Predicting the future: Fantasy, or a good algorithm?
“So, what we are trying to do is figure out how we can take large portions of the web and extract what we call signals of activity that relate to people and places and associate them with events and time,” says Ahlberg. “Time is often a forgotten dimension in analysis, and we think it is key.”
As Ahlberg sees it, there are hints about the future everywhere. Governments release economic projections; newspapers report on upcoming events; Twitter can provide a pretty good idea of what people are talking about.
In Egypt last year, organizers used Twitter and social media to rally protestors. If intelligence analysts had had a systematic way to track those posts, it might have helped them forecast what was to come.
This isn’t a new idea. There have already been efforts to try to tap into what is simmering below the surface by tracking things like Google searches. Researchers at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center and Princeton University tracked Google searches in Egypt starting in January 2011 and found that there were more searches about events in Tunisia and its protests than for Egyptian pop stars. Record Future builds on that kind of public intelligence.