Blog Archive for the ‘Announcements’ Category

navigateleft Older Articles   

Is the Great Auk a Candidate for De-Extinction?

Posted on Thursday, February 4th, 02016 by Stewart Brand
link   Categories: Announcements, Revive & Restore   chat 0 Comments

Great auk
On June 25 and 26, 2015, a meeting was held at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle, England, to discuss whether the extinct Great Auk–a once-common flightless pelagic bird known as “the penguin of the north”–might be a realistic candidate for bringing back to life using recent breakthroughs in genetic technology.  Twenty-two scientists and other interested parties gathered for the event.

Until its final extinction in 1844, the Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis) ranged across the entire north Atlantic ocean, fishing the waters off the northern US, Canada, Iceland, and northern Europe, including the coast near Newcastle in northern England.  The size of a medium penguin, it lived in the open ocean except for when it waddled ashore for breeding on just a few islands.  There its flightlessness made it vulnerable to human hunting and exploitation for its down that reached industrial scale.  Attempts to regulate the hunting as early as the 16th Century were fruitless.  The last birds, on an island off Iceland, were gone by 1844.

The host of the Great Auk meeting was Matt Ridley, member of the House of Lords, former science editor of The Economist, author of The Rational Optimist and Genome.  He opened the meeting by noting that de-extinction comes in four stages, which he described as: 1) In silico (the sequencing of the full genome of the extinct animal into digital data); 2) in vitro (editing the important genes of the extinct animal into living reproductive cells of its nearest living relative; 3) in vivo (using the edited reproductive cells to create living proxies of the extinct animal); and 4) in the wild (growing the proxy animal population with captive breeding and eventually releasing them to take up their old ecological role in the wild.)

Razorbill
The nearest relative of the Great Auk is the Razorbill (Alca torda, above).  It looks similar and has the same trans-Atlantic range and feeding habits, but it can fly and is about 1/8th the size of the Great Auk.  At the meeting, Tom Gilbert, an ancient-DNA expert at the Centre for Geogenetics, University of Copenhagen, reported on his preliminary sequencing of the Great Auk and Razorbill genomes, confirming that they are genetically close.  There are a number of Great Auk museum specimens to work with—71 skins, 24 skeletons, 75 eggs, and even some preserved internal organs and ancient fossil remains.

Three participants from Revive & Restore—Ben Novak, Ryan Phelan, and Stewart Brand—spelled out the current state of de-extinction projects involving the Passenger Pigeon, Heath Hen, and Woolly Mammoth. In each case the extinct genomes have been thoroughly sequenced, along with the genomes of their closest living relatives, and some of the important genes to edit have been identified.  With the woolly mammoth, 16 genes governing three important traits have been edited into a living elephant cell line by George Church’s team at Harvard Medical School.  For birds, the crucial in vivo stage of being able to create living chicks with edited genomes utilizing a primordial germ cell (PGC) approach has yet to be fully proven, though work has begun on the process, working with a private company in California.

Michael McGrew from Roslin Institute in Edinburgh described the current state of play using primordial germ cell techniques with chickens.  Progress may go best by introducing the edited PGCs into the embryos of chickens adjusted to have no endogenous germ cells of their own.  Because so much work has been done on chicken genetics, working with a bird in the same family, the extinct Heath Hen, may offer the most practical first case to pursue.  For the Great Auk eventually, a flock of captive-bred Razorbills will be needed to supply embryos for the PGC process.

Oliver Haddrath (Ornithologist at the Royal Ontario Museum) and Richard Bevan (Ecologist at Newcastle University) described what is known of the lifestyle, ecology, and history of Great Auks compared with Razorbills, and Andrew Torrance (Law professor at the University of Kansas) examined potential legal hurdles for resurrected Great Auks and found them not explicitly prohibitive and potentially navigable.

The meeting concluded with a sense that the project can and should be pursued.  Next steps include funding the completion of Tom Gilbert’s genetic study of Great Auks and Razorbills and scheduling a follow-up meeting in the summer of 2016, perhaps at another location (Canada, Iceland, Denmark) in the once-and-perhaps-future range of the Great Auk.

Meeting
Following the formal meeting, many of the 22 participants were taken by Matt Ridley on a boat tour of the nearby Farne Islands, where thousands of Razorbills and other seabirds are gathered in dense breeding colonies.  One of the islands has a low beach that would be a perfect land base for Great Auks.

