Pat's Sanitarium
Pat's Sanitarium
A retreat for the well-being of my mind from the insanity of the life that is mine.
Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fun With Futures & IEMs 


Mood: Geeky
Reading: Specialist: Keeping fetuses may be widespread
Currently listening to: Indian bangra songs(!)
Quote of the day: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it" - Alan Kay

So its (finally) a slow day and in my typical geeky sense of boredom - in line with my ultimate goal of subsuming the vast repository of information that is the Internet into my brain (i've finally hit 1%! w00t!) - coupled with a curious question from a certain reader, i'll be posting about two main items of interest, mainly the utterly fascinating topic of Idea Futures Markets (also known as Prediction Markets and admirably summarized in the Wikipedia link provided) and the business process model as applied to IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices, as seen in Iraq). In short, its gonna be a short jaunt into a look at the unique ways in which financial and business methodology can be harnessed in exceedingly interesting alterntate ways!

And yes, i'll try and keep it short so please use the links provided for more info. ;p

So what is it?

Basically, its a similar system based upon futures contracts (as used in finance) with the express intent of utilizing it for predictions.

From wikipedia:

"Also known as information markets, decision markets, idea futures, and virtual markets, prediction markets are speculative (i.e., betting) markets created for the purpose of making predictions. Assets are created whose final cash value is tied to a particular event (e.g., will the next US president be a Republican) or parameter (e.g., total sales next quarter). The current market prices can then be interpreted as predictions of the probability of the event or the expected value of the parameter.

People who buy low and sell high are rewarded for improving the market prediction, while those who buy high and sell low are punished for degrading the market prediction. Evidence so far suggests that prediction markets are at least as accurate as other institutions predicting the same events with a similar pool of participants."

Of course, it should be remembered that the main selling point of this idea is the fact that with large numbers of people effectively betting on events/parameters surprisingly close results on the actual outcome have consistently been achieved (regardless of it using real, or virtual monetary values/rewards). Interestingly, such markets have been in use for some time by major corporations in such areas as sales predictions (HP springs to mind), weather forecasting, etc.

Fascinating no?

Anyhow, out of the large number of projects in the works we'll be looking at three main examples - the Policy Analysis Market, Foresight Exchange, and the Iowa Electronic Market.

Policy Analysis Market (PAM)

I actually put this up some time ago but PAM was actually a proposed futures exchange experiment by DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) as an online market based upon political, military and economic developments - initially only in several middle eastern countries and impacted US policies. The idea was that the (virtual) monetary value behind a futures contract on an event in this arena reflected the probablility of said event actually occuring since such market users/actors will rationally bid contracts depending on the reliability of the information that is available (or which they personally know!).

As such, it could have potentially been used to predict developments in the Middle East, including potentially the time, target and place of terrorist bombings, assassinations, etc.

Alas, this project was terminated by the Pentagon after a large public outcry over this 'market of death' reached the mainstream media.

For further reading you can't do much worse than reading Hanson's detailed Policy Analysis Market (and FutureMAP) Archive. In addition to this, the actual entire PAM site has been preserved by Ratical for you to peruse! :)

Foresight Exchange

Basically, its another Hanson project - this time actually up and running (*phew!*) - with a MUCH wider (and ergo, less controversial) scope than PAM with any and all predictions being admissable - once you get through the vetting system at any rate. Basically, its designed more as a 'game' based around real-world future events/parameters that you can take part in for free. In other words, if you get your predictions right, your investments (and score) will increase in value and you get to keep your bragging rights... ;)

The results tend towards a (somewhat debatable) 74% predictive success rate but there are problems given the nature of using virtual money and it being set in a score based environment. For example, it doesn't mimic the real entirety of the behaviour of real futures exchanges because of the score principle as opposed to behaving on a ROI (Return On Investment) model...
Here's the link to the Foresight Exchange site (can you find me? ;p) and a link to the Entropy Online page which provides a VERY exhaustive look at FE including its validity as a prediction based market, its faults, the algorithms involved, history, etc.

Iowa Electonic Markets (IEM)

Ok, by now you should get the jist of the whole thing... ;)

The IEM however is a famous example, which utilized such futures exchanges as a medium for political prophetizing with the IEM (which is non-profit) and (which is) being regarded as highly reputable in this regard - especially for the results they garnered during the 2004 Presidential Election (lotsa good links on the subject matter here!).

So there you go - political, military-esque, and social methods (they even predicted 23 of this year's Oscar winners correctly) of utilizing futures markets!

Personally, i've got a germ of an idea on using such ideas in a more sociological context... How about using it for Friendster? You could assign values based upon the popularity, interests, and activeness (to name a few) of the friends you know. The predictive context could keep things interesting by judging and betting upon the length and type of your relationship with that person as time goes on (for example, getting into a relationship with a friend, having a fight/argument, past history, their personal views, etc. - hell, even if the person will murder you or not!).

