WNPR

U.S. Intelligence Dabbles in Forecasting the Future

Sep 2, 2016

The participants are average citizens: school teachers, waiters, pharmacists, perhaps even your neighbor. By day they work and pay their bills, but when they return home, things change. These elite individuals go to work forecasting the outcomes of global events (sometimes years into the future), all at the direction of a little-known government intelligence agency called IARPA.

While this all sounds ripped from the latest Hollywood thriller, the truth is that this is happening right now in America. The "superforecasters," as they are known, are all volunteers. They are Americans like you and me who signed up to take part in a long-running experiment put together by U.S. intelligence officials and several university professors.

The idea behind the experiment, known as The Good Judgment Project, was to test whether normal people, with no access to top-secret information, could forecast with accuracy the outcomes of many events that top intelligence analysts spend their entire careers investigating: The collapse of foreign regimes, the spread of deadly outbreaks, the meltdown of nuclear reactors, and other such headline-making events.

The results of the experiment as well as the means by which it was conducted (and is still being conducted) will surprise you.

This hour, we talk to the experiment's designers and to a certified "superforecaster" herself. We find out exactly how forecasting the future may become an essential component of our national security.

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Colin McEnroe and Chion Wolf contributed to this show, which originally aired September 30, 2015.