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Why algorithms can not do without humans to predict the weather

By: omer nawaz on Friday, 16 January 2015 | 12:35

Meteorology relies as much on human analysis on computer programming: a combination of computer and human intelligence produces the most accurate weather forecasts.

History is full of intellectuals who worshiped the theories of determinism, ie the ideas that suggest that if we could know every aspect of a situation, every detail of the context, we can predict and influence policy outcomes, economic and cultural future.

 
 
 
However, in terms of weather, forecasters have long since abandoned any hope of cataloging all the variables that could impact with precipitation in Seattle or the arrival of a cold front in New York. This is at least what Nate Silver writes in his new book, "The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - but Some Do not", an excerpt was adapted to a recent New York Times Magazine.

To believe his claims, weather forecasts fall somewhat occult sciences. Despite all the measures, modeling and statistical analysis, meteorology relies as much on human analysis on computer programming. The best proof is the historical record of the National Weather Service (meteorological service of the United States). According to the agency's data, it is a combination of computer and human intelligence that produces the most accurate weather forecasts. People improve accuracy levels for temperature and precipitation forecasts by about 25% and 10% respectively compared to forecasts made by computers alone.

In other words, the algorithms have not yet defeated us.

While modern futuristic imagine an era where computers will lead a more advanced thinking individuals, it turns out that the human spirit will always have a role to play. In weather forecasting, even the most sophisticated computer modeling systems contradict constantly. This is for people who study these models to bring the nuance and add context, be it how to best weigh the variables that determine where a storm is moving or the morning mist north -is tends to dissipate quickly when the wind blows in a certain direction.

No matter how powerful, the computers can not just "see". In addition, they are not necessarily as good as humans to know where and when to seek further information. Our obsession with large volumes of data, big data, and quantification of industries (finance, advertising, aerospace) can sometimes blind us to the fact that the human perception and analysis, as vague and imprecise as they are, remain essential to the progress of society. Perhaps in the future, our descendants will laugh at our fixation on numbers. Or maybe they just recognize better than us that numbers are only part of the equation.    

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