Crystal

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I was given this book as a present last year and have only just managed to get round to completing it. At first I found it quite hard to penetrate and I was not immediately gripped by the premise.

This book is about the science and art of prediction. In an age when so much data is available about anything, picking out what is important and that which should be acted upon apart from the utter pile of dross that surrounds those important facts is becoming a business all of its own. What the book does not address adequately is the philosophy of “why” we need to predict or feel the need to predict, apart from a brief aside mentioning the oft-picked epithet that it is human nature to find pattern in everything. That is not quite enough. What we do get is a lot of examples of how prediction fits into the story of a number of very important topics as well as some topics which are less important but quite interesting on their own. This lack of a philosophic viewpoint, brings the book back from being truly groundbreaking and leaves it as a fairly dry look at these examples. It is this dry, factual premise which makes it hard to read. It becomes more textbook rather than insight.

The book largely delivers the insight that Bayes theorem is all that is required to understand prediction. This is all very well and it is important but the lack of exposition surrounding other statistical tools was frustrating.

 

In addition, we are fed a fair bit of how Nate Silver has developed various predictive tools to help navigate some tricky topics such as predicting political poll outcomes. This is all very well but I got the sense that a fair bit was held back in order that this book become a sales pitch for his predictive services. Once I had the idea that it was an advert, this was hard to shake off.

So. In here we look at political pundits vs polls, how chess computers look ahead and how this compares with the way human chess players look ahead. It looks at climate change, meteorological predictions, terrorism and the recent financial crisis as well as explaining just how you might go about beating the stock market (you cant (I’ll save you the effort)) and also how Poker became a global obsession. Lots of very interesting stories about he process of prediction just not a lot of depth.

I’m off to buy a crystal ball – this is probably a better bet for making predictive decisions and giving insight into the future.

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