The Tell by David Brin

This is the next story in the Future Visions anthology. I’ve read several books by David Brin, most recently rereading the Uplift saga.

Published: 2016

Genre: science fiction

Setting: near future, mostly in Vegas

Summary: Our narrator is a stage magician in Vegas. He’s not top of the line, but doing just fine for himself. He also has a side job working some academics vetting the Next Big Thing to see if it’s a hoax or has the possibility of being real. (As a magician, he knows all the tricks and can read all the tells.) A casino seems to have developed a better predictive model for their betting – can they really predict the future? Our narrator has to infiltrate the casino (he’s been banned by the mob owner) to hack into their data stream. He starts thinking about how to improve prediction models, and comes up with Liar-Outer and FIBuster to track how well public figures did with their prognosticating. A bit later, someone tries to kill him, and he can’t figure out why. Turns out, he’s had an “aha moment” that software was able to recognize before his conscious brain did, and a certain sector wants to keep the status quo.

Final thoughts: An interesting take on the predictive ability of crowds. There’s always an advantage to be had if you can learn something first and use that information for gain. Our models have become more and more complicated to make better predictions, but the predictions have improved much slower than the developers would hope. Crowd-sourcing trends is an option, but people don’t always make thee choice they actually believe in. You need to harness both the conscious and unconscious mind to get the best results. Maybe it will work – we certainly don’t have the technical abilities yet, but we might get to the point that computers can read emotions just as easily as words.

Title comes from: Our narrator was a stage magician always looking for the tell to give him the answers to his questions. Brin was also predicting that computers would be able to read our tells as well to figure out the real answers to questions, not just the answer we want.

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