Meeting

Participants:  Alastair Balls, Richard Bevan, Stewart Brand, Sir John Burn, Linda Conlon, Federica DiPalma, Graham Etherington, Fiona Fell, Tom Gilbert, Dan Gordon, Oliver Haddrath, James Haile, Jeremy Herrmann, Noel Jackson, Mike McGrew, Ben Novak, Ryan Phelan, Chris Redfern, Matt Ridley, Ryan Rothman, Jimmy Steele, Andrew Torrance.

Matt Ridley added the following about the Farne Islands:

The Farnes are one of the very few island groups on the east coast of Britain, so they are very attractive to island-nesting seabirds. They host about 90,000 breeding pairs of seabirds each summer: mainly puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, black-headed gulls, herring gulls, lesser black-back gulls, Arctic, Sandwich and Common terns, shags, cormorants, eider ducks and fulmars. About 2000 grey seal pups are born on the islands each autumn.

The number of breeding birds has approximately doubled in 40 years, largely thanks to protection from human disturbance, control of the predatory large gull population, and habitat management. Most of the birds depend on just one species of fish to feed their young: the sand eel. The eels lives in vast shoals over the sandy sea floor close to the islands. Some studies have suggested that nutrients from human activities on land — including agricultural fertiliser and human sewage — have contributed to the productivity of this part of the North Sea, though treated sewage effluent outflow to the sea has now ceased. It is likely that there are more breeding birds on the Farne islands today than for many centuries, because in the past people lived on the islands (as farmers or religious hermits), and visited them to collect eggs and chicks for food. There is archeological evidence that great auks lived here in the distant past, but they would have been quickly exterminated by people on islands so close to the shore, being so easy to catch.

Centuries of the Bristlecone

Posted on Thursday, January 21st, 02016 by Jonathon Keats
link   Categories: Announcements, Long Term Art   chat 0 Comments

The Nevada Museum of Art has a commitment to supporting the creation, study, and preservation of art that explores the boundaries of human environments. In spatial terms that means the Museum collects and exhibits work from the Great Basin outward to the polar regions, the great deserts of the world, and high altitudes, including near space. In temporal terms, that includes materials with roots in deep human time, such as projects with Australian Aboriginal artists—but also artworks that project into the future, which is to say the Long Now.

Jonathon Keats’ proposal to construct a 5,000 year calendrical index linked between the Museum in Reno and Long Now’s site at 11,000 feet in remote eastern Nevada resides simultaneously on many frontiers. This is also a hallmark of our Art of the Greater West collection, which includes work from throughout a super-region that extends from Alaska south to Patagonia, and west across the Pacific to Australia. This physical and metaphorical territory “west of the mountains” is in a perpetual state of discovery. The Museum’s multiple permanent holdings, including its Contemporary Art and large Altered Landscape photography collection, are focused around human interactions with natural, built, and virtual spaces. Jonathon’s calendar will powerfully manifest how these collections, exhibitions, and research projects inhabit this rich confluence.

 

Bill Fox
Director, Center for Art + Environment
Nevada Museum of Art

William Fox will be speaking about the Art of the Greater West at The Interval at Long Now in April 02016. The Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno is partnering with the artist Jonathon Keats and The Long Now Foundation to realize Centuries of the Bristlecone for a permanent installation at the Museum in 02020. The archive of the project will reside at the Center for Art + Environment, where it will be available to researchers.

Keats

Centuries of the Bristlecone

A Living Calendar on Mount Washington

by Jonathon Keats

In pre-Classical Greece, time was kept by cicadas’ songs, the flowering of artichokes, and the migration of cranes. Ballads recounted these annual events, and provided their interpretation. (When the cranes migrated, it was time to plow the fields.) Although constellations also provided guidance, celestial authority was contingent in this three-thousand-year-old calendar, with days arbitrarily added as the stars fell out of sync with nature.

Gradually society made calendars more regular. First the moon was used, and then the sun. Julius Caesar improved the reliability of solar timekeeping by introducing the leap year. By modern reckoning, the Gregorian year is 365.2425 days long, and the movement of our planet has ceded authority to atomic clocks. Time has become abstract. The cranes are late if they migrate in November rather than October; November isn’t deemed ahead-of-schedule.

