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Asimov's Psychohistory Becoming a Reality?

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the hopefully-the-mule-won't-screw-this-up dept.

Stats 291

northernboy writes "Today's LA Times has an article describing how a Wikileaks data dump from Afghanistan plus some advanced algorithms are allowing accurate predictions about the behavior of large groups of people. From the article: 'The programmers used simple code to extract dates and locations from about 77,000 incident reports that detailed everything from simple stop-and-search operations to full-fledged battles. The resulting map revealed the outlines of the country's ongoing violence: hot spots near the Pakistani border but not near the Iranian border, and extensive bloodshed along the country's main highway. They did it all in just one night. Now one member of that group has teamed up with mathematicians and computer scientists and taken the project one major step further: They have used the WikiLeaks data to predict the future.' Considering they did not discriminate between types of skirmish, but only when and where there was violence, this seems like an amazing result. It looks like our robotic overlords will have even less trouble controlling us than I previously thought."

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291 comments

Obligatory TED reference (4, Informative)

Bananatree3 (872975) | about 2 years ago | (#40680221)

Re:Obligatory TED reference (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680385)

So what he is mapping is the number of insurgent/terrorist bombings and how many is killed in them?

The whole thing seems like a jumbled mess.

Re:Obligatory TED reference (5, Informative)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40680547)

Quoting Asimov:

"... and so I assumed that the time would come when there would be a science in which things could be predicted on a probabilistic or statistical basis"

What Asimov talked about, had actually been researched by many - in a principle known as "group dynamics" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_dynamics [wikipedia.org]

The LA Times TFA described is mere an extension - by tapping on the powerful computing ability that we have today, and by tapping on the enormous databases that are being gathered (and kept) by private/corporate/governmental agencies around the world, including Facebook, FBI, and so on
 

Other uses? (-1, Troll)

Exitar (809068) | about 2 years ago | (#40680255)

Can it predict US soldiers urinating on dead bodies, burning the koran or going on killing spree against harmless villagers?

Re:Other uses? (2)

similar_name (1164087) | about 2 years ago | (#40680345)

Given the history of conflict those seem like some of the easier predictions to make. Alas Psychohistory does not give specifics and only works in secrecy. Like time travel acting on knowledge of the future can alter the future.

Re:Other uses? (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | about 2 years ago | (#40680859)

My memory on this is fuzzy.... but wasn't there a bit that said the farther in the future you go, the more accurate the prediction? For example, you couldn't predict that a group of soldiers would do something horrific next month, but you could predict that a year from now hostilities would begin... the same ones partially caused by previously mentioned incident.

I hope I'm remebering the correct story...

Re:Other uses? (2)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40680985)

wasn't there a bit that said the farther in the future you go, the more accurate the prediction? For example, you couldn't predict that a group of soldiers would do something horrific next month, but you could predict that a year from now hostilities would begin... the same ones partially caused by previously mentioned incident

 
The longer you extend the time frame, the longer your prediction will come true - for example:
 
If one predicts that an air plane will crash today, killing hundreds, that prediction might have a very slim chance of becoming true
 
But if one predicts that event to happen sometimes in the next decades ...
 
  You get my drift
 

Predictable without algorithms or data dumps (1)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | about 2 years ago | (#40680413)

You don't need complex algorithms to predict that. War inevitably produces abuses, especially where you have a recalcitrant enemy that refuses to be bombed into submission (e.g. guerilla warfare and terrorist attacks). That soldiers would go crazy in the battlefied, that some crazies would actually join the military, is a given. The genius would be in predicting the precise date when such "incidents" would occur or the gory details (e.g. instead of urinating on the bodies, the soldiers could have done something worse).

Moslem beheading non-moslem (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680729)

One thing for sure - it doesn't have to take any prediction to know that moslems will always behead non-moslems, for fun !

Re:Moslem beheading non-moslem (0)

InspectorGadget1964 (2439148) | about 2 years ago | (#40680959)

Yes, specially in countries that the US has invaded based on lies, just to steal petrol

Re:Other uses? (5, Funny)

methano (519830) | about 2 years ago | (#40680867)

I read the Foundation Trilogy about 40 years ago and have been terrified ever since that this type of technology would be used in marketing. Thank goodness we're only using it in war.

