Could Computers Predict Political Unrest Like They Predict The Weather?

from the doubtful dept

Via betajames, we learn of some research being done on a computer system that's trying to predict political unrest by looking at press coverage.
In a recently published paper, Culturomics 2.0: Forecasting Large-scale Human Behavior Using Global News Media Tone in Time and Space, [Kalev Leetaru] shows that by feeding millions of news articles from around the world into an SGI supercomputer, you can analyze the tone of media coverage and pinpoint moments of unrest: a revolution, riots, or even when a despotic ruler will relinquish power and flee his country.
Of course, so far, the system has only been used on past events, and as it says on the box: past results are no guarantee on future performance. Separately, looking at the examples in the article, it sounds like it notices stuff... well... about the same time a human paying attention would notice stuff. It talks about how right before Pearl Harbor the Japanese press dropped all talk of peace and ramped up criticism of the US. It also discusses Mubarak leaving office and how the press turned really negative right before that. But it wasn't like you needed a computer to tell you that the protests were having an impact and likely leading to the end of Mubarak's reign.

The project sounds interesting, but it seems like Leetaru is overly optimistic about what it'll show. Until there's evidence of it picking out things that you couldn't pick out yourself just by reading the news, I'm not sure there's really any breakthrough.

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  1. icon
    EveningStarNM (profile), 30 Sep 2011 @ 8:23am

    Re: Re: It's not like it takes any intelligence

    It doesn't seem to matter any way. Do you remember this?

    "Red sky in morning, sailor's warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight."

    Ignoring for the moment that the sky is always red now, the fact that computers can now reliably predict the weather four to five times farther in advance than that old adage might indicate that computer predictions of civil unrest, if similar improvements were made, could be useful.

    Unfortunately, we already know that it won't. For instance, we've known for 100 years that current conservative economic policies are bad for the country, and even though we threw Republicans out of government in 2008, we're still following conservative policies today. We knew 80 years ago that prohibition would lead to a huge and expensive increase in violent crime. We knew 60 years ago that increases in atmospheric pollution would result in higher and expensive increases in temperature. We knew 40 years ago that plastics and many unnatural chemicals would build up the bodies of every human being on the planet.

    The most accurate prediction is of no use if we choose to ignore it.

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