Universal Prediction: A Philosophical Investigation

Tom Sterkenburg

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

    253 Downloads (Pure)


    In this thesis I investigate the theoretical possibility of a universal method of prediction. A prediction method is universal if it is always able to learn from data: if it is always able to extrapolate given data about past observations to maximally successful predictions about future observations. The context of this investigation is the broader philosophical question into the possibility of a formal specification of inductive or scientific reasoning, a question that also touches on modern-day speculation about a fully automatized data-driven science.

    I investigate, in particular, a specific mathematical definition of a universal prediction method, that goes back to the early days of artificial intelligence and that has a direct line to modern developments in machine learning. This definition essentially aims to combine all possible prediction algorithms. An alternative interpretation is that this definition formalizes the idea that learning from data is equivalent to compressing data. In this guise, the definition is often presented as an implementation and even as a justification of Occam's razor, the principle that we should look for simple explanations.

    The conclusions of my investigation are negative. I show that the proposed definition cannot be interpreted as a universal prediction method, as turns out to be exposed by a mathematical argument that it was actually intended to overcome. Moreover, I show that the suggested justification of Occam's razor does not work, and I argue that the relevant notion of simplicity as compressibility is problematic itself.
    Translated title of the contributionUniversele Voorspelling: Een Wijsgerige Onderzoeking
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationMaster of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Romeijn, Jan-Willem, Supervisor
    • Grünwald , P., Supervisor, External person
    Award date18-Jan-2018
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Print ISBNs978-94-034-0319-9
    Electronic ISBNs978-94-034-0318-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Cite this