Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Government to Build 'Data Eye In The Sky' to Potentially Predict Future


        In the 2002 futuristic action thriller, Minority Report, Tom Cruise is the chief of police force called a "precog" force.  This police force use future visions by mutated humans with precognition abilities that can see the future way in advance.  Through these predictions, the police force has correctly predicted a murder attempt and prevented murder attempts in the city for the next 6 years.  As the New York Times reports, the government may be closer to a technology similar to this, a so called 'Data Eye In the Sky' .

     The same technology that allows Amazon to recommends what your next purchase should be is currently being used by social scientists, albeit in a much grander scale.  Internet resources such as Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and smartphone data trails are being consolidated into one big data set.  In compiling all this data, there is hope that sociological behavior can be predicted.  And with this technology, such things as political crises, social unrest, and revolutions can be predicted before they can even happen, thus stabilizing society. 
      Predictably, the government has shown interest in this. 

"a little known intelligence agency began seeking ideas from academic social scientists and corporations to automatically scan the Internet in 21 Latin American countries for "big data" according to a research proposal being circulated by the agency"

    The three year experiment  financed by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) will use accessible data such as blog entries, Internet traffic flow, Web search queries, financial market indicators, and changes in Wikipedia entries.   Not only will it be used to predict political and economic events, it will be potentially used to get the opinion of the general masses, something that Google has been trying to do. 

     There have been minor examples that have used similar technologies to predict an outcome.

"Last year HP Labs researchers used Twitter data to accurately predict box office revenues of Hollywood movies.  In August, the National Science Foundation approved funds for research in using social media like Twitter and Facebook to assess earthquake damages in real time
    While a technology like this can be lauded for its predicative potential, critics, especially advocates of privacy rights, fear that this data may be potentially used for secret "total information operations".  This technology may be a strong weapon against political opponents.

    This can potentially be a powerful tool that may (though not always correct) predict forces in the market that can lead to instability.  Human behavior can be very fickle.  If policy is based on what is ascertained based on a particular trend, the instability that was intended to be averted can result, however minor or major. 



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