It seems oracles, psychics, soothsayers and sci-fi authors aren’t the only ones who can predict the future as researchers at Microsoft and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a type of software that can predict outbreaks of disease or violence from analysis of newspaper headlines.
Researchers used 20 years worth of New York Times archives to test the software and its predictions were accurate between 70% and 90% of the time!
Ok so it’s not like the creation of this software will see our streets patrolled by pre-crime cops like Tom Cruise’s Chief John Anderton in Minority Report, that’s still a long way off as far as I can see. However those working on its development believe it can be a useful tool for helping governments to prevent disease epidemics or put a stop to violent outbreaks before they occur.
For example, the software picked up that in 2006 droughts occurred in Angola and accurately predicted that these droughts would be followed by a cholera outbreak because it had seen patterns throughout history of cholera epidemics occurring after droughts.
As well as using the New York Times archives, the researchers also pulled data from DBpedia, WordNet and OpenCyc and intend to widen their resource pool even further in the hope that this will increase the accuracy of the predictions.
The 70% to 90% prediction accuracy rate that developers say the software displays has so far has been based on events that occurred in the past, however those working on it believe it is ready to be let loose on the future!
They have presented their findings to government agencies that deal with emergency responses and hope that by working with them, they will be able to further hone the software so that it can be used in real time disaster management and relief endeavors.
Source: MIT Technology Review