Google the Future
Augur is a prediction market, a tool used to place bets on the future outcome of any event.
At a fundamental level, Augur is an implementation of Wisdom of the Crowd, a philosophical and economic concept that can be boiled down as follows: When you ask a sufficiently large number of people the same question, their collective answer is often more correct than asking a single person, even an expert. Augur provides a financial incentive to this exchange of guesses in the form of Ether, paid out to the users who correctly predict the outcome of a given event.
Aside from the possibiltiy of profitting from a prediction (i.e. betting), the simple existence of such a market is useful in a variety of circumstances. When trying to predict the winner of a sporting event, for example, Wisdom of the Crowd is a good way to approximate odds. Similarly, a prediction market can be used to determine market sentiment about a company, opinions about world leader (and their odds of reelection), or even something as simple as weather forecasts.
Augur’s advantage over traditional prediction markets (such as those in Los Vegas) is that it is decentralized. Because no one person is “calling the shots” on outcomes (for example, by wrongly reporting that Croatia, not France, won the 2018 World Cup), Augur is far less susceptible to meddling or foul play. In lieu of a single arbiter, Augur instead utilizes a consensus system built on Reputation ($REP). From the Augur FAQ:
Reputation (REP) is a cryptocurrency, used by reporters during market dispute phases of Augur. REP holders must perform work, in the form of staking their REP on correct outcomes, to receive a portion of the markets settlement fees. If you do not report correctly, you do not get the fees. If you report incorrectly, you lose your REP. If you don’t participate in a fork (when the network has a very large dispute over an outcome), you lose 5% of your REP. Passive holders of Reputation (REP) that are not using their Reputation (REP) within the Augur protocol to stake on disputes and forks are penalized. The treatment of REP within the Augur protocol is governed not by the Forecast Foundation but by the protocols smart contracts as described in the Augur white paper and documentation.
Augur’s most immediately compelling stated goal is the concept of being able to “Google the future.” While the predictions on the platform cannot be guaranteed to be correct, a prediction market with a sufficiently high number of users represents the best possible guess based on current public knowledge.
Augur aims to be this and more. In a 2017 Medium post entitled “Augur Master Plan,” founder Joey Krug wrote:
The long term plan is to overtake all derivatives trading though liquidity and network effects, although in the beginning these limitations mean the first markets and activity on Augur will be surrounding new markets or markets that are currently expensive or limited in certain ways. Think Chinese and Russian investors wanting to speculate on US stocks, or vice versa, people wanting to speculate on sporting events more cheaply, or people who just want to create a new market for something that doesn’t exist at the moment due to multi-million dollar startup costs for creating a new financial derivative. With augur we can remove that million and drop the cost down to “multi dollar.”
Essentially, Augur contains the framework for creating an entirely new decentralized financial system, far beyond the scope of simply betting on relatively inconsequential events. Whether this is a good or bad things depends on your political positions, but I don’t think anyone can deny that it is an interesting and potentially world-changing possibility.
In June 2018, Augur’s long-awaited mainnet launched, allowing users complete access to the platform. At time of writing, half a million dollars in value already rides on the outcomes of the listed events.