Undoubtedly the Gregorian calendar is useful for keeping dental appointments and managing multinational corporations. But is it worthy of our trust? Is it more valid than the sounding of cicadas and flowering of artichokes? Should we value mathematical exactitude over ground truth? Working in collaboration with the Long Now Foundation and the Nevada Museum of Art, I plan to provide an alternative to Gregorian time by bringing the calendar back to life.

At the core of my calendrical system will be the most long-lived of timekeepers: Pinus longaeva, commonly known as the bristlecone pine tree. Bristlecone pines have a lifespan that can exceed five thousand years, making the oldest more ancient than Greek civilization. They keep count of the years with annual ring growth, a natural calendar prized by dendroclimatologists because it’s irregular. The thickness of each ring is a measure of environmental conditions in a given year. The growing girth of the tree thus clocks environmental time cumulatively. Sited on Long Now property atop Mount Washington, my living calendars will do so for the next five millennia, visibly tracking time as lived on our planet.

Here is the vision: Around each bristlecone pine will be arranged a double spiral of large stone pillars, indicating the girth the bristlecone can be expected to have in 500 years, 1,000 years and more, as extrapolated from the current average annual ring growth for Mount Washington bristlecones. Each of the stones will be incised with the appropriate year. The steady development of the tree – and concomitant increase of the tree’s diameter – will turn over each successive pillar with the completion of each consecutive time increment, thereby indicating the approximate date. However, as climate change alters the living landscape, the calendar will fall out of step with Gregorian years. Through time, each bristlecone will bear witness to human activity in the Anthropocene. The meaning of the living calendar will change with the changes we bring to the environment.

Naturally there are myriad ways in which these calendars will defy expectations. Most certainly some will grow faster than others, subject to fluctuations in microclimates on the mountain, each differently impacted by global climate change. Also bristlecone pines typically grow irregularly, the harshness of their environment recorded in the contour of their trunks. Depending on what transpires in their vicinity, they may turn over pillars out of order. Or a trees may die prematurely, time frozen in hardwood that will take many millennia to decompose.

These uncertainties are integral to the concept. In these calendars, time is alive with contingencies. Through these calendars, we’ll come to terms with where prediction fails us: the limitations of what we can know about the future, and the threat of hubris.

Keats
Under the stewardship of Long Now, Mount Washington will host five stone spirals around five trees of different ages at different altitudes. Beginning in the year 2020 – when we anticipate construction to be complete – voyagers will visit each calendar in turn, discovering the date by reading the stones.

Centuries of the Bristlecone will encourage people to visit Mount Washington who might otherwise never see it. Yet these mountain calendars will probably be experienced primarily by word of mouth – a living myth. For that reason, there will be a more broadly accessible dimension to the project: A sixth bristlecone pine will be configured with an electronic dendrometer, an instrument that wraps around the tree trunk, precisely measuring diameter. Data from the dendrometer will be relayed by satellite to a computer that will calculate an exact date based on the tree’s daily increase in girth. The computer will control a monumental mechanical calendar situated in downtown Reno at the Nevada Museum of Art.

Additionally the dendrometer will control a variable Bristlecone Time Protocol, accessible online and via an app for smartphone and smartwatch. The protocol will provide a precise digital indication of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years according to the growth of the tree on Mt. Washington.

The bristlecone date will thereby become a fully viable (if notoriously unreliable) alternative to the Gregorian date. People will be able to choose which calendar to follow, and, in the ensuing confusion, will be forced to confront the discrepancy. Is time a universal abstraction or grounded in lived experience? Each calendar will carry conflicting authority, much as stars and artichokes did in pre-Classical Greece.

Call for Participation: The Long Now Foundation Summer Teacher Institute

Posted on Wednesday, January 20th, 02016 by Laura Welcher
link   Categories: Announcements   chat 0 Comments

The Long Now Foundation Summer Teacher Institute

Fostering Long-term Responsibility

Fort Mason Center, San Francisco

August 8-10, 02016

“Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed—some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where ‘long-term’ is measured at least in centuries.”

-Stewart Brand, Co-founder and President of the Long Now Foundation

2015_10_21_-_Alexander_Rose_-_Picasa_Web_Albums

Introduction

When today’s students become tomorrow’s civic leaders and entrepreneurs, they will confront global environmental and societal challenges that require long-term strategies and solutions. The Long Now Foundation is offering a new program—the Summer Teacher Institute—to engage with educators to develop middle and high school curricula that will better prepare students for these challenges by cultivating their ability to think critically, frame issues, and solve problems using time frames that include centuries and even millennia.

