High-confidence predictions under adversarial uncertainty

Andrew Drucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We study the setting in which the bits of an unknown infinite binary sequence x are revealed sequentially to an observer. We show that very limited assumptions about x allow one to make successful predictions about unseen bits of x. First, we study the problem of successfully predicting a single 0 from among the bits of x. In our model, we have only one chance to make a prediction, but may do so at a time of our choosing. This model is applicable to a variety of situations in which we want to perform an action of fixed duration, and need to predict a “safe” time-interval to perform it.

Letting Nt denote the number of 1s among the first t bits of x, we say that x is “&epsis;-weakly sparse” if lim inf (Nt/t) ≤ ϵ. Our main result is a randomized algorithm that, given any ϵ-weakly sparse sequence x, predicts a 0 of x with success probability as close as desired to 1 - ϵ. Thus, we can perform this task with essentially the same success probability as under the much stronger assumption that each bit of x takes the value 1 independently with probability ϵ.

We apply this result to show how to successfully predict a bit (0 or 1) under a broad class of possible assumptions on the sequence x. The assumptions are stated in terms of the behavior of a finite automaton M reading the bits of x. We also propose and solve a variant of the well-studied “ignorant forecasting” problem. For every ϵ>0, we give a randomized forecasting algorithm Sϵ that, given sequential access to a binary sequence x, makes a prediction of the form: “A p fraction of the next N bits will be 1s.” (The algorithm gets to choose p, N, and the time of the prediction.) For any fixed sequence x, the forecast fraction p is accurate to within ±ϵ with probability 1 - ϵ.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12
Number of pages1
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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