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Using a Supercomputer To Predict Revolutions 121

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-is-to-be dept.
bLanark writes "A fascinating article from Singularity Hub describes software which, when fed news, makes predictions about forthcoming events. When given information on recent events, it spiked before the Egyptian and Libyan uprisings. It uses various sources including the News Bank which is a database of global news."
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Using a Supercomputer To Predict Revolutions

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  • Asmiov did it! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iluvcapra (782887) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @05:17PM (#37509888)

    Foundation anyone?

    • by Kittenman (971447)
      I thought the same. Go, Psychohistory. Of course I'd have spelt Asimov right. Or probably mentioned Hari Seldon.
      • by iluvcapra (782887)

        Asmiov was his smarter older brother.

        • by F34nor (321515)

          Moyers: What happens to the idea of the dignity of the human species if population growth continues at its present rate?

          Asimov: It will be completely destroyed. I will use what I call my bathroom metaphor. Two people live in an apartment and there are two bathrooms, then both have the freedom of the bathroom. You can go to the bathroom anytime you want, and stay as long as you want, for whatever you need. Everyone believes in the freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the Constitution. But if

      • by znerk (1162519)

        Asimov wasn't alone. Several authors have put forth the concept (my favorite is actually "Cleology", introduced in "In the Country of the Blind" by Michael Flynn [wikipedia.org], complete with some graphs and charts of historical cyclical data that projected (at the time of the book's writing) future events that have turned out to be surprisingly accurate (at the time of this writing)).

        The entire concept of studying history can be summed up in the phrase "Those who do not recall history are doomed to repeat it" - in other

        • by xhrit (915936)

          Asimov wasn't alone. Several authors have put forth the concept (my favorite is actually "Cleology", introduced in "In the Country of the Blind" by Michael Flynn [wikipedia.org], complete with some graphs and charts of historical cyclical data that projected (at the time of the book's writing) future events that have turned out to be surprisingly accurate (at the time of this writing)).

          The entire concept of studying history can be summed up in the phrase "Those who do not recall history are doomed to repeat it" - in other words, we need to know what mistakes we have made in order to avoid making them again.

          My favorite is Melchizedek from Battle Angel Alita [wikipedia.org] by Yukito Kishiro [wikipedia.org]. Melchizedek is an MBC that can predict trends from arbitrary datasets. At first it is used for weather forecasting, but as time progresses the system is tasked with making predictions from other data. Soon it is monitoring economic, political, and criminal trends, and every decision made by human administrators is first run by Melchizedek to see if the predicted outcome is favorable. Eventually the entire government is turned over to Melc

    • by orange47 (1519059)
      I think biggest curse would be knowing (exactly) ones destiny, if such thing exists.
    • Foundation anyone?

      How about Paycheck?.

      • by znerk (1162519)

        Foundation anyone?

        How about Paycheck?.

        Philip K Dick is awesome, and his short stories have been made into many more movies than people suspect.

        • PKD FTW!
        • by tehcyder (746570)
          Philip K Dick is awesome, but his short stories have been made into many more astonishingly bad movies than people suspect. ,br> FTFY.
          • by znerk (1162519)

            Philip K Dick is awesome, but his short stories have been made into many more astonishingly bad movies than people suspect.

            I respectfully disagree; we probably have differing methodologies for mindless popcorn consumption.

            Aside: Love your sig. Who is it quoting?

    • by ThorGod (456163)

      ::high five::

      Should name the computer/program Giskard.

    • by znerk (1162519)

      If I recall correctly, one of the postulates of Foundation was that the general populace should not be aware of the existence of the prediction mechanism, or it would fail in its purpose. Also, the groups of people whose actions were being predicted was so large that an individual person's actions should have little bearing on the results.

      This concept has been summed up quite well by Agent K in Men In Black:
      "A person is smart. People are stupid, panicky animals... and you know it."

      • by bryan1945 (301828)

        Yep, until a the mutant Mule showed up. Of course, no predictive science can guess when a mutation of that power will show up. Now I'm going to have to go read the series again, been too long.

    • by F34nor (321515)

      IBM Germany doing the grunt work for the Holocaust anyone?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 25, 2011 @05:19PM (#37509892)

    "Spiking" before the Egyptian and Libyan uprisings is nothing impressive, without more information about when it has and hasn't "spiked".

  • Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nicholas22 (1945330) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @05:19PM (#37509894)
    It's much easier to look for spikes or what your data looks like *after* an important event has taken place, than to actually predict them. I'm sure that even if I look at my computer logs on a significant date, there's most likely something there that I would class as interesting or out of the ordinary, in hindsight, too...
    • i agree, hindsight makes this sort of prediction look a lot easier than it actually is. But it also wouldn't surprise me if there was a flair-up of news (or particular type of news) that sets a pre-cursor to the naked ape ignoring authority. So definantly worth the effort, but I wouldn't be holding my breath for an accurate prediction system that's better than even a basic application of common sense just yet.

      algorithms - almost as useful as common sense

      • by znerk (1162519)

        algorithms - almost as useful as common sense

        Or, "Algorithms - applied common sense for an unattended environment"

    • It could work before too. The predictions will be self-fulfilling prophecies that provoke the start of the revolutions.

    • The obvious question that wasn't in TFA was - did they go back and look at other 'spikes' to see if they meant anything? From the article, the whole process seemed pretty weak intellectually - in the weeks leading up to Mubarak's fall it was clear to anyone with an IQ higher than a typical US politician^Hsnail that something was going to happen - either Mubarak was going to get canned or a lot of Egyptians were going to get in a shitload of trouble.

      I don't see anything here that isn't in Google Trends.

      ??

      • by Threni (635302)

        > did they go back and look at other 'spikes' to see if they meant anything?

        Even that won't necessarily work. You can't predict the future of share prices by using past data. You can perfectly predict events that have already happened using earlier events, but that doesn't mean it'll work for future data/events.

        Yes, revolutions are going to happen in fucked up/unfair countries, not ones which are stable and sensible. So, Denmark: no, Egypt: possibly, who knows/cares?

        • by znerk (1162519)

          You can't predict the future of share prices by using past data.

          No, but you can make a fairly-accurate educated guess about the price of Company X's share price tomorrow, based on the news today. The main issue about attempting to predict the future based on history is to know enough about the effect you are attempting to predict to understand its causes, and therefore be able to accurately detect the symptoms in time to react to them appropriately.

          Of course, if we're detecting revolutions, then a fascist state would simply jail or otherwise dispose of anyone who perfor

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For some reason this resembles "Foundation" by Isaac Asimov.

  • Reality is what you make of it. More specifically, what the social and news media make of it.
  • by vlm (69642) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @05:32PM (#37509972)

    from Singularity Hub describes software which, when fed news, makes predictions about forthcoming events

    George Ure gets really feisty and hot under the collar every time someone mentions this and claims its new... He's been doing this for years now, probably a decade now.

    http://urbansurvival.com/week.htm [urbansurvival.com]

    If you want to know what Ure is doing, you can pretty much copy-paste his name on the report and roll all the dates in the report back about a decade.

    It would be much like the reaction if I wrote my own crappy homemade webserver this week, and then sent press releases to the entire universe explaining how I just wrote the worlds first webserver and not only that but its also the worlds first open source webserver and carefully avoid mentioning any prior art.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Predictive software, in itself, hasn't been an "idea" for a long time. The very first "real" computer application was churning out ballistics trajectory tables, which is itself prediction (albeit based on laws that are well-understood, or at least repeatable). Weather forecasting is obviously predictive. All automated stock-market trading software is predictive.

      Having the idea is trivial. Actually making it work is the ENTIRE matter.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        Predictive software, in itself, hasn't been an "idea" for a long time. The very first "real" computer application was churning out ballistics trajectory tables, which is itself prediction

        That is only "predictive" in the trivial sense that I predict that, if in five minutes, you ask me "what is 1 + 1" the answer will be "2", because your question is in the future.

        • by timeOday (582209)
          All prediction is based on nothing more than the assumption that the universe has fixed laws of cause and effect that will not change in the future. More complex predictions require more inputs and more cause/effect rules, but they're still the same thing.
    • by Surt (22457)

      Heck, I've been working on predictive software for more than a decade and a half. The real accomplishment is only when you have something that works.

    • by Phyvo (876321)

      Except that while TFA is simply obvious hindsight science (with an unimpressive graph) the site you linked to is taking seriously somone managing web crawling bots who predictis some kind of vague doomsday in ~72 hours (such that the manager has been saying goodbye to friends), and who also predicted that summer 2010 there would be floods of US refugees heading to Canada and has made many such (failed) predictions repeatedly.

      Real internet crackpots. Almost as funny as the guys trying to correlate random num

  • The whole premise of the book Megatrends was based on this sort of analysis. Keep a count of the headlines in newspapers on various subjects. See how that changes over time.

    It sorta works. Sometimes. Intel agencies do this sort of thing so they aren't as easily blindsided. It's not a new idea.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This just in: Using historical analysis and hindsight we can build a system that predicts events! Amazing!