During a three-day engagement including interactive presentations with Long Now thought leaders and hands-on sessions using Long Now’s multi-media and museum resources, participating teachers will design creative and compelling curricula that foster long-term thinking skills within a wide range of subject areas and disciplines.  Teachers will leave the Institute with a new approach to framing critical thinking and problem solving in a long-term time horizon; concrete curriculum activities to implement in their classrooms that build long-term thinking skills; and a new network of Long Now educators committed to fostering long-term thinking and responsibility among its students and schools.

Program

The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996* to develop projects to challenge our short term attention span and time frame and embody the notion of deep time. It hopes to provide a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common through its ambitious projects such as:

  • The 10,000 year clock, a mechanical clock that ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium.
  • The Rosetta Library, a publicly accessible digital library of human languages.
  • Revive & Restore, an initiative to selectively bring back extinct species.

The Long Now Summer Teacher Institute is an opportunity for educators to collaborate on creating practical teaching approaches and learning activities that develop long-term thinking among their students with the intention of cultivating graduates with the skills and responsibility to balance the short and long views of civilization.

Page-01

Imagine…

  • 12th grade history of science students discussing the long-term implications of a world without disease;
  • 6th grade humanities students prototyping what farming looks like in a century;
  • 10th grade science and humanities classes comparing the outcomes of immediate short-term interventions with long-term strategies for living with severe drought;
  • 8th graders exploring urban life by examining a specific city’s history, present and future across centuries to determine what has changed and what remains constant.

The Summer Teacher Institute is designed to take educators through a three day schedule of provocative conversations with experts, field trips, and hands-on problem-solving activities that culminate with the development of implementable curriculum activities.

(more…)

Stephen Pyne Seminar Tickets

Posted on Monday, January 18th, 02016 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

 

The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Stephen Pyne on Fire Slow, Fire Fast, Fire Deep

Stephen Pyne on “Fire Slow, Fire Fast, Fire Deep”

TICKETS

Tuesday February 9, 02016 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

Fire acts in the short-term & long-term. It periodically destroys landscapes with devastating speed, yet, if properly managed, it leads to the long-term health of many ecosystems.

Stephen J. Pyne is a professor at Arizona State University, author of Between Two Fires: A Fire History of Contemporary America (amongst many other books), and considered one of the world’s foremost experts on the history and management of fire.

PanLex Looking for Endangered Language Digital Detectives

Posted on Thursday, January 14th, 02016 by Julie Anderson
link   Categories: Announcements, PanLex   chat 0 Comments

Archives

Every word

The PanLex project aims to translate every word from every language into every other language. We already have solid groundwork with 10,000 language varieties and 22 million expressions in the PanLex database, but we still have a long way to go, especially with the more obscure and under-documented languages of the world which are most susceptible to extinction. Ethnologue: Languages of the World explains:

Language endangerment is a serious concern to which linguists and language planners have turned their attention in the last several decades. For a variety of reasons, speakers of many smaller, less dominant languages stop using their heritage language and begin using another.… As a consequence there may be no speakers who use the [heritage] language as their first or primary language and eventually the language may no longer be used at all…. Languages which have not been adequately documented disappear altogether.

In light of the fragile situation facing many smaller languages, PanLex is in a hurry to track down existing data on them, and we’d love to get some help from the larger Long Now community.

Digital detectives

We are looking for some intrepid, word-loving, puzzle-solving language sleuths who can help us search for words in some of the world’s most obscure languages. Do you love a challenge? Are you a brave armchair world traveler? Can you defy the needle-in-haystack odds? Let us send you a list of five little-known languages to search on the Internet using your best cyber-snooping creativity. You’ll think of places to hunt that we haven’t. Find a dictionary, glossary, or sociolinguistic research paper with a word list in the appendix. Check social media, booksellers, and library catalogs. Tweet your followers. If you find something, you’ll simply email us the URL or the publication info and we’ll take it from there.

What your research will do

You’ll be our springboard towards gathering words in more than 2,000 languages still needed in our database, shoring up the most neglected and least documented in the world. Indigenous communities, researchers, translators, students, and linguists will have online access to this valuable data. Increased visibility and accessibility of these languages allows the stakeholders to develop their projects in the directions they choose, be it research, education, or language revitalization. Pressure may be relieved on some smaller communities who are in danger of abandoning their mother tongue in favor of a politically dominant language. Your efforts support long-term preservation of linguistic diversity, accessibility of data, and ultimately improved communication. Plus, you may gather an esoteric name or two to complete your next high-brow crossword puzzle.

