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Prediction Machine Magic

What do Harry Potter, Snow White, and Macbeth have in common? These characters are all motivated by a prophecy, a prediction. Even in The Matrix, a film seemingly about intelligent machines, the human characters’ belief in predictions drives the plot. From religion to fairy tales, knowledge of the future is consequential. Predictions affect behavior. They influence decisions.

The ancient Greeks revered their many oracles for an apparent ability to predict, sometimes in riddles that fooled the questioners. For example, King Croesus of Lydia was considering a risky assault on the Persian Empire. The king did not trust any particular oracle, so he decided to test each before asking for advice about attacking Persia. He ...

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