Russian launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Ten months later, in December 2022, I published this proof-of-concept Directed Fiction novel. For the very first time, the complementary disciplines of strategic foresight and event forecasting were blended together to produce a multi-path (Choose Your Own Adventure Story) work of fiction.
the Initial Conditions, Environmental Conditions, and End-State Conditions were developed through a five-step foresight process: Framing, Horizon Scanning, STEEPLE Analysis, Axes of Uncertainty Table, and Scenario Development. A detailed video describing that process can be found here.
Tying each chapter to a specific forecast on the Metaculus website was admittedly an afterthought. As such, the forecasts represented here are sloppy and do not closely match the narrative. In the diagram above, the "Russian Quagmire" prediction is achieved only through an accounting trick (which I will describe in detail below).
Despite the haphazard approach to forecasting, however, this novel did serve to "cast a net" of forecasting predictions at an emerging crisis. There were a tremendous number of obstacles to overcome, both theoretical and technological, to develop the process of Directed Fiction. With subsequent novels, the process will much tighter and deliberate.
Directed Fiction novels have, by their inherent nature, an expiration date. While the final prediction time horizons have not yet run out on this novel, they are coming to an end soon, and my Brier Scores will be calculated. In contrast, the Russian-Ukraine War has definitely reached a stalemate, and additional analysis of what will happen there next would really need a new novel.
Table Updated on 10 December 2023
Initial Problem Set - No forecast
1a. Ukrainians Fight Back
1b. Ukrainian Resistance Collapses
50,000 by 2024
50,000 by 2024
2a. China Dumps US T-Bills
2b. Moldova's Border Closes
2c. US Oil and Gas Production
06 October 2023
2d. China Betrays Russia
White Swan: Ukraine Wins!
Optimistic: Russian Quagmire
Suprise-Free: Russia Wins
Pessimistic: Tactical Nuke
Black Swan: Conspiracy to Cause Great Depression
The Following Predictions are Updated in Real-Time
Initial Conditions: First Decision Point
There was no Metaculus forecast about the start of the Russian-Ukraine War, because the war had already begun before this book was started.
Environmental Conditions: Second Decision Point
I may have gotten my two forecasting questions regarding the escalation of violence exactly backwards. From the foresight process, I wanted to know if the Ukrainian resistance would collapse, or if they would fight back with some success against the Russian forces.
Neither of these questions did a good job specifying or distinguishing between the two outcomes I was interested in. So, these results can basically be discounted altogether. In my defense, these were the first two forecasts I ever made, and I was just learning how the system works. Since then, I've authored eleven specific forecasting questions to support my work.
Landmark 1a. Ukrainians Fight Back
Landmark 1b. Ukrainian Resistance Collapses
Environmental Conditions: Third Decision Point
The horizontal values of my Axes of Uncertainty Table described a spectrum of the global economy from chaotic to stable. I wondered how global economic conditions might influence the war. At the time of the writing, there were massive numbers of articles being published about the war, and its potential for escalation.
I was particularly interested in the potential role China might play in the conflict. And I deliberately set out to find and compare the most unlikely (Black Swan) events.
This is where the practice of foresight differs markedly from forecasting. Foresight practitioners strive to find the outer limits of probability. In this case, China colluding with Russia to undermine the US economy, versus China conspiring against Russia to retake Vladivostok form the "bookends" of the foresight map.
The other two landmarks anticipate Russian success and subsequent seizure of even more territory (Moldova), or US boosting oil and gas production to undermine the Russian economy. Neither of these events happened.
Landmark 2a. China Dumps US T-Bills
Landmark 2b. Moldova's Border Closes
Landmark 2c. US Oil and Gas Production
Landmark 2d. China Betrays Russia
End State Descriptions
The End States must be understood in the concept of the original framing question: "What are the risks associated with the Parousia International Relief Agency's (PIRA) response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine?"
Imagine if the protagonist of my story was Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In this case the idea of Ukraine winning the war would be wonderful.
However, if you tell the same story from the point of view of Vladimir Putin, a Ukrainian victory would be catastrophic.
White Swan Endstate: Ukraine Wins!
(Note: The term "White Swan" is misused here. The small chance that Ukraine wins the war is also considered a "Black Swan" (or rare) event. White Swans are common. I used this term (incorrectly) to convey the idea of a rare event with a positive outcome. In future works I will eliminate "Swans" completely from my vocabulary, and instead label these rare events as "Miraculous" or "Catastrophic" to emphasize the effects of a rare event, based on the framing question.)
Optimistic Endstate: Russian Quagmire
(Note: This is another forecasting question that I got exactly backwards. Again, it was because I tried to use existing questions to match a story line I had already written. Clearly, Ukraine has an extremely low probability of controlling 90% of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts before January 1st, 2024. So, I had to use an "accounting trick" and subtract 1.5% from 100% to show the current (real) status of the war. WWI style trench warfare is basically the definition of a "Quagmire." What is interesting to me now is trying to align the foresight outcomes with relevant forecasting predictions. These two disciplines are complimentary, but the predictions must be worked out prior to writing the story lines.)
Suprise-Free Endstate: Russia Wins
(Note: While it is difficult for me to admit to the many mistakes I made in this proof-of-concept Directed Fiction novel, I do take some solace in the knowledge that the general consensus at the beginning of the war was the Russia would defeat Ukraine easily. Look how these numbers drop off from 60% down to zero. A lot of people get the future wrong!)
Pessimistic Endstate: Tactical Nuke
(Note: The risk of nuclear attack is not zero, although as this question nears its end date of 31 December 2023, the risk seems low. This question is too important to leave alone, and I plan on dedicating an entire Directed Fiction novel to exploring the potential consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.)
Black Swan Endstate: Conspiracy to Cause a US Great Depression
(Note: The question resolved no, but does that mean China did not consider conspiring with Russia to bring down the US economy? I think that both countries would have eagerly done something like that if they could have found a way. Were it not for the unexpected success of the Ukrainian forces, and the unexpected failures of the Russian forces, there might well have been a very different outcome.)