wise.gov: NSF and IARPA funding for collective intelligence

The US National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research program provides grants to to small businesses to fund “state-of-the-art, high-risk, high-potential innovation research proposals”.

In their current call for proposals, they explicitly ask for “I2b. Tools for facilitating collective intelligence”.

These are grants of up to US$150,000 with opportunity for more later I believe. The deadline is December 3, 2010! Good luck and (not so) happy Thanksgiving to anyone working on one of these proposals. I’m glad to help if I can.


The deadline for another US government program has passed, but should yield interesting results and may lead to future opportunities. In August, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA, the intelligence community’s DARPA), which “invests in high-risk/high-payoff research programs” in military intelligence, solicited proposals for Aggregative Contingent Estimation, or what might be called wisdom-of-crowds methods for prediction:

The ACE Program seeks technical innovations in the following areas:

  • Efficient elicitation of probabilistic judgments, including conditional probabilities for contingent events.
  • Mathematical aggregation of judgments by many individuals, based on factors that may include past performance, expertise, cognitive style, metaknowledge, and other attributes predictive of accuracy.
  • Effective representation of aggregated probabilistic forecasts and their distributions.

The full announcement is clear, detailed, and well thought out. I was impressed with the solicitors’ grasp of research in the field, an impression no doubt bolstered by the fact that some of my own papers are cited ;-) . Huge hat tip to Dan Goldstein for collating these excerpts:

The accuracy of two such methods, unweighted linear opinion pools and conventional prediction markets, has proven difficult to beat across a variety of domains.2 However, recent research suggests that it is possible to outperform these methods by using data about forecasters to weight their judgments. Some methods that have shown promise include weighting forecasters’ judgments by their level of risk aversion, cognitive style, variance in judgment, past performance, and predictions of other forecasters’ knowledge.3 Other data about forecasters may be predictive of aggregate accuracy, such as their education, experience, and cognitive diversity. To date, however, no research has optimized aggregation methods using detailed data about large numbers of forecasters and their judgments. In addition, little research has tested methods for generating conditional forecasts.

2 See, e.g., Tetlock PE, Expert Political Judgment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 164-88; Armstrong JS, “Combining Forecasts,” in JS Armstrong, ed., Principles of Forecasting (Norwell, MA: Kluwer, 2001), 417-39; Arrow KJ, et al., “The Promise of Prediction Markets,” Science 2008; 320: 877-8; Chen Y, et al., “Information Markets Vs. Opinion Pools: An Empirical Comparison,” Proceedings of the 6th ACM Conference on Electronic Commerce, Vancouver BC, Canada, 2005.

3 See, e.g., Dani V, et al., “An empirical comparison of algorithms for aggregating expert predictions,” Proc. 22nd Conference on Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence, UAI, 2006; Cooke RM, ElSaadany S, Huang X, “On the performance of social network and likelihood-based expert weighting schemes,” Reliability Engineering and System Safety 2008; 93:745-756; Ranjan R, Gneiting T, “Combining probability forecasts,” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series B (Statistical Methodology) 2010; 72(1): 71-91.

[Examples:]

  • Will the incumbent party win the next presidential election in Country X?
  • Will the incumbent party win the next presidential election in Country X?
  • When will Country X hold its next parliamentary elections?
  • How many cell phones will be in use globally by 12/31/11?
  • By how much will the GDP of Country X increase from 1/1/11 to 12/31/11?
  • Will Country X default on its sovereign debt in 2011?
  • If Country X defaults on its sovereign debt in 2011, what will be the growth rate in the Eurozone in 2012?

Elicitation – Advances Sought
The ACE Program seeks methods to elicit judgments from individual forecasters on:

  • Whether an event will or will not occur
  • When an event will occur
  • The magnitude of an event
  • All of the above, conditioned on another set of events or actions
  • The confidence or likelihood a forecaster assigns to his or her judgment
  • The forecaster’s rationale for his or her judgment, as well as links to background information or evidence, expressed in no more than a couple of lines of text
  • The forecaster’s updated judgments and rationale

The elicitation methods should allow prioritization of elicitations, continuous updating of forecaster judgments and rationales, and asynchronous elicitation of judgments from more than 1,000 geographically-dispersed forecasters. While aggregation methods, detailed below, should be capable of generating probabilities, the judgments elicited from forecasters can but need not include probabilities.

Challenges include:

  • Some forecasters will be unaccustomed to providing probabilistic judgments
  • There has been virtually no research on methods to elicit conditional forecasts
  • Elicitation should require a minimum of time and effort from forecasters; elicitation should require no more than a few minutes per elicitation per forecaster
  • Training time for forecasters will be limited, and all training must be delivered within the software
  • Rewards for participation, accuracy, and reasoning must be non-monetary and of negligible face value (e.g., certificates, medals, pins)

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