I'll see your alien and raise you one pilotless airplane

The website Long Bets has an interesting wager under way between Warren Buffett and a New York fund manager over which will perform better over the next decade—the S&P 500 stock index, or a portfolio of hedge funds. The Oracle of Omaha has long argued that after you account for hedge funds’ hefty fees, investors are better off putting their money into plain vanilla index funds. There’s $1 million on the line.

What I found more interesting were some of the other bets currently on the table at Long Bets. The site bills itself as “an arena for competitive, accountable predictions” and some prominent individuals have ponied up. For instance:

  • Retired Princeton physics prof Freeman J. Dyson bets that the first sign of extraterrestrial life will be found someplace other than a planet or a satellite of a planet
  • Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s top techy, thinks that by 2030 commercial passengers will fly on pilotless planes, while Google’s CEO wagers otherwise
  • Back in 2002 Jason Epstein, the former editorial director of Random House, bet that by 2010 more than 50 per cent of books sold worldwide will be printed on demand at the point of sale in a library-quality format. Vint Cerf, often dubbed the “father of the Internet” says no way.

Not all the bets are so far out. Ted Danson, who played former Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Sam Malone on Cheers, won by betting back in 2002 that the U.S. men’s soccer team would not win the World Cup before the Sox clinched the World Series. As with all the bets on the site, his winnings went to charity.

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