US spy challenge offers $250k to those who can accurately forecast future events

Ben Riley-Smith
Participants will face more than 300 questions in the nine-month competition - PA

American spy chiefs are offering $250,000 in prize money for a competition that will test how successfully someone can predict future unknowns such as political election results or missile tests. 

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity [IARPA], which sits within the office of America’s top intelligence official, is behind the challenge, which is designed to improve forecasting techniques. 

Participants will be asked more than 300 questions about the outcomes of various issues across a nine-month period. The winner will collect $153,000, with smaller prizes to runner-ups. 

Sample questions listed include “Which political party will win the most seats during the Polish Parliamentary Election?” and ”What will be the daily closing price of gold in June 2019 in USD?”

Others could be “Will there be a locally-transmitted case of the Zika virus in Brazil in July 2019?” and “How many missile test events will North Korea conduct in August 2019?”. 

Participants are free to use whatever methodology they want, with or without computers, to come up with the right answers. Teams from universities or other institutions could enter as well as individuals. 

The competition, known as the Geopolitical Forecasting Challenge 2, is an attempt to improve current approaches to forecasting, which critics see as too based on intuition. 

A website for the competition states: “We’re on a mission to improve the accuracy and timeliness of geopolitical forecasting.  Are you up for the challenge?” 

Seth Goldstein, an IARPA program manager running the contest, told the Axios news website: "I am hoping to find the next Swiss patent clerk doing forecasting in his spare time.”