Prediction Markets

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Topic Owners: Matthew, Elisabeth

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The most high-profile examples of prediction marketsthe Iowa Electronic Markets and Intradestarted by focusing primarily on predicting election outcomes and related political and financial events; now they have expanded to the cultural (Oscars) and technological (X Prize) events as well. We want to ask the question: “What applications will prediction markets have in the future?” We propose a panel to discuss these ideas:

Justin Wolfers, Economist: Crime Rate Predictions

Bo Cowgill/Hal Varian, Google: Internal Markets in the Corporate World

Guest TBD, DARPA: The Past and Future Possibility of an Intelligence Futures Market

Some more helpful material:

  • A primer on the legal status of prediction markets.
  • The CTFC wants to know if it should regulate them.
  • If they can be regulated, could they be taxed as well?
  • Our very own Prof. Sunstein gives his comments on prediction markets and group deliberation.

Intrade, etc.

Tradesports announced last week that it will cease operations at the end of this month. Does fallout from the current economic crisis include regulatory changes that spell doom for online prediction markets? Or is something else going on here? --Gwen 11:05, 26 November 2008 (EST)

Could prediction markets transform how we govern ourselves? Robin Hanson proposes Futarchy. The idea in brief:

"Democracies often fail to aggregate information, while speculative markets excel at this task. We consider a new form of governance, wherein voters would say what we want, but speculators would say how to get it. Elected representatives would oversee the after-the-fact measurement of national welfare, while market speculators would say which policies they expect to raise national welfare. Those who recommend policies that regressions suggest will raise GDP should be willing to endorse similar market advice."

Some general and tentative questions

  • To what extent should the government be engaged in the regulation of prediction markets; should it and how might it change current structures to be more accommodating?
  • To what extent should government be involved in administering or using prediction markets (e.g., a la Hanson's suggestions)?
  • For ethical or other reasons, should we be skeptical about using prediction markets for purposes such as predicting terrorist attacks and the like? What about for predicting regular crime (see this proposal)?
  • More generally, if we think prediction markets are a useful tool, and yet it seems clear that they generate a considerable amount of unease, can we think about why and how policymakers might respond? Can design of the markets (reducing inaccuracy, or reducing concerns about rewarding misbehavior that might crop up if we have terrorism or crime futures) solve these problems or are some more fundamental?

Some tentative guest ideas

  • Michael Abramowicz
  • Justin Wolfers
  • Bo Cowgill, Hal Varian: Google prediction markets
  • Robin Hanson

Possible Readings

  • relevant chapters from Professor Sunstein's Infotopia

Other ideas

One obvious thought is to see whether the class can play around with using prediction markets, though more thought needed on what we'd want to predict. Incentives for accurate predictions like t-shirts?

Will Harvard give us some small amount of money to invest for the semester? We could have an auction to determine whose investment ideas we use. The incentives would work so that you would only bid more to control the investment if you actually thought your investment idea would generate more net return to you (minus what you spent on the auction), despite it being divided up among the class.

Looks great. Harvard will not give us money to gamble (!), but some form of experiment would be fun, and maybe we can design one that draws in audiences outside the class. Might be good to think about prediction markets of the future -- perhaps ones where the ants making the predictions aren't even aware that they're doing so. (Consider Google's recent cooperation with the US Centers for Disease Control to associate a spike in searches for flu medicine with a prediction that a particular region will experience a health emergency.) JZ 16:28, 15 December 2008 (UTC)