That is no prediction (5, Insightful)

siddesu (698447) | about 2 years ago | (#40680257)

In the absence of change in circumstances, it is quite obvious that areas of conflict will have more conflict. TFA doesn't say enough about the methodology for one to be able to estimate how valuable it is.

On the other hand, yet another good thing about the Wikileak emerges. Were those data hidden by the secrecy wall, this research would not have been available to the NATO forces over there. Is secrecy really productive? Was the leak good or bad? Are the costly measures to make future leaks less likely a good investment?

Re:That is no prediction (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#40680275)

On one hand, I know a person (personally) who knows another person (personally) who was named in the leak who was currently deployed over there. On the other hand, who can say that their identity wasn't already known? On the gripping hand, what the fuck are we actually doing over there anyway?

Re:That is no prediction (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680343)

We are protecting oil pipelines in Afghanistan. The towns we are deployed in coincidentally run along the pipeline route.

Re:That is no prediction (2)

arthurpaliden (939626) | about 2 years ago | (#40680465)

You would have to station troops every couple of hundred yards not to mention negotiate and pay off hundreds of tribal and community leaders. Which is why the whole project was shelved even before 9/11 because it is just not worth it.

Re:That is no prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680707)

Hmm, everyone wants a cut? Sounds like the RIAA/MPAA.

Oil pipelines in Afghanistan ? (2)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#40680753)

We are protecting oil pipelines in Afghanistan

 
Why was I never told that Afghanistan being an important oil producing country?
 

Re:Oil pipelines in Afghanistan ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680767)

Its does (or alteast hopes to) carry a lot of oil to China & India (from Tajikistan, Iran, etc)

Re:That is no prediction (2, Interesting)

sp3d2orbit (81173) | about 2 years ago | (#40680555)

> On the gripping hand, what the fuck are we actually doing over there anyway?

We are enforcing Afghanistan's 1941 signing of the Declaration of Universal Right of Man. Hopefully by providing an environment where an alternative to the Taliban can establish power we will provide a lasting buffer against their tyranny.

For those who say it isn't our business to protect the rights of others, that line of thinking was invalidated by WWII and previously in the Civil war.

Re:That is no prediction (-1)

Githaron (2462596) | about 2 years ago | (#40680591)

He weren't broke during WWII and the Civil War was not about slavery.

Re:That is no prediction (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680775)

the Civil War was not about slavery.

Spoken like a true racist, or moron. The civil war was entirely about slavery.
There are other minor concerns and justifications and double speak, but if
there were no slavery, there would have been no war.

Re:That is no prediction (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680783)

On the contrary, the civil war was about slavery. The "Preserve the Union"/"State's Rights" slogans were largely marketing BS designed to get people to sign up even when they didn't care to abolish slavery/defend rich-ass slaveholders.

  The notion that the Confederacy was in favor of "State's Rights" is belied by the fact that among their earliest acts ratified was one that decreed that no state in the Confederacy would have the right to abolish slavery within its territory. The Confederacy defended slaveholders first and foremost.

Re:That is no prediction (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 2 years ago | (#40680799)

He weren't broke during WWII and the Civil War was not about slavery.

The American Civil Was was about *more* than slavery, but it's ridiculous to say that it wasn't about slavery.

Re:That is no prediction (5, Insightful)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#40680805)

[W]e weren't broke during WWII and the Civil War was not about slavery.

Actually we were pretty broke during WWII. Remember WWII was right after the great depression and many think it was the event that allowed us to pull out of the depression. The US treasury debt was ~$40B in 1941, and $250B in 1946 when the war ended. The US financed WWII with lots of warbonds...

FWIW, I don't think any historians would agree that we fought WWII to protect the rights of any people (other than US self interest). The US entered WWII to stop Japan from gaining too much influence in the Pacific (of course we were at the same time giving lots of money to England in their fight against Germany, but that wasn't really to protect their rights either). History records that it all came to head when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. The fact that Germany wanted to pick a direct fight with the US pretty much gave us no choice but to go over to Europe for real too...

And of course the Civil war wasn't about slavery, but states rights. Is it okay to secede from the union when you don't get your way? Apparently, no say the winners.

Re:That is no prediction (4, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 2 years ago | (#40680833)

For those who say it isn't our business to protect the rights of others, that line of thinking was invalidated by WWII and previously in the Civil war.

