#TFOP (The Future Of Prediction, March 18, 2017):

How unpredictable are we? Do our desires and constraints make us more detectable? Is data collection (somehow) always human? What’s not predictable? Can terrorist behaviour be predicted with consistency? Must data be balanced? Are cheats (terrorists, hackers, spiders, bots) more easily detected only if they are in the minority? Must predictions necessarily have explanatory power and granularity? Would tsunamis become completely predictable in the long run, as solar eclipses now are? Are predictions, like for gravitational waves, sometimes very difficult to confirm? Must we sometimes capture ‘all’ the data (say via sky surveys) even before deciding on all the analyses? Would natural history be more predictable if there were no astronomical events or human beings? Do very rare events (like ‘zero day attacks’) often go undetected? Can we even predict if (and where) life might be elsewhere in the universe? Why is it so difficult? Will we know if/when aliens invade the earth? Could we be gone in the blink of an eye? Is it comforting to know (…precisely) how the night sky would look on 14th September 2400 AD? SynTalk thinks about these & more questions using concepts from statistics (Prof. G. Jogesh Babu, The Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania), natural history (Dr. John Mathew, IISER, Pune), & computer science (Prof. V. S. Subrahmanian, University of Maryland, Maryland).

Listen in…

SynTalk is pleased and privileged to have hosted the following SynTalkrs (in alphabetical order) on its #TFOP show.

Prof. G. Jogesh Babu (statistics) is currently the Professor of Statistics, & Astronomy & Astrophysics at The Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania, USA, where is also the Founder & Director at Center for Astrostatistics. Prof. Babu received his M.Stat (1970) and a Ph.D. (1974) degrees from the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI, Calcutta). Before joining PennState, he worked at TIFR (Bombay), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Oregon, ISI, University of Arizona and Rutgers. His research interests include bootstrap and other resampling methods, statistical applications to astronomy, physics, & climatology, analysis of massive data, nonparametric methods, & probabilistic and analytic number theory (Erdõs number:1). He has served on the editorial boards of Sankhya (The Indian Journal of Statistics), Journal of Statistical Planning and Inference, Springer series in Astrostatistics, and Journal of Nonparametric Statistics. He is also the founding Editor-in-Chief of Statistical Methodology, & has published eight books and over 140 research papers. His book ‘Modern Statistical Methods for Astronomy with R applications’ won the 2012 Association of American Publishers’ Professional and Scholarly Excellence Award. He has also held visiting faculty and research appointments at institutes around the world, & received several leading research grants. Prof. Babu is an elected Fellow of Institute of Mathematical Studies (1987), American Statistical Association (ASA, 1997), American Association for the Advancement of Science (1997), and International Astrostatistics Association (IAA, 2016) for his significant contributions to fields of probability, statistics & astrophysics. He also received the first-ever Outstanding Contributions to Astrostatistics Award (IAA, 2016).

Dr. John Mathew (natural history, history of science) is currently an Associate Professor of History of Science at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune. Prior to joining IISER, he taught at Duke University, Harvard University, and the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and was also a faculty affiliate at the University of Pennsylvania. Initially trained in zoology (B.Sc. (1990) and M.Sc. (1992) from Madras Christian College, and M.Phil. (1994) from Madras University), he completed a Ph.D. (2003) in Ecological Sciences from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, before embarking on another Ph.D. (2011) in the History of Science at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, from where he also obtained an A.M. in Medical Anthropology (2006). His current academic & related interests include the history of natural history, the history of epidemic diseases, environmental history, the history of evolutionary biology (particularly Darwinism), and the communication of the history of science through theatre and music. Dr. Mathew has published prolifically in publications such as Current Science, British Journal of the History of Science, Current Conservation, Evolution, Tropical Lepidoptera Research, & Economic and Political Weekly, among others. Also, he has given popular and scholarly talks on multiple occasions. He has received fellowships and grants including the Sheldon Fellowship (Harvard University, 2009) and the Chateaubriand Fellowship (Government of France, 2008).

Prof. V. S. Subrahmanian (computer science) is Professor of Computer Science at the University of Maryland, Maryland, USA. He also heads the Center for Digital International Government, having previously served as Director of the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies. He completed B.Tech in Computer Science from BITS, Pilani (1985), and then went to Syracuse University to do a Ph.D. (1989). His key research areas are big data analytics including methods to analyze text/geospatial/relational/social network data, building behavioral models, forecast of actions, and influencing behaviors. He is well known for his work on learning predictive models of terrorist groups, methods to destabilize terrorist networks, and methods to identify malicious actors on social media. He has written five books, edited six, and published over 200 articles. In a recent book, ‘The Global Cyber-Vulnerability Report’ (2016), he characterized cyber-risk of 44 countries by studying data over 2 years of over 20 billion telemetry & malware reports. His work has been featured in the Baltimore Sun, the Economist, Science, Nature, the Washington Post, and American Public Media, among others. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Development Gateway Foundation, and SentiMetrix Inc., and is on the Research Advisory Board of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). He previously served on DARPA’s Executive Advisory Council on Advanced Logistics, & was an ad-hoc member of the US Air Force Science Advisory Board (2001). He received the NSF Young Investigator Award (1993), and the Distinguished Young Scientist Award from the Maryland Academy of Science (1997). Prof. Subrahmanian is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2008), and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (2009).

Note: Any & all errors in the brief profiles above are SynTalk’s own.

#TFOP mentionsAlbert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Stephen Jay Gould, Julian L. Simon, Paul Ehrlich, & Amitav Ghosh, among others.