July 16, 2011    /    by

Can Crowdsourcing Predict the Future? Forecasting Ace Will Test if Perception is Reality

Going Back to the Future may no longer be just for the movies. The intelligence community has launched a new project which attempts to predict what will happen next by using crowdsourcing techniques.

Going “Back to the Future” may no longer be just for the movies.  The intelligence community has launched a new project which attempts to predict what will happen next by using crowdsourcing techniques.

According to Government Computer News (GCN), “The beta Aggregative Contingent Estimation system (ACES) website, called Forecasting Ace, is funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. It launched July 15.”

If you visit the Forecasting ACE website, you are immediately greeted with the enticing words, “Predict the FUTURE With Us.” You are also asked intriguing questions that draw you in (along with thoughtful answers provided via YouTube video):

         What is this project about?

-          Why should I join?

-          What is the purpose of this project?

-          Why me?

The Forecasting Ace website offers several example forecasting problems by category, such as:


  • What is the probability that the WHO will declare a flu pandemic in 2011?
  • Will the IOC select Annecy, France as the site for the 2018 Winter Olympics?
  • Will the Toyota Prius rank in the top 5 of the 2011 US News and World Report rankings for hybrid cars?
  • What is the probability that at least one Democrat other than President Obama will file for the New Hampshire primary by 12/31/11?
  • Estimate the change in spending on education in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • How many members will Facebook have by the end of 2011?
  • What is the probability that the 2011 Nobel Prize in literature will be awarded to a writer from a 3rd world country?
  • Will the 2011-2012 NFL season include 18 rather than 16 regular season games without interruption (strike)?
  • What is the probability that both the NFL and NBA 2011 seasons will not start as scheduled because of labor disputes between the owners and the players?
  • What is the probability that Harvard will be first (or tied for first) in the US News and World Report's listing of top colleges for 2012?

 Other example forecasting questions fall under these categories:


-          Economics

-          Science and Technology

-          Military

What’s interesting about this website is how it draws you in. After seeing the examples, you are invited to “Try it Live.” I clicked on the box and was asked:

Which question(s) would you like to answer?

  • Will the average price of gasoline in the U.S. exceed $3.90 on July 31, 2011?
  • Will the value of the Euro in US dollars be at least 10% lower on August 31, 2011 than on July 31, 2011?

 Government technology and business teams can use this technology in a variety of different ways, such as gauging public interest on various mobile applications before you spend the time and money to deploy the app.  Asking someone, “Which of these three applications will do better in a year?” is similar to gauging which of the choices do they prefer now.  

On a personal level, I find this concept to be very interesting and attractive. Not only is the underlying science helpful, the results have a TV game show feeling. (I find myself wanting to know what the “survey said” for each question.) Initially, I think many people in society will find this to be fun, although we’ll see if that “new” feel lasts. My gut tells me that this will become a trend for many aspects of life – from marketing products to predicting which movies will succeed at the box office.

More important, this new crowdsourcing method of scientific prediction may bring further proof to the age-old adage:  “Perception is reality.”  

What are your thoughts on using crowdsourcing to predict the future?