Is it possible to predict the future? Trying to predict the future by various means is something that fascinated people in all times. There is a tickle in to be able to know before what will happen afterwards. Now this has become a reality.
Enter a Swedish-American start-up company called Recorded Future. The company has developed algorithms that chew through huge volumes of information to find relationships between people and organizations. Then its visualization software spits out that information in the form of a giant searchable timeline.
“What we’re trying to do here at Recorded Future is figure out a cool way that we can observe the world,” says co-founder Christopher Ahlberg. “We’re trying to find new ways of generating data that tell us what’s going on in the world … what did happen, what will happen. We’re not going to get 100 percent in terms of outcome, but we can pull things together in a way that no one else can.”
Many others are also following up on this trail. Among them is Microsoft. Who claims to be able to predict the future with their new software. The software collects information from news article archives and other data sources to predict the future.
Microsoft researchers have created a software that predicts when and where disease outbreaks might occur based on two decades of New York Times articles and other online data. The research comes from Microsoft and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The software, which was developed by both Microsoft and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, takes a look at archives from The New York Times and studies related data on the Internet in order to form predictions about what will happen next in certain parts of the world such as disease, violence and a large number of deaths.
What the system does is study news reports, then uses outside data for context. For example, the system saw reports of droughts in Angola in 2006. From studying data on the Web, the system knew that droughts can lead to cholera outbreaks in the country. The system further researches the country’s location, population density, GDP, whether there was a drought the year before, proportion of land covered by water, etc.
After collecting said information, and studying yet another report from NYT saying that there were large storms in Angola in early 2007, the system predicted the cholera outbreak. Less than one week later, reports of cholera had appeared.
“I truly view this as a foreshadowing of what’s to come,” said Eric Horvitz, co-director at Microsoft Research who led the study with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Kira Radinsky.
“Eventually this kind of work will start to have an influence on how things go for people.”
When testing the software, Horvitz and Radinsky found that it was correct up to 90 percent of the time. The team said the software could use some extra work in terms of greater accuracy, but once that is complete, it hopes the system can be used to help organizations tackle world problems.
While some predictive tools are already in use, this particular software uses 90 data sources total, making it a more “general purpose” tool.