Is it not a nifty idea? :)

IEMs and Business Models

Spotted this post at Global Guerrilas ("The IED Maretplace") and i found it fascinating for two main reasons. One, the techniques and organizing that goes on in planning a guerilla/terrorist attack in Iraq (which might be useful to know later *wink*) as well as the running of a cell, and two, the fact that in terms of roles, skills, and organisational structure it follows many a specific recognizable business process - and maybe even a specialist skill job market of sorts depending on the roles that they need to recruit for!

I'll say one thing though - these guys are WELL ORGANIZED.

(He quotes directly from a Greg Grant at Defense News - but i can't seem to find the direct link to the article)

Anyway, here it is, verbatim. Its a bit long, but definitely worth reading:

The following revealing picture of how these cells operate and why they remain so hard to penetrate comes from extensive interviews with military intelligence officers with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, briefing documents, and interviews and presentations at an Army sponsored counter IED conference June 13-17 at the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Ca. Much of what U.S. officials know about IED cells was gathered through the interrogation of captured Iraqi insurgents.

Decentralized Structure

Traditional insurgent groups follow a highly centralized, hierarchically organized model. Counterinsurgency forces have long studied the pyramidal model, with strong leadership at the top and the group expanding in size at each lower level, to the foot soldiers at the bottom. That type of guerrilla organization was highly vulnerable to a decapitation strike that would often lead to its collapse. The groups in Iraq have no hierarchical structure, the officers said. Vast numbers of small, adaptive insurgent cells operate independently without central guidance. There may be some loose coordination of attacks, but then the cells go their separate ways. This highly decentralized characteristic of the IED cells makes them nearly impossible to penetrate. Their small size allows them to focus on specific American units, learn their tactics, patrol schedules, transportation routes and readily adapt to counter-IED techniques. One U.S. intelligence officer said that if you capture the leader of an IED cell, the leaderless foot soldiers simply get rolled up into another cell or start their own splinter cell. By cutting off the heads, you don't fix the problem, as other heads emerge. Taking down the foot soldiers causes a temporary disruption, as new people must be recruited. But even then, the cell is disrupted only for two weeks or so. The only way to get rid of the cell is to target the whole group - and there are a lot of cells.

Commercial Connections

Small, highly skilled IED cells often operate as a package and hire themselves out to the more well-known insurgent groups, such as Amman Al Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq or the Sunni group Ansaar al Sunna. They advertise their skills on the Internet and are temporarily contracted on a per-job basis, but otherwise remain autonomous. This more linear, rather than pyramidal structure, means a decapitation operation is not an option. The IED cells are patient and methodical and they follow an identifiable operational cycle. Five days is usually spent conducting reconnaissance of prospective targets, conducting pattern analysis of U.S. patrols and looking for vulnerabilities.

Target Selection

(with PR through media exposure -- which also acts as a means of stigmergy between groups)

The insurgents try to discover why and at what times American patrols travel along specific routes. Insurgents have even used hoax IEDs placed in plain view so they can watch the American response and gather intelligence on security methods and bomb disposal team operations to prepare for future attacks. IED target selection is done with the intent of maximizing casualties and media exposure. Favorite targets include convoys of civilian SUVs, as they believe these transport American government officials and intelligence agents. They also target fuel tankers, as the flames and billowing smoke from a burning fuel tanker makes for compelling television footage. "If the insurgent has a burning fueler or bodies in the street, he wants to get Arab media," said Col. Mike Formica, recently returned from Iraq, at the June IED conference. The target site must also have multiple escape routes. The components are then assembled at a well-concealed bomb factory and then moved from any area likely to be searched by American patrols to a holding area until the weapon is placed. IEDs are often kept in what the military calls "rolling weapons caches," cars with false bottoms or trunks loaded with explosives that blend into the thousands of vehicles on Iraq's crowded city streets. Five days of preparation are then followed by 10 days of heavy IED attacks, then the cycle starts again. After a successful attack or if a device is detected by a U.S. patrol, the IED cell evaluates the results and adjusts its tactics accordingly for the next strike.


Nine times out of 10, the military and intelligence officers said, the insurgents videotape IED attacks. The insurgents scrutinize the tapes - much as a coach watches postgame films - to prepare for future attacks. They're also used as motivational tools for new recruits and to advertise a cell's technical proficiency.

Business Process: Financier

While all IED cells in Iraq are not alike, they tend to follow a similar organizational pattern. They are almost exclusively made up of Sunni extremists. The typical IED cell numbers no more than six to eight people who collect intelligence on American forces, gather explosive materials, manufacture the bomb, place the device, carry out the attack and then evaluate the results. At the top of the IED cell is the planner or financier ("hot money"), a "money man" who is most often a well educated and intelligent former Baathist government official or military officer. He is ideologically motivated in his fight against the American occupation. These "white collar" leaders are the most difficult cell members to identify, explained Formica. Even if fingered by an informant or other means, the leaders are so good at covering their tracks it's nearly impossible to develop sufficient evidence to detain them. And if captured, they're smart enough not to say anything. Only 5 percent to 10 percent of the insurgents captured by the Americans are cell leaders.

