Microsoft Predicts the Future with New Software
February 4, 2013 11:37 AM
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The software collects information from news article archives and other data sources to predict the future
Using old news articles and a form of Wikipedia, new software is capable of
predicting the future's events
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.
The system's sources include
The New York Times'
archives from 1986-2007, DBpedia (the information in Wikipedia constructed using crowdsourcing), WordNet (helps software understand what words mean) and OpenCyc (provides a database of common knowledge).
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, codirector 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 between 70 and 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.
MIT Technology Review
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RE: simple cause and effect.. not "predicting" the future
2/4/2013 2:05:42 PM
Sure, but over time as they gain more data to work with, systems like this may be able to detect deeper and more complex patterns of cause and effect that humans have missed. I'm sure the technology will be applied to all sorts of fields such as market research to spot trends, predict what would sell best at the moment, etc. At some point, to widen the scope, you probably want to plug in many more data sources such as random internet chatter (FB, Twitter), phone conversations and text messaging/email content, TV/movie/music consumption figures, shopping and e-commerce data, job creation/loss, political sentiment and swings, etc. Yes, I know marketing reasearch companies already do all this to a degree, but it would be interesting to see what it could come up with using such a wide variety of data sets.
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