“Prediction — The Next Big Thing”

We’re very pleased to announce our major event for the spring semester: the 2014 Macmillan Symposium: “Prediction—The Next Big Thing” to be held on April 28 at the University of Vermont.

And we’re very excited to let you know that the Symposium will bring together a team headed by two leading scholars working in the realm of complex social systems, Neil Johnson (Physics, University of Miami) and C├ęsar A. Hidalgo (Media Lab, MIT) with a experienced group of UVM faculty and students to showcase the scientific landscape of prediction.

Here’s a synopsis:

From the bare goal of survival up to the privileged one of flourishing, strong predictive capabilities are essential in the full spectrum of evolutionary systems. All complex life employs algorithmic inferences about the future, people choose careers in part based on prospects, and countries and corporations must soundly anticipate economic and cultural changes. Prediction runs from the mundane and individual—knowing it might rain today means we should bring an umbrella—to the potentially disastrous and widespread—an incoming category 5 hurricane leading to the evacuation of cities.

From antiquity, people of all cultures have been obsessed with finding new ways to foretell the fates of all things, producing a panoply of inventive divination ideas. We have looked for direction in the words of oracles, the alignment of the stars and our births, and the flight paths of birds. We have contended with—and discarded—the possibility of a deterministic, mechanistic universe, all paths laid out from the start. But as the physical sciences have grown, we have had much success in many areas: we have described the fundamental unpredictability of the quantum world, and we have steadily improved our ability to predict the weather and certain natural disasters, crucially quantifying and explaining our uncertainty.

The advent of global, interconnected sociotechnical systems and their quantification in “Big Data” would seem to hold much promise for our ability to greatly expand the scope of prediction science. In the 2014 MacMillan Symposium, the Vermont Complex Systems Center will bring together a team headed by Johnson for a week-long series of research and teaching activities aimed at understanding and building a new array of divination methods.

Please join us!

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