Getting technical

If you prefer, we can also use some help on the technical side:

  • designing apps and interfaces
  • localization tools
  • mobile apps
  • graph visualizations
  • adding links to other linguistic or geographic databases
  • investigating translation inference algorithms

Archives

We’d love to hear from you

Contact us at anderson@panlex.org to volunteer, your support will be greatly appreciated!

Rick Prelinger Seminar Media

Posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 02015 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Lost Landscapes of San Francisco, 10

Wednesday December 9, 02015 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Prelinger Seminar page.

*********************

Subscribe to our Seminar email list for updates and summaries.

Cocktail Mechanics class at The Interval

Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 02015 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
link   Categories: Announcements, Long Now salon (Interval)   chat 0 Comments

 

PouringDrinksInterval

The Interval at Long Now cocktail classroom series:

Cocktail Mechanics” class at The Interval (tickets $100 each)

Taught by Jennifer Colliau (Beverage Director of The Interval at Long Now)
The Interval’s new cocktail classroom series will teach you the art and science of making drinks. In small, hands-on classes you will learn the fundamentals and finer points of making exceptional cocktails directly from one of San Francisco’s finest bartenders, our own Jennifer Colliau.

In Cocktail Mechanics, Jennifer explains both fundamentals and finer points while teaching several recipes from behind The Interval bar. Then you take a turn to practice what you’ve learned under her supervision. The Interval will be closed during the class, so you can use all the tools, ingredients and glassware that our bartenders do.

Jennifer will show you how to make both classic cocktails and newer drinks created by some of San Francisco’s top bartenders. Next you and your classmates will stir or shake them yourselves. Of course you’ll also drink your creations, before leaving with copies of all the recipes so you can make them again at home.

Along the way you’ll learn skills you can use with any drink you make: measuring, different mixing methods (and when to use them), the proper glassware for each cocktail, and more. These are the same techniques our bartenders use every day.

Jennifer’s knowledge and attention to detail assure that The Interval’s cocktails are always delicious and true to their recipes. In this class you’ll have the rare opportunity to learn from her, so you can bring that bartending excellence home.

Jennifer Colliau is The Interval’s Beverage Director and a world famous bartender and cocktail historian. She designed and authored The Interval’s drink menu. A recognized authority on classic cocktails and contemporary mixology, Jennifer has been written about or written for publications such as The New York Times, Food & Wine, Wired, 7×7, The Washington Post, and Imbibe Magazine. Her company Small Hand Foods specializes in making artisanal syrups and other authentic ingredients for cocktails old and new. In 02015 the San Francisco Chronicle named Jennifer a “Bar Star” and they have also said the drinks on our menu are “some of the most finessed in town.”

Eric Cline Seminar Tickets

Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

 

The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Eric Cline presents 1177 B.C: When Civilization Collapsed

Eric Cline presents “1177 B.C: When Civilization Collapsed”

TICKETS

Monday January 11, 02016 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

In 1177 B.C., the Bronze Age came to a sudden end, and with it the end of the dominance of the Minoans, Mycenaeans, Trojans, Hittites, and Babylonians– empires that had ruled for over a millennium. Eric Cline’s research paints a vivid picture of these thriving cultures and the complex causes that led to this “First Dark Age.”

The Fund of the Long Now

Posted on Tuesday, December 1st, 02015 by Bryan Campen - Twitter: @bryancampen
link   Categories: Announcements, Fund of the Long Now   chat 0 Comments

June 02016 marks Long Now’s twentieth anniversary. In terms of a new nonprofit, it is a pretty good run. But for Long Now it means that we still have at least 9,980 years left to go…

So we decided to build a fund to better ensure our future, and at the same moment put deep time in your hands. We have created The Fund of the Long Now, a donor fund that we will invest in to help make Long Now a truly long-term institution.

The Bristlecone Pine Kit that includes its own tiny greenhouse tube.

As a thank you to those who provide tangible support to The Fund, we have made a limited edition set of Bristlecone Pine Tree Kits. These kits will be sent to everyone who can make a substantive donation.

The bristlecone is one of the longest living species on earth, and a living symbol of our shared commitment to the deep future, whether we measure that in centuries or millennia. The Fund of the Long Now is being built to back up our promise to that future, and to support the operating budget of a truly long-term cultural institution.

