The Guy Predicting Stocks With An Army of App-Based Psychics
Illustration: Cathryn Virginia. 

The Guy Predicting Stocks With An Army of App-Based Psychics

Michael Ferrier's app has amateur remote viewers competing for cash, but it has another purpose: predicting stock prices and, eventually, creating a gig platform for psychics.
December 7, 2020, 2:00pm

Feline espionage. Mind control. Heart attack guns. These were just some of the plans concocted by America's intelligence community during the Cold War. The focus of one experimental project, however, continues to capture imaginations: "remote viewing," a psychic spying technique that was the central focus of the U.S. Army's Stargate Project

Now, anyone can expedite their own extra-sensory education and test their abilities with an app called Remote Viewing Tournament, which pits contestants against each other in a psychic battle royale for cold, hard cash. Not only that, but the app's creator is running an experiment predicting stocks with users' answers to test his theories, and has ideas for a gig economy platform where paying clients could tap into his army of remote viewers to unravel the mysteries of the future on-demand; Uber, but for psychics.

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Remote viewing is a technique where participants attempt to view targets from afar, visualizing details using their mind alone. Think of it as receiving impressions using only your consciousness, like a kind of psychic antenna. During the Cold War, remote viewers working for the American government were assigned targets like locating Soviet crash sites, with some apparent successes. Occasionally, remote viewers reported extraordinary precognitive experiences—seeing into the future.

The government programs wound down in just over two decades, in 1995, and information only really came to light when Stargate documents were declassified at the same time. Along with accounts of the planet Mars circa 1 million B.C., the declassified documents detailed how academic interest around "psi" phenomena (among researchers from the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab, and the Stanford Research Institute, the home of Stargate) and the intelligence community converged. America's intelligence apparatus concluded the techniques were of little use, at least in public.

Although academic interest in remote viewing has dwindled, RV Tournament aims to continue these experiments—but this time, applying systems design ideas around scalability to investigate the potential for success en masse. 

Since the app launched in February 2019, it's attracted 10,000 downloads on Apple's App Store, and community-led discussion has emerged on Facebook and Reddit, where users compare experiences, notes, and discuss RV theory.

Here's how it works: the app instructs you to meditate on a set of numbers and begin sketching impressions. The next screen prompts you to compare your drawing with two images, and select the closest-looking one. The "correct" image is revealed the next day, and at the end of the month, points are tallied on a global leaderboard where the top 10 monthly and all-time winners take home a $10 cash prize each. So far, $3,360 has been awarded in total.

The money is straight from developer Michael Ferrier's own pocket. Ferrier, who has a Master's in cognitive science and cut his development teeth on the cult MMORPG Asheron's Call, was first drawn to remote viewing while listening to an on-air experiment during a broadcast of late-night paranormal radio show Coast to Coast AM, he said in an interview.

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As the show went on, he said that he perceived a round, orange object that was later revealed on-air to be a bronze globe on host George Noory's desk. That experience kick-started a long-running interest in parapyschology, and led him to begin work on the app in 2018.

The latent psychic abilities of remote viewers could eventually usher in a better world, Ferrier said, where we tap into hidden aspects of ourselves that help us more powerfully feel our interconnectedness. Before any of that can happen, though, Ferrier intends to take on Wall Street. 

His experiment aims to predict the performance of stocks and, if a success, he hopes to ultimately fund a gig-economy platform where clients can point remote viewers at the problem of their choice. 

"Imagine how widespread remote viewing would become if the investment companies were hiring and training RVers by the thousands”

The app's About page reveals that users are actually picking stocks. Yes, real stocks. For one half of the user base, image A actually represents an increase in a given stock asset's value; image B, a decrease. The reverse applies to the other half of the user base. Based on the images chosen, a prediction is made about whether the day's investment will rise or fall.

Ferrier makes an investment based on that prediction: if the consensus is the stock value will rise, he'll buy shares, and if the prediction is that it'll fall, he sells shares short. 

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"At the end of the trading day, the investment is closed, and each user is shown their feedback image, which is determined by whether the value of the investment actually did rise or fall on that day," he said.

