James and Psychohistory (was Rumble!)

jbone at place.org jbone at place.org
Sat Sep 27 13:24:21 PDT 2003



Russell said:

> So, don't be a tease. What happens
> next year? Coarse-grained, of course.

Seconded.

James seems to have forgotten something, though:  in order for 
psychohistory to be effective, even its very existence and viability 
must remain secret!  James, what the hell are you doing spouting off 
about this stuff on the G**D*** *INTERNET*?  You're gonna blow the 
whole millennial project!  ;-)

In all seriousness, I do happen to think human societies, markets, and 
overall economies are a lot more deterministic and predictable than 
most folks would allow.  I expect that the kind of thing James is 
talking about will indeed eventually be practical, and it will probably 
work in the general manner he has vaguely described.  However I'm very 
dubious about the claims that this is being done on any kind of a large 
scale now, if for no other reason than computational difficulty and the 
need for massive parallelism on a scale that just doesn't exist today 
in order to make things tractable.

I know for a fact that brokerages etc. do best-fit rule system 
generation from historical market data, but that's far from the kind of 
thing James is talking about:  you can automatically breed optimum 
trade strategies from that kind of thing, but that's not predicting 
long-term cycles.  The best-of-breed solutions I'm aware of even try to 
capture social context, usually by data mining and extraction of social 
"features" from historical news flow.  The macro-economic cycle 
prediction stuff I'm aware of is painfully inadequate, on the order of 
accuracy of, say, prediction of weather specific weather at a specific 
location this time next year.  (I.e., generalities only are practical.)

Last bit per the weather analogy:  lots of folks compare economic 
prediction to weather prediction, but IMHO that's not really a good 
comparison.  Human behavior has a characteristic that, say, the 
behavior of raindrops in a cloud or the behavior of the jet stream does 
not:  it arises from the actions of self-directed goal-seeking agents.  
It seems to me that this makes things a lot more tractable as the 
goal-seeking movement of agents in opportunity space is generally a lot 
less complex than purely and massively random interaction.  The 
"program" and its information content is "smaller."

$0.02,

jb



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