Once we reach $500,000, The Fund of the Long Now will go into active management that is specifically designed around long-term thinking. We have been testing the principles of the fund with our financial advisors for several years, and will continue to tune it as we move forward.

What your bristlecone tree will look like after about 5,000 years. Individual results may vary.

The idea behind the Fund originates from one of our core principles, to leverage longevity, and was best illustrated in Stewart Brand’s The Clock of the Long Now. So as you consider making a contribution we leave you with his quote:

The slow stuff is the serious stuff, but it is invisible to us quick learners. Our senses and our thinking habits are tuned to what is sudden, and oblivious to anything gradual. Between the near-impossible win of a lottery and the certain win of earning compound interest, we choose the lottery because it is sudden. The difference between fast news and slow nonnews is what makes gambling addictive. Winning is an event that we notice and base our behavior on, while the relentless losing, losing, losing is a nonevent, inspiring no particular behavior, and so we miss the real event, which is that to gamble is to lose.

What happens fast is illusion, what happens slow is reality. The job of the long view is to penetrate illusion.

Philip Tetlock Seminar Media

Posted on Monday, November 30th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Superforecasting

Monday November 23, 02015 – San Francisco

Audio is up on the Tetlock Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

*********************

All it takes to improve forecasting is KEEP SCORE – a summary by Stewart Brand

Will Syria’s President Assad still be in power at the end of next year? Will Russia and China hold joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean in the next six months? Will the Oil Volatility Index fall below 25 in 2016? Will the Arctic sea ice mass be lower next summer than it was last summer?

Five hundred such questions of geopolitical import were posed in tournament mode to thousands of amateur forecasters by IARPA—the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity–between 2011 and 2015. (Tetlock mentioned that senior US intelligence officials opposed the project, but younger-generation staff were able to push it through.) Extremely careful score was kept, and before long the most adept amateur “superforecasters” were doing 30 percent better than professional intelligence officers with access to classified information. They were also better than prediction markets and drastically better than famous pundits and politicians, who Tetlock described as engaging in deliberately vague “ideological kabuki dance.”

What made the amateurs so powerful was Tetlock’s insistence that they score geopolitical predictions the way meteorologists score weather predictions and then learn how to improve their scores accordingly. Meteorologists predict in percentages—“there is a 70 percent chance of rain on Thursday.” It takes time and statistics to find out how good a particular meteorologist is. If 7 out of 10 such times it in fact rained, the meteorologist gets a high score for calibration (the right percentage) and for resolution (it mostly did rain). Superforecasters, remarkably, assigned probability estimates of 72-76 percent to things that happened and 24-28 percent to things that didn’t.

How did they do that? They learned, Tetlock said, to avoid falling for the “gambler’s fallacy”—detecting nonexistent patterns. They learned objectivity—the aggressive open-mindedness it takes to set aside personal theories of public events. They learned to not overcompensate for previous mistakes—the way American intelligence professionals overcompensated for the false negative of 9/11 with the false positive of mass weapons in Saddam’s Iraq. They learned to analyze from the outside in—Assad is a dictator; most dictators stay in office a very long time; consider any current news out of Syria in that light. And they learned to balance between over-adjustment to new evidence (“This changes everything”) and under-adjustment (“This is just a blip”), and between overconfidence (“100 percent!”) and over-timidity (“Um, 50 percent”). “You only win a forecasting tournament,” Tetlock said, “by being decisive—justifiably decisive.”

Much of the best forecasting came from teams that learned to collaborate adroitly. Diversity on the teams helped. One important trick was to give extra weight to the best individual forecasters. Another was to “extremize” to compensate for the conservatism of aggregate forecasts—if everyone says the chances are around 66 percent, then the real chances are probably higher.

In the Q & A following his talk Tetlock was asked if the US intelligence community would incorporate the lessons of its forecasting tournament. He said he is cautiously optimistic. Pressed for a number, he declared, “Ten years from now I would offer the probability of .7 that there will be ten times more numerical probability estimates in national intelligence estimates than there were in 2005.”

Asked about long-term forecasting, he replied, “Here’s my long-term prediction for Long Now. When the Long Now audience of 2515 looks back on the audience of 2015, their level of contempt for how we go about judging political debate will be roughly comparable to the level of contempt we have for the 1692 Salem witch trials.”

Subscribe to our Seminar email list for updates and summaries.