  • Needs some smoothing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by paiute (550198) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @05:41PM (#37510018)
    The graph of the "spike" was very unimpressive. The signal-to-noise ratio looks pretty small.
  • by thePuck77 (1311533) <neal@nealjansons . c om> on Sunday September 25, 2011 @05:46PM (#37510048) Homepage

    ...we will see martial law declared preemptively, military and police forces will start flooding areas before anything can happen, and people who the computer says will be key figures in the revolution will be preemptively jailed and/or executed.

    Don't get your hopes up, kids. This isn't the Foundation, and it won't be used to save civilization, it will be used to keep people already in power from even having a chance of losing that power. If you haven't noticed, the folks running the show think the only value of civilization is that it gives them a system within which to gain power and wealth.

    • by znerk (1162519)

      And the moment they get something like this...

      ...we will see martial law declared preemptively, military and police forces will start flooding areas before anything can happen, and people who the computer says will be key figures in the revolution will be preemptively jailed and/or executed.

      ... except that (according to most "psychohistory" proponents), the information you get is not that granular.

      Also, declaring martial law and flooding the potential problem area with enforcers could be just what those fomenting rebellion are waiting for, to finally get the "little guy" involved in something that wasn't (up to that point) affecting him.

      "No, you can't go outside, they'll shoot you."
      "Oh, yeah? Watch me."

      • And the moment they get something like this...

        ...we will see martial law declared preemptively, military and police forces will start flooding areas before anything can happen, and people who the computer says will be key figures in the revolution will be preemptively jailed and/or executed.

        ... except that (according to most "psychohistory" proponents), the information you get is not that granular.

        Also, declaring martial law and flooding the potential problem area with enforcers could be just what those fomenting rebellion are waiting for, to finally get the "little guy" involved in something that wasn't (up to that point) affecting him.

        "No, you can't go outside, they'll shoot you." "Oh, yeah? Watch me."

        It doesn't work quite like that. For people to remain gathered against the government they must at least have the expectation of success. Unarmed people will not continue to demonstrate for long in a square where the army has no problem shooting to kill. You can see that with Tiananmen square, the failed rebellions in Myanman in 1988 and 2007 and the one this year in Bahrein for ex. Wherever the army is willing to kill the protesters the state wins. And from that you can safely conclude that the only place

        • by znerk (1162519)

          ... and if the first guy to go outside and spit on the newly-drawn battle lines get shot, the next ones to come out might be carrying (and aiming and firing) weapons.

          This is somewhat similar in basic concept to "You don't have to outrun the dragon, you just have to outrun the halfling," assuming you convinced the halfling to go into the dragon's den in the first place.

          • ... and if the first guy to go outside and spit on the newly-drawn battle lines get shot, the next ones to come out might be carrying (and aiming and firing) weapons.

            This is somewhat similar in basic concept to "You don't have to outrun the dragon, you just have to outrun the halfling," assuming you convinced the halfling to go into the dragon's den in the first place.

            Yeah. Which is why most states ban people from owning weapons. :) Even the US keeps trying to do that and limiting as much as possible gun ownership with licenses and restrictions. You can be sure it has nothing to do with public safety: the last thing any politician cares about is the public.

        • by Bardwick (696376)
          Hence the 2nd amendment. Folks, it's not there to protect us from things that go bump in the night. It's to protect the citizens from thier governement. There are MILLIONS of handguns alone in the country, shotguns, rifles everywhere. "Wherever the army is willing to kill the *UNARMED* protesters the state wins. " Libya.
          • Hence the 2nd amendment. Folks, it's not there to protect us from things that go bump in the night. It's to protect the citizens from thier governement. There are MILLIONS of handguns alone in the country, shotguns, rifles everywhere. "Wherever the army is willing to kill the *UNARMED* protesters the state wins. " Libya.

            True, but if you're giving Libya as an example of the armed people successfully resisting government oppression I have to disagree with that. That's only another CIA opperation to justify invasion. The "peaceful" "protesters" were from the start armed insurgents initiating all the violence for political gain, not rights. Before NATO started destroying the place Libya had the highest standard of living in Africa and therefore would be the last country on that continent vulnerable to any genuine rebellion.

    • This isn't the Foundation, and it won't be used to save civilization, it will be used to keep people already in power from even having a chance of losing that power.

      Arguably Foundation also was people in power trying to make sure they never had a chance of losing that power.

  • by edibobb (113989) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @05:48PM (#37510066) Homepage
    There's one revolution every 365.25 days or so. Why do you need a supercomputer for that?
  • revolutions per minute! although it is more calculating then predicting.
    • by mcswell (1102107)

      reminds me of the line at the bottom of yesterday's (?) /.: "Q: How many Marxists does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: None, the light bulb contains the seeds of its own revolution."

