‘Unbelievably stupid’

That’s how Sen Byron Dorgan described a new DARPA project (FutureMAP) that allows for trading in global security futures. “Insensitive,” perhaps, “unpolitic” probably, but I don’t know about stupid. Presumably anyone with some cash could bet on a particular event (say, the assassination of a world leader) within a particular timeframe. Of course, this is done casually, both around the water cooler and in op-ed pieces, on a regular basis. If anything, this would democratize the process and allow those of merit to be recognized, leading to better predictive ability. Little is stupid about that.

It reminds me a bit of the Brand & Kelly’s “Long Bets.” It seems likely that attaching some money to a bet makes it both a bit more serious (if only a little) than betting only reputation, and–more importantly–it requires that the prediction be put in concrete terms. All good things.

Of course, there is no small irony that the system appears very similar to one described by Art Bell: Assasination Politics. For those unfamiliar with the idea, it is a double-blind futures market not unlike that described by DARPA. It was also a thinly-veiled mechanism for collectively contracting assassinations. The same thing was seen writ large with the September 11 attacks. The government quickly looked at the London futures market, seeking out those who might have profited from insider trading.

And there is the rub. While such a market uncovers accurate predictions, it acts as a deterrent to the free flow of information leading to such predictions. Winning in such a market requires not only accumulating good surveillance, but ensuring that those around you do not.

Of course, the response to the suggestion of such a market has not been based on a good thinking-through of the idea. Rather, it has been fairly knee-jerk. And it is such a kind of absurd approach that it lends itself to this. Jamie, when she first heard about it, suggested that Fox is probably already salivating at the prospect of a new(s) reality show. But then, she also thinks “Who Wants to Marry My Cell Mate” would be a hit show.

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