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GenEd 1112

Human beings are the only creatures in the animal kingdom properly defined as worriers. We are the only ones who expend tremendous amounts of time, energy, and resources trying (sometimes obsessively) to understand our futures before they happen. While the innate ability of individual people to predict has not changed much in the past few millennia, developments in mathematical and conceptual models have inordinately improved predictive systems. These systems have integrated comparisons to past results and quantified how “certain” we can be about various aspects of the future -- processes that were, in many cases, inconceivable at one point in the past. This course is a coordinated investigation of the history and future of prediction, beginning with Ancient Mesopotamians reading signs in sheep entrails and ending with modern computer simulations for climate, health, wealth, and the fate of our Universe. In this class, you will design your own predictive systems to critically engage with assumptions about how the world works and situate your explorations in a study of how motivations and techniques for divining the future have changed–and not changed–throughout human history.

For those interested in the course, you can find the syllabus here. Below, find a summary of each week's lecture, accompanied with a PDF and Apple Keynote link.

(Week 1)

Welcome to the future and to PredictionX. Learn about the course's origins and dig in to the definition of prediction.


Welcome (Back)
(Week 2)

Is time like space? In this lecture, learn about our perception of time and divination.


Predictive Systems Fair (Week 3)

In this lecture, students will host and participate in a Divination Fair displaying different predictive systems.


Welcome to the Universe
(Week 4)

What causes motion? It's a simple question today, but in this lecture we explore the varied historical answers that influenced or rivaled our modern interpretation.


Path to Newton Fair (Week 5)

[Since this week's content is student-made and driven each year, there are no applicable lecture slides.]

Navigation as Prediction
(Week 6)

Students discover the struggles of navigation by pathfinding their way through Harvard Yard and learning about the longitude problem in this lecture.

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Prediction vs. Prophecy & Epidemiology
(Week 7)

This lecture dives into the difference between risk and uncertainty, and how the latter affects prediction and public image, by examining current and past epidemiology.

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Modern Prediction (Week 8)

In this week, we will review and expand upon our framework of predictive systems, starting with simulations such as weather models and Sim City.

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Modern Data Science (Week 9)

Continuing to expand our framework, in this lecture we examine different types of algorithmic prediction models, including the infamous AI approach.

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Money, People, our Earth & our Future (Week 10)

To what extent does economics serve as a predictive model for wealth? Learn more about rational choice theory, behavioral economics, and their limitations.

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The Future of the Future
(Week 11)

Theory and data are often central to discussions of prediction, but what are their historical and current roles? We mull over this question and peek into its significance in understanding space.

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Space Futures
(Week 12)

This week, we continue our exploration of space prediction, tracing the history of comets and simulations to see how we understand things far beyond our reach.

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Final Week

This final lecture will tie together what we've discussed, examining how we communicate about risk, uncertainty, prediction, and decision.

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