The original test investment was about $12,500, and currently stands at $19,235.30, although it has both dipped and grown over time.

Eventually, the hope is that cash made from the stocks will be rolled back into the prize fund to incentivize more players. For now, the cash isn't being touched except for re-investments, Ferrier said. The experiment continues to be in the pilot stage, he explained, where he's working to collect data and determine if there's really something to remote viewing.

When he feels he has enough evidence to suggest remote viewing has a real effect, Ferrier intends to publish a paper on the results. Then, he final part of his scheme could entail building that gig economy remote viewing platform where businesses could pay to put future possibilities in front of RVers, stocks or otherwise.

"Imagine how widespread remote viewing would become if the investment companies were hiring and training RVers by the thousands," he said. "The end result might be that speculative investing in future events becomes obsolete, and capital gets invested more efficiently in those ventures that will succeed."

Results so far have been interesting, says Ferrier, but also a lesson in how to get fooled by statistics. The quandary is that for a statistic to be considered significant, there has to be an incredibly small likelihood that it could have happened by chance alone. 

But the more data that's being examined, and the more strange events you're looking for, the more likely it is that weird things could happen by chance—a catch-22 he's trying to solve by looking for interesting patterns in subsets of apparently talented remote viewers rather than the whole pool alone.

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"The effect, if it is real, is relatively small," says Ferrier, "and hasn't yet become highly statistically significant. For now, I'm continuing to collect pilot data to see what happens. If it continues to increase in statistical significance, I will pre-register an experimental procedure, and collect new data for that experiment."

"In the best case, the timeline is still probably measured in years," he added. "In the meantime, I make the existing pilot data available to researchers who are interested."

Ferrier began investing money in September 2019, after having built a large enough user base. Since then, he's made 273 investments, and he claims that 152 of those (55.7 percent) were correct. Statistically, chance should level out at 50 percent—eventually—so the results could easily be a result of luck. Just as important as the percentage of correct predictions, however, is the volatility of the markets, so he's also trialing different stock options to see which lead to the best results.

"It's impossible to achieve certainty about whether a pattern of results is due to a real effect or pure chance," he said. "This is because anything at all could, possibly, happen by pure chance. All we can do is figure out what the probability is that the pattern of results would occur by chance alone."

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Still, he believes that app users are achieving performance levels rising just above pure chance. 

If users can maintain even that level of statistical performance, it could be sufficient to provide supplemental income to the remote viewers. However, this is "still a long way" from what you'd need for "a practical gig economy approach of assigning small teams of RVers to various tasks set by clients". 

Higher prediction accuracy would be needed for many kinds of tasks in a gig economy platform, says Ferrier, and he'd need to be able to achieve that accuracy using smaller groups of remote viewers, so that the user base could be split up over multiple tasks on the same day.

There have been other attempts to predict stocks with remote viewing, and psychics have had the ear of Wall Street traders for decades: In 1987, for example, the New York Times reported 120 traders signed up for a three-hour “psychic business cruise” along New York City’s East River.

But wait, we’ve heard how this turns out before. Biff Tannen's sports almanac wasn't just an inspired Macguffin; it was a potent warning about the catastrophic consequences that arise when individuals mess with the future. But Back To The Future 2 isn't the final word on bending reality to our desires. Ferrier insists that should the gig-economy app come to pass, he wouldn't allow anything on it that was aimed at doing harm to others. But otherwise, it would be left to the community to decide whether or not tasks were ethical.

“I wouldn't resent Shaq for slam dunking for fame and money"

More likely, he thinks, is that remote viewing hits a ceiling on how accurate predictions can be over the long term—say, 60 percent—because the future isn't yet determined. 

"Some possibilities may be likelier than others, but aren't necessarily certain," said Ferrier. "Either of these outcomes strike me as positive, because of the much greater awareness of our spiritual nature that this practical application of remote viewing could lead to."

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As for the legality of predicting the markets in this way, the Securities and Exchange Commission declined to comment. 