  • by Surt (22457) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @06:04PM (#37510152) Homepage Journal

    But predicting future ones is even more challenging.
    Zzzz.

  • "Paycheck" (2003) [imdb.com]. Ends with them blowing the computer up and destroying the software.
  • But CNN told me we just need to check facebook for the latest revolution. They and all the other main news sources did endless interviews of people from Egypt who were naming their children facebook in honor of their revolutions.

    If 2010 taught us anything, it is that no revolution, ever, anywhere, happened without facebook. All hail facebook and its indisputable power to bring about justice and peace!
    • by bryan1945 (301828)

      I, for one, look forward to our new Facebook overlords.
      "All your Book are belong to us." ?

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday September 25, 2011 @07:14PM (#37510488) Homepage Journal

    What's a "revolution"? The revolts in Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Syria this year? How about the people who have been "occupying" Wall Street the past week? Does getting maced by the cops for no reason at all [dailykos.com] make a revolt a revolution?

    • I am praying. We need one and the word was not out and free speech zones were too far awy from Wall Street or the cameras of the media.

      If the unemployed got together and rioted 1960s style we would see some real changes. The media's constant attention to it changed society and the country and we need that today

      • by operagost (62405)

        If the unemployed got together and rioted 1960s style we would see some real changes.

        No thanks, Ms. Piven.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      If it's people demonstrating against the system overseas, they're revolutionaries and brave freedom fighters. If they do it in your own country they're trouble-making hippies and anarchists who don't wash and have probably not done a decent day's work in their lives.
  • I wonder if it has yet predicted the coming American uprising?
    • YOu know I was really hoping the protests in Wall Street would be as bad as the ones for the WTO and Greece. It turns out they are not or the free speech zones are too far away from Wall Street where no one with cameras can hear

  • They didn't mention any of those countries. Doesn't seem very good to me....

    I have noticed that similar nations tend to move the same way (sounds obvious), All the Baathist systems are dying in the ME.

    Even in the west, all the democratic nations are facing strange "historic" electoral results. The US, Britain, Sweden, Australia and many other democratic countries have all had the equivalent of a 'hung parliament' and in the case of Sweden (were a 'hung parliament' is the norm) an outright swing to
  • Forget Foundation, it's called FUCKUP [wikipedia.org]...
  • Signs of crime: screaming or cries for help.
    -- from the Brown Security Crime Prevention Pamphlet
    ~ [unix fortunes database]

    Signs of revolution: screaming or cries for change.

  • Right now some very indirect methods are being used to predict the stock market. There seem to be happy words and sad or moody words. By studying conversations on the net for happy word and sad word content the market can be predicted more accurately than with any other method.
    As for people mouthing off about revolutions and dramatic actions during hard times they really need to moderate their words a bit before they get what they claim they w

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      As for people mouthing off about revolutions and dramatic actions during hard times they really need to moderate their words a bit before they get what they claim they want. Germany had a revolution and ended up with Hitler. Russia had a revolution and ended up with Stalin. Improvements in life tend to happen with orderly progress and orderly change. Revolutions usually simply do not work.

      And the US had a revolution and...oh, wait.

  • by evilviper (135110) on Monday September 26, 2011 @04:38AM (#37513124) Journal

    See PRI story below... But first:

    Mining news stories will only tell you what people already knew... Osama Bin Laden? If you asked any experts in the past decade where he was, the answer was always "Pakistan". Everyone assumed he was in the tribal areas, and were wrong. In hindsight, it's easy to say they were within X km, but that information also ceases to be useful in hindsight...

    Anyhow, this story isn't a complete waste. It segues nicely into a different story from PRI a couple months ago, which DOES make predictions. It is based on weather, and specifically predicts how many politically unstable countries are likely to experience "violence" (an uprising) in a given year:

    http://www.pri.org/stories/science/environment/global-violence-linked-to-severe-weather5064.html [pri.org]

  • There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
    brothers in the instant replay.
    There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
    brothers in the instant replay.
    There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
    run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
    There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
    Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
    Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
    For just the proper occasion.

    Seriously though, these things are impossible to predict, so far, because the

  • by Anonymous Coward

    knows who to kill and when?

  • "Predicting" past events isn't predicting. He aren't saying anything about future events.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The system will never predict anything bad happening here. Between the fact that our media spoon-feeds us whatever their version of events are and that we are all more than happy to sit back and eat whatever bowl of (expletive deleted) our corporate overlords feed us, there will never be anything to predict.

The economy depends about as much on economists as the weather does on weather forecasters. -- Jean-Paul Kauffmann

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