Fort Forecast »


FortForecast is not LessWrong. (It will pull most or all of its initial membership from the Less Wrong-affiliated community, but at most it could be termed a spiritual successor.) A major flaw in LessWrong-sphere projects is the inability to define a mission and then measure progress towards that mission.

Here we define and examine the FortForecast mission, and compare/contrast it with the LessWrong mission.


Mission statement

“To build and maintain a model organization which conducts itself primarily online, that consistently discerns the true state of the world from available information, aggregates small contributions of intellectual effort from many towards this purpose, and uses this organization to help pursue the good.”

Mission Statement Breakdown

“…primarily online…“

"which conducts itself primarily online"

This is probably the most unique proposition in the FortForecast mission. As it stands we've built a global telecommunications network but seem to have a lot of trouble coordinating people towards productive work through it. Remote work is barely mainstream, telepresence technology is weak, it's still a standard practice to pay for expensive flights to go see people in person for organizing, cyberspace hasn't really produced any kind of real institutions. FortForecast is trying to solve the problem of creating effective organizations that largely operate on the Internet. This is a nut that nobody seems to have really cracked yet.


All necessary pieces of communication can be transmitted via the Internet.

If it's impossible for humans to trust each other enough to form institutions without meeting in person, this part of the mission can't be accomplished. Or it might not be possible to motivate people without them seeing you face to face. We are not aware of any plausible mechanisms by which this might be true, but it's worth keeping in mind.

The Internet is featured enough to provide all the meaningful functionality required for the bulk of organizing.

If there are physical equipment(s) necessary for the proper functioning of a meaningful organization or institution which can not be reasonably controlled without office space and staffing, that would make this portion of the mission much harder. Keep in mind that something which a member can have at home and use, like printers for mailing forms and fax machines don't count since they can easily be controlled by members coordinating over the Internet.

“… discerns the true state of the world…”

“that consistently discerns the true state of the world from available information”

All organizations have this goal to some degree, whether they explicitly state it or not. FortForecast states it explicitly with the goal of specializing, a key goal of the project is to discover or implement a well performing process satisfying this goal, and to popularize or invent performance metrics which can be used to measure it.


Our ability to succeed in this relies on several assumptions.

There is a discernible state of the world, which humans are capable of understanding.

The most basic assumption of all. Our world 'exists' in some sense, with 'rules' which are consistent enough for humans to make claims and predictions about. The incredible success of physics and lack of observable supernatural phenomena in our universe make this a fairly safe bet.

It is possible to be better or worse at discerning the state of the world from given information.

Fundamentally, if it is not possible to be better at empirical observation or prediction than anyone else, any goals related to performance in those domains are moot. It is trivially provable that humans can be better or worse at this by the observation that children are worse at understanding reality than adults, and the existence of the severely cognitively impaired. There is significant evidence that this ability varies between otherwise well functioning adults through the sudden explosion of knowledge generated by the invention of the scientific method.

Opportunities still exist to either find new methods of improved reason, or popularize extant ones.

Significant evidence exists which implies that there are still large gains to be had from new methods. For example the work of Daniel Kahneman implies serious flaws in typical human reasoning which if corrected or compensated for might improve the overall effectiveness of human efforts. Philip Tetlock and colleagues finds significant variation in the human ability to predict the future, with some civilian abilities outstripping even dedicated intelligence agents. Even the classical studies of logic and rhetorical analysis are still taught in college classes, implying they are not yet such common knowledge as to be expected as a basic element of most citizens knowledge. In the absolute worst case scenario we can probably create improvements by popularizing existing methods even if we're incapable of discovery.

Opportunities exist which fortforecast as an entity is in a position to act on.

This assumption is the least certain, but the recent opening of scientific research to more members of the public along with the sudden ability to reach many many people across the world provides at least some justification for being able to do better than previous attempts. We're currently in a significant period of shift in the social sciences, along with equally large shifts in our traditional understanding of human cognition, both of which come on the wave of a revolution in publishing that allows ideas to be transmitted and discussed at prices too cheap to meter. Assuming competent actors (a large assumption!) it is not unreasonable to expect that a relatively small deployment of capital could reap large rewards if directed correctly. Some potential motivating opportunities:

of practically distributing the work of research and investigation over a large number of people. This is the primary opportunity that FortForecast seeks to focus on and thus appears in the mission statement, it's what separates the FortForecast mission statement from the basic mission statement of many other organizations. Successful examples of this already exist such as History Unfolded (archived) and a significant portion of the work in building a platform to make it easier to do this will be in either finding or preparing case studies of such.

very poor. This satire (archived) is humorous but the implications are devastating if taken seriously. Institutions of higher learning and research generate incredible amounts of knowledge, and then do a relatively poor job of letting the public know. They rely on media organizations whose major incentives are towards shallow understanding and sensational click-attracting headlines. Can this situation be improved?

“... aggregates small contributions of intellectual effort...”

Aggregates small contributions of intellectual effort from many towards this purpose.

One of the largest costs of research is 'buying' the time of smart, hardworking people to put forth massive amounts of intellectual effort into a single project. (Consider for example this (archived) sample research budget.) Furthermore requiring large effort from single contributors creates a necessary friction to scaling, the number of potential contributors goes down as the requirements to make a contribution go up. And as the example of LessWrong shows, in an online context if participating requires massive effort then you get a handful of critical site members whose departure would end the project entirely.


Intellectual effort is aggregable.

The core assumption in this part of the mission is that it's possible to make significant sorts of intellectual effort usually undertaken by a small number of people possible using a larger number of less committed people. It's an open question to what degree this is true. Certainly we know that some kinds of effort are in this category such as:

There exists a critical mass of people sufficiently interested in this kind of project to make it work.

There certainly exist many examples of massive collaborative projects fueled by the Internet, but it takes a certain kind of skillset to attract talent and resources to them. If the particular projects undertaken by FortForecast are not ones that people would be interested in working on, or leadership is not sufficiently competent at promotion and organization then these projects will not succeed.

Versus LessWrong Mission

It is difficult to compare the FortForecast mission to the LessWrong mission, largely because LessWrong never really defined its mission. On their homepage the project is described as "A community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality.", this is quite vague but would imply something like a discussion forum for improving what is possible with this whole 'rationality' thing. Right away this sets us up for the first big difference between FortForecast's mission and LessWrong's mission, FortForecast focuses on effective groups rather than effective individuals. Of course effective individuals are a necessary precondition for effective groups, they are not sufficient by themselves however. Specifically what FortForecast is doing was actually outlined at one point in The Sequences (archived) by Eliezer Yudkowsky as an 'open challenge':

"But mostly I just hand you an open, unsolved problem: make it possible/easier for groups of strangers to coalesce into an effective task force over the Internet, in defiance of the usual failure modes and the default reasons why this is a non-ancestral problem. Think of that old statistic about Wikipedia representing 1/2,000 of the time spent in the US alone on watching television. There’s quite a lot of fuel out there, if there were only such a thing as an effective engine…"