations, one by academics and one by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, have both shown that about 90 percent of his predictions have been accurate. Most recently, he has used his mathematical tools to offer approaches for handling the growing nuclear crisis with Iran...
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. In situations where predictions of the model differed from experts' predictions, the model always turned out to be correct.
"I'm always stunned that it works so well," Bueno de Mesquita says. "This 90 percent is not my assessment."
The main reason that the model generates more reliable predictions than experts do is that "the computer doesn't get bored, it doesn't get tired, and it doesn't forget," he says. In the analysis of nuclear technology development in Iran, for example, experts identified 80 relevant players. Because no individual can keep track of all the possible interactions between so many players, human analysts focus on five or six key players. The lesser players may not have a lot of power, Buena de Mesquita says, but they tend to be knowledgeable enough to influence how key decision-makers understand the issues. His model can keep track of those influences when a human can't.
"Given expert input of data for the variables for such a model, it would not surprise me in the least to see that it would perform well," says Branislav L. Slantchev, a political scientist and game theorist at the University of California at San Diego. Predictions based on game theory can fail in a context where people don't act rationally, but in Buena de Mesquita's work, Slantchev says, rational action mostly means that the players are promoting their own perceived interests as best they can, something humans tend to do.