Business Process: Bomb Maker

Below the financier is the bomb maker. He also is typically ideologically motivated, a former regime member or Sunni Arab angered at the American occupation. As with the financier, American officers said the only way of getting the bomb makers to stop the attacks is by capturing or killing them. Initially, IEDs were constructed by former Iraqi Republican Guard or Special Republican Guard soldiers. That skill has spread throughout the country over the past two years. According to Army intelligence officers, outside expertise also has come into the country, both from Hizbollah, which has extensive bomb-making expertise, and from Iranian intelligence. Bomb-making skills proliferate rapidly among IED cells in Iraq via the Internet, used by insurgents to share skills. The insurgents' technical proficiency has increased over time with experience. In recent months, shaped-charge explosives have become more common, Votel said. Also called platter charges, these devices combine an explosive charge with a low melting point metal like copper that is shaped in a concave way. When the blast occurs it shapes the metal into a molten slug that can penetrate the heaviest armor. That technical expertise wasn't in Iraq when the insurgency began and is suspected as having come in from Iran or Syria, said Lt. Col. Shawn Weed, an intelligence officer with the 3rd Infantry Division. The military has found no appreciable decrease in IED attacks when a bomb maker is killed, and it represents at best a temporary setback for the insurgency as that talent is easily replaced.

Business Process: Emplacer

The next person in the cell is the "emplacer." This person usually has some military expertise and is skilled at moving unnoticed into and out of an area while transporting an IED. While some IEDs are small, 60mm or 81mm mortar rounds, more common is the wired 155mm shell that can weigh 100 pounds. Moving these objects around unseen and placing them along high-trafficked roads takes experience and daring, as he knows if he's spotted placing an IED he'll be killed. He is familiar with American patrolling tactics and techniques and is often supported by lookouts armed with cell phones who will tip him when a patrol nears. The emplacer's primary motivation is money. He is a foot soldier, is often paid as little as $50, and told to place an IED in a specific location at a specific time. A common technique is to pull a car over to the side of the road to change a tire or appear as if it's broken down. He places the IED - 75 percent of IEDs are placed in a hole previously used for the same purpose - covers it up with something, turns the switch on and drives away. Often they don't even stop, as insurgents use cars with a hole cut in the floor so they only have to slow down and drop the device onto the road. Of all the members of the IED cell, the emplacer's skills are the most difficult to replace. When taken out, an IED cell's activity is at least temporarily disrupted as a replacement is sought.

Business Process: Triggerman

The next person in the cell is the triggerman, the one who lies in wait until an American convoy passes. Often in a car, the triggerman detonates the IED either by remote trigger or command wire. Remote detonation is the preferred means, as it allows the insurgent to be further away from the blast. Captured triggermen said they prefer to hit the second vehicle in a patrol. The first vehicle passes the IED and they time it, then they hit the second vehicle. Like the emplacer, the triggerman's primary motivation is money. Sometimes these lower-level operatives will hire themselves out as a package, changing affiliations based on money. If an alternative means of earning money is provided for the emplacer and the triggerman, they can take them out of operation, Formica said.

Business Process: Suicide Car Bombers

Suicide car bomb cells are similar in structure, although the bomb maker's technical expertise is usually greater as the triggering often requires engineering skills. Car bombs are assembled in a factory assembly line-like process that begins usually in small towns south of Baghdad. There, a vehicle is modified in an auto chop shop, with space cleared inside the vehicle to fit the explosives, suspensions strengthened to carry the additional weight and windows blackened. As the vehicle is driven north to Baghdad, where most car bombs are detonated, additional components are added. This decentralized construction process makes it more difficult for American intelligence to identify a car bomb factory and eliminate it. Intelligence gathered from a captured would-be suicide car bomber, who was a member of Zarqawi's group, provided U.S. officials with the best insight into the inner workings of a suicide car bombing cell. The cell is kept small and focused, and contact with insurgents outside the suicide group is strictly controlled. Suicide bombers are selected on a first-come basis, with no shortage of recruits. The bombers are most often foreigners and enter Iraq from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait with the specific intention of martyrdom. The only training they receive is the target information and instruction on how to trigger the device. Two vehicles are commonly used. The first transports the bomber to the location of a pre-positioned car bomb and then follows behind to guide the bomber along the route and videotape the attack. The captured car bomber said it would be easy to drive around Baghdad and pick out up to 20 soft targets.

Hrmmm... not to trivialize the situation there but is it just me or does this sound like a great template for a computer RPG (Role Playing Game)?

Ok, thats about it for now... i'll try and write some more on whats been happening for the last few weeks soon.


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About Me

Name: Patrick Pincon
Age: 27
Studied at: Monash
Work: Business Development
Nationality: Malaysian/French
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