So what's our policy for deciding which people's rights get protected?

Roll the dice, and if their country is important to our strategic economic interests we intervene, otherwise we don't?

And whose right were we protecting on those occasions that we knocked off or destabilized democratically elected governments to put some thuggish warlord into power?

Re:That is no prediction (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 2 years ago | (#40680937)

So that's why we jumped right into Rwanda in 1994 to stop the genocide from happening there, right? Oh yeah, we didn't, we just let them be slaughtered because there's no oil there.

And that's why we're in Somalia now, helping to set up a new government, right? Oh yeah, we're not, we're just letting anarchy reign, because there's no oil there.

Re:That is no prediction (1)

an unsound mind (1419599) | about 2 years ago | (#40680983)

That line of thinking was invalidated by WWII... how?

Do you mean the part where the US came in after the Soviets had won the war in Europe and declared itself the winner?

Or the part where the US took on an opponent that could barely challenge them... and used nuclear weapons in a war already practically won?

Americans contributed very little to the defeat of the Axis. Most of the fall of the Axis can be attributed to the Nazi military leaders being just plain incompetent. And of course, the Soviet Union, to provide the iceberg for Nazi Germany to ram into.

Re:That is no prediction (1)

siddesu (698447) | about 2 years ago | (#40681131)

Americans contributed very little to the defeat of the Axis.

In terms of cannon fodder, that is true, most came from the Soviet Union, Europe and the colonies of certain European powers. However, the US provided very significant amount of equipment, without which the Soviets would have probably lost, and who knows what would have happened then.

Of course, the assistance wasn't free, and the US got a lot in exchange, but to say the contribution was insignificant is not correct.

As for the nukes, they were used to so much to break Japan (who were pleading for a surrender since at least early 1945), as to stop the Russians from taking over Asia, which they tried to do in earnest after the war in Europe ended.

Re:That is no prediction (1)

InspectorGadget1964 (2439148) | about 2 years ago | (#40681015)

Yeah, I'm sure Jimmy Carter was thinking about protecting the right of others when he approved to provide weapons to the Muhahadeen (Today's Al-Quaida and Taliban). I'm also sure that when George W. Bush said that god told him to go to war he was serious (Yeah, right). And when Obama promised to close the concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay, he had no idea that he was not going to do it. Trusting any US politician is equivalent to reduce your brain to nothing but ballast. They do not act for the people, but on behalf of the corporations that finance their campaigns.

Re:That is no prediction (1)

mcrbids (148650) | about 2 years ago | (#40680711)

With regards to "On the gripping hand", I think you are confusing Larry Niven with Asimov...

Re:That is no prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680641)

Ignorance breeds hatred, creating conflicts. Knowledge can reduce hatred, nullifying the conflicts. Knowledge can also increase the damage inflicted by the aggressors. The question is, will introducing knowledge into the system calm the aggression in time to avoid the increased damage, or will the immediate increase in damage nullify any benefits of increased knowledge?

Re:That is no prediction (1)

siddesu (698447) | about 2 years ago | (#40680721)

Depends on the distribution. I'd venture a guess that if the process of distribution creates large asymmetries, more people will be cheated and that will create a stronger perception of the "system" being dishonest and more drive for aggression. If the process removes asymmetries, and people are able to deal with each other honestly, then that source of conflict would be resolved, and one will have to only deal with the various historical and accidental biases. Which may be very significant ;)

Macro versus Micro (3, Informative)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#40680279)

Predicting what a group of people will do is fairly easy; Determining what a particular member of that group will do is very hard. So it can't predict who will attack; It might be able to tell you where though, and possibly when.

Re:Macro versus Micro (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680325)

Or, more likely, assign probabilities for where and when.

Re:Macro versus Micro (2)

Narrowband (2602733) | about 2 years ago | (#40680367)

That was the point of "psychohistory." The idea was you can't predict the individuals, just the mass/net effect over time.

Re:Macro versus Micro (4, Interesting)

Teresita (982888) | about 2 years ago | (#40680421)

The concept was fascinating and original, but flawed. Asimov based psychohistory on thermodynamics, not chaos theory. Greg Bear tossed around a lot of technobabble in "Foundation and Chaos" but his understanding of the underlying theory was as simplistic as George Lucas and his "good force/dark force" dualism. If Asimov hadn't have contracted HIV from that blood transfusion, he would have had Seldon (in yet another prequel) speak of the Second Empire as a strange attractor, without focusing on the details that led up to it.

