What do stock trading and conflict early warning systems have in common? Interestingly, both rely heavily on mathematical patterns of recognition. According to Joseph Bock, Director of Graduate Studies at the Eck Institute of Global Health at the University of Notre Dame, scholars such as Phil Schrodt have been applying the mathematics of stock trading to detect and identify conflict before it happens. This pattern recognition is part of a process that enables local citizens, NGOs, and humanitarian workers to use cell phones, radio, and online forums to help detect and prevent religious, ethnic, and politically motivated violence. A few weeks ago, Prof. Bock came to the World Bank to talk about his new book, The Technology of Nonviolence, where he discussed the use of social media and other forms of technology to both detect and respond to outbreaks of deadly conflict.
Confucius and JFK have one thing in common: They both produced pithy quotes about the importance of recognizing ignorance as the first step in gaining wisdom. Let’s trust their insight for a moment and presuppose that there are more things about economic development that we don’t know than we do know.
It seems that, after 50 years of the development business, economists are starting to realize the significance of this ignorance. We still build models that estimate the probability of particular outcomes and simulate entire economies to find out how a policy change or investment might wind its way through a complex market.