2016–2017

The Past and Present of the Future

History/Philosophy/Religious Studies/History of Science/Science (Astronomy, Medicine, Physics)/Epidemiology/Computer Science

Making predictions based on theory, based on data, has only been the way of science for the past 400 years or so—before that there was much more reliance on what today we would call "philosophy." I am currently leading the creation of the most modular HarvardX (online) course yet created, called "PredictionX." Twenty-five faculty are participating in conversations with me about the history of how humanity has predicted its own future, from Ancient Mesopotamians reading signs in sheep entrails to modern computer simulation of climate change. At Radcliffe, I will be working on a companion book for PredictionX, currently titled "The Past and Present of the Future."

Useful skills for a research partner would be primarily in research and in organizing information. The PredictionX course is being developed simultaneously with this book, and so a research partner could help either in the "text-based" realm of the book, or in the more interactive realm of the course. The course "interactives" include maps, timelines, and other data-related modules, and the book is more of a history of how humans’ appreciation of how to predict the future has evolved. Owning to the diversity of subject matter, and approaches to it, the most important criterion for a partner would be a deep interest in one or more of the topics covered and/or a talent for research, writing, or visualization-related programming.

The PredictionX project, and the accompanying book, are dramatically large and unprecedented undertakings. Having a research partner go deep into one or two of the topics covered, and/or technologies used, would be a great help. The range of topics covered and approaches taken to the material is so large, that a research partner will have many opportunities to learn new material related to, and not just restricted to, their particular area(s) of interest. The research partner will be able to help set the research agenda for the course and book, based on his or her own interests and specialties.