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Peter Xu

Jeannette K. Watson Fellow, Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship

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How does one predict the date when an entire nation would fall?

Ray Kurzweil is an inventor and futurist. He has been known for his highly accurate predictions such as when computers would be able to beat the best human chess players (Deep Blue IBM). His current primary prediction is the time of the coming singularity, the point where man and machine merge. But what has puzzled me was how he was able to predict something like the fall of the Soviet Union? If one is to predict the time when this would happen to a certain accuracy, there must be some mathematical analysis involved. What factors would one consider in determining when the Soviet Union would fall, and how would one put that into a mathematical model that would estimate the date of this event?

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    Feb 28 2012: I think it's all based on some kind of probability. Maths is indeed powerfull in this respect. Take the poisson distribution for example, and how accurately it reflected the bombing sites in London during the II WW.

    I don't know if you can apply maths to political predictions, but in the case of Soviet Union it didn't really take a visionary to figure out that their economy had been choking for quite some time and that preserving this mummy would soon be impossible. Still, my hat goes off to Kurzwell for being as accurate as he was.
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      Feb 29 2012: Can you tell us more about how a Poisson Distribution relates to bombing sites during WWII? That sounds very interesting
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        Mar 2 2012: I can only tell you what I heard from my teacher. I was curious if the Poisson Distribution can have any application in real life and I learned that in fact it can. There are apparently many random developments in the world which can be accurately described by means of the Poisson Distribution. One of them was the bombardment of London during the II WW. Of course this has been discovered only ex-post and even if it had not been I doubt if anyone would have been brave enough to trust the Poisson distribution that the bomb would not hit their house (hey maybe only Poisson himself? :) but it turned out to work! If according to the poisson distrubution there were little or close to none chances that your house would be hit by a bomb you could sleep peacefully, because the Poisson Distribution predicted the sites of bombing very accurately.

        Such is the power of math! :)

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