Vie for the Tech-Prediction Prize

The SciCast prediction market is offering more than $30,000 in prizes for top forecasters

Photo-illustration: Justin Metz/Getty Images
Spectrum On-Line readers can compete for more than $30,000 in prizes in SciCast's February 2015 forecasting competition
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When we first wrote about the prediction-market collaboration between IEEE Spectrum and SciCast, one reader pointed out:

Competition works great when the outcome includes a desirable prize for the winners. What is the prize for winning on SciCast? Bragging rights on [a] little known website?

He has a point—cash and bling do concentrate one’s self-interest wonderfully (to misquote Samuel Johnson)—and SciCast is quite aware of the power of prizes.

As SciCast principal investigator, co-founder, and George Mason University professor Charles R. Twardy commented, SciCast runs periodic tournaments that offer cash prizes for the most accurate forecasts. “Right now,” he says, “we're in the middle of a 4-month accuracy contest. The Top 15 [forecasters] will receive $2250 in Amazon gift cards. The next 135 will receive $225.”

The competition is still going on, and runs through February. SciCast is eager to enroll Spectrum readers (and Spectrum would like to see its readers shine). At this point, the 15 top prizes are probably out of a newcomer’s reach…but $30,375 worth of $225 prizes is still achievable—especially when one considers that IEEE participants have already shown themselves to be among the most active and enthusiastic futures traders on the site.

Competition questions at SciCast.org are marked with a gold “Au” icon. You can find all 80-odd listed at the contest URL. There are six pages of rules and disclaimers that competitors should look at. (And how often will one see contest rules that include Bayesian double summations?)

The contest questions roam all over the fields of science and technology, including topics in:

  • Linguistics: How many languages will the Ethnologue language catalog’s 18th edition report as spoken by no one as a first language? (Today’s consensus: 200 to 224)
  • Epidemiology: How many cases of flu will be reported during the U.S. 2014-2015 flu season? (Current forecast: 440,000)
  • Physics: Will a lab experiment demonstrate Breit-Wheeler conversion of light into matter by the end of the year. (The forecasters say there’s just a 6 percent chance.)

But the biggest tranche of questions fall squarely in the EE’s wheelhouse:

  • Who will win the DARPA Robotics Challenge this coming June? (MIT leads, but there’s no clear favorite.)
  • How many teams will be awarded a full prize in the final round of the Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize competition? (The majority opinion is 3.)
  • Will LG unveil a smartphone with a 4K display in March? (Today’s line gives it a 22 percent chance.)
  • Will an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) break the 14-day world endurance record before the end of 2015? (SciCast handicappers say there’s a 42 percent probability that it will happen.)

There’s a lot more. So, for fun and possible profit, take a look at the SciCast competition questions, sign up, and make your predictions.

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