According to financial commentator David Buik, it probably wouldn't be long before regulators caught wind of Ferrier's experiments, should they prove successful. While the potential for extra-sensory insider trading was outside of Buik's regular wheelhouse, he says he couldn't totally rule out the possibility. 

"I just feel that if it did rear its ugly head, that the authorities are so much better geared up than they were, that if they found any evidence of this kind of behavior, I think they'd come down on it like a ton of bricks."

To see if the financial regulators would have any reason to clamp down on Ferrier's app, I thought I'd try to win the RV Tournament. Unfortunately, I failed miserably, placing a pitiful 1,626th in the October leaderboard. 

Remote Viewing Tournament app

The target image, although correct, had little to do with my this crappy Wi-Fi signal sketch of mine. Screengrab: Remote Viewing Tournament

I went in blind, and so I only later learned of analytic overlay, a remote viewing term that refers to the propensity for the mind to fill in the blanks to make sense of unconscious impressions. "AOL," as remote viewers call it, could partially explain this ridiculous house that I sketched. Perhaps what I was actually receiving was the correct target: a hat. 

Remote Viewing Tournament app

Screengrab: Remote Viewing Tournament

To find out more about remote viewing and how users feel about picking stocks, I reached out to repeat competition winner "Grin Spickett", a Wisconsinite admin of /r/remoteviewing on Reddit.

Spickett wasn't aware of his contributions as clandestine trade advisor at first, he said. He discovered this fact while interviewing Ferrier for the Remote Viewing Community Magazine. While he believes Ferrier could have been more up-front about this, it doesn't bother him one bit: "It doesn't rob any of us of our experience with describing the pictures, we gain joy and excitement and wonder from it," he said. "If anything, I like knowing there are real stakes on the line."

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Spickett said that "money talks," and he thinks a market-based experiment could force the world to pay more attention to remote viewing in general.

"My own goal is to find the limits of remote viewing phenomena and not necessarily to get rich from it, although I don't see a moral issue with doing so, just as I wouldn't resent Shaq for slam dunking for fame and money," he said.

And that potential army of gig-economy psychics? "It beats Mechanical Turk," Spicket added. "I'd love to see it work, because of the implications it would have for the nature of our reality."

Here are a few examples of Spickett's RV Tournament attempts:

Remote Viewing Tournament app

An image from Spickett's first winning month. Screengrab: Remote Viewing Tournament

Remote Viewing Tournament app

Another of Spickett's attempts. Screengrab: Remote Viewing Tournament

It was, in part, skepticism that led Spickett to remote viewing, he said, but what he found compelled him to keep going. He told me that the more he played RV Tournament and won—first place twice, and fourth once, for a total of $30—the more he felt like he was "throwing stones in the face of reality;" and although his successes waxed and waned depending on his technique, intent, and mood, the highs carried into other aspects of his life, too.

For example, Spickett adds that he found RV Tournament and the remote viewing protocols useful in focusing his ADHD. Once, being faced with an empty page felt like an insurmountable task, but now, creative work feels more like solving a puzzle.

"It allowed me to get more comfortable being within myself," says Spickett, "and being able to spend more time dwelling with myself and thought processes, has been a very therapeutic and effective manner to be more comfortable with those sorts of places."

Ferrier said that an Uber-like model makes sense to him, but he's aware that the gig economy is controversial and is open to more traditional alternatives. Indeed, Uber and the rest are under fire from regulators, workers, and the public for pushing a business model that is based on undermining labor and avoiding the costs of employment. 

"Once [top remote viewers] are identified, they could be paid in a way that's closer to a "gig"—paid for the contributions they make, with no commitment on their end, and paid an amount relative to their demonstrated degree of skill," he said. "Or, if that kind of system runs into opposition, they could be employed in a more conventional way."

Ferrier said that he hopes that should remote viewing become more popular, monetized or not, the mystical experiences at its heart could lead us all to a greater sense of connection with the world, and with the environment. In his words: "A greater desire to take care of the planet, a greater desire to be loving and caring towards other people, less fear of death, and less fear and anxiety in general". 

And, of course, some winnings on the stock market.