Scientists give computers "hindsight" to tell the future

Humans know that hindsight is 20/20 and the result of this is usually what we call regret.

According to a press release, Tel Aviv University researchers think that computers can be programmed with hindsight to predict the future. And the Internet baron Google is very interested in the scientists’ results.

Prof. Yishay Mansour of Tel Aviv University’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science began his new project at the International Conference on Learning Theory in Haifa, Israel, earlier this year. His work will help computers lessen what Mansour calls “regret”. Google has recently made it known that it will finance Tel Aviv University computer scientists and economists to work on this research, which is considered to be on the cutting edge of computer science and game theory.


“If the servers and routing systems of the Internet could see and evaluate all the relevant variables in advance, they could more efficiently prioritize server resource requests, load documents and route visitors to an Internet site, for instance,” Prof. Mansour says.

This is something that Google finds very attractive.

Obviously we know that computers can’t “feel” regret, but they can measure things like the distance between a desired outcome and the actual outcome. Mansour recently established an algorithm based on machine learning, or “artificial intelligence,” to minimize the amount of virtual regret a computer program might experience.

“We are able to change and influence the decision-making of computers in real-time. Compared to human beings, help systems can much more quickly process all the available information to estimate the future as events unfold — whether it’s a bidding war on an online auction site, a sudden spike of traffic to a media website, or demand for an online product,” says Prof. Mansour.

Google hopes to use the research to expand its own online technologies and businesses, such as its AdWords and Adsense advertising platforms.

Mansour also says that his algorithm will adjust to the task at hand. Seeing as how Internet users, or people, are not predictable, the algorithm can basically and “learn” as it is running. After the task is completed the results are “almost as if you knew all the variables in advance,” says Mansour.

Tel Aviv University is highly dedicated to the type of research that most interests Google, and the “regret” project strengthens the existing ties between the university and the Internet giant. TAU’s Prof. Mansour and Prof. Noam Nisan of Hebrew University will lead the 20-person team working with Google, which includes eight Tel Aviv University scientists. The head of Google Israel is Prof. Yossi Matias, a Tel Aviv University faculty member.

Academic input in algorithmic game theory and algorithmic mechanism design will greatly benefit the industry (Google), Google hopes. “We are asking how we can give incentives to get bidders and buyers in the auction to behave intelligently, by understanding the dynamics of the auction process,” says Prof. Mansour.

Computers learning and computers feeling regret, it sounds like Google has some interesting plans for the Internet in the future.  

Information Provided: Tel Aviv University.