Re:Macro versus Micro (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | about 2 years ago | (#40680607)

The Reverend Dr. Thomas Bayes tells us that we can't do worse than chance if we have data, and sometimes we can do better.

Re:Macro versus Micro (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680611)

The concept was fascinating and original, but flawed. Asimov based psychohistory on thermodynamics, not chaos theory.

Asimov was a chemist, after all.

Re:Macro versus Micro (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 2 years ago | (#40680837)

Or, more likely, assign probabilities for where and when.

That was the point of "psychohistory." The idea was you can't predict the individuals, just the mass/net effect over time.

Of course, if all you can predict is probabilities you quickly diverge from reality.

The analogy between this and psychohistory is ridiculous.

Re:Macro versus Micro (0)

alen (225700) | about 2 years ago | (#40680381)

based on past history the germans should have gone to war with the french, the british or both by now. it's been almost 70 years since the last of their wars. a record over the last 1000 years

Re:Macro versus Micro (2)

Greyfox (87712) | about 2 years ago | (#40680435)

I expect them to "foreclose" on Greece any minute now. Maybe they're waiting until they can get a Greece/Spain/Italy/Portugal package deal...

Re:Macro versus Micro (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 2 years ago | (#40680857)

I expect them to "foreclose" on Greece any minute now. Maybe they're waiting until they can get a Greece/Spain/Italy/Portugal package deal...

I read some analysis that said the whole Euro crisis is because they accepted countries that had a long track record of not following the rules that the Union required, and that the reason for the "accept everybody" mentality was that the whole thing was driven by the post-Berlin-Wall German leaders to show everyone that they were going to be an integrated part of Europe and not start any more debilitating wars.

Re:Macro versus Micro (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680471)

Perhaps the World Cup is serving as some sort of proxy.

Re:Macro versus Micro (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 2 years ago | (#40680569)

I'd argue against that. Each conflict between the German peoples and France, even before Unification was more destructive than the last. Just look at the Napoleonic Wars to the Franco-Prussian War to the First World War to the Second World War. Each conflict more destructive than the last. Even as far back as the Congress of Vienna, there. Was recognition that the only long lasting solution was greater economic interdependence between France and Germany. What has happened since WWII is exactly that; a close economic union with strong political overtones. In fact, I'd say the Euro currency crisis, one way or another, is ultimately going to lead to a permanent Franco-German political union.

Re:Macro versus Micro (4, Funny)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#40680847)

A permanent Franco-German political union called,,,wait for it,,,Germany.

Re:Macro versus Micro (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 2 years ago | (#40680897)

based on past history the germans should have gone to war with the french, the british or both by now. it's been almost 70 years since the last of their wars. a record over the last 1000 years

Of course, "Germany" hasn't existed but about a century and a half.

An interesting thing, some Allied general looked at the terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and remarked, "That's not a treaty, that's terms for a 20-year cease fire."

If Germans ever develop a revanchist attitude toward the territory they've now lost in *two* world wars, there will be trouble. But the risk is probably far lower, since the partition allowed time for a couple of generations to die off. The fuel for what happened in the '30s was a generation of unemployed veterans who felt screwed by the terms of the "armistice".

Re:Macro versus Micro (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680485)

Predicting what a group of people will do is fairly easy

Yeah, cause we've been sooo great at predicting election outcomes.

Not a very good prediction (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680291)

Let's see, combine sparsely populated mountainous terrain with few population centers and limited travel routes between them, right next to a country instigating most of the violence.

Ain't hard to predict where future violence will happen.

It can't be reality now that you published it. (2, Interesting)

Aristos Mazer (181252) | about 2 years ago | (#40680323)

The first rule of Asimov's psychohistory is that you cannot tell the people you're monitoring that psychohistory exists. So publishing this has now invalidated the possiblity, showing yet another example of a headline that is a question to which the answer is, "no."

Re:It can't be reality now that you published it. (3, Funny)

arthurpaliden (939626) | about 2 years ago | (#40680341)

No that was "Fight Club".

Re:It can't be reality now that you published it. (3, Informative)

Isaac Remuant (1891806) | about 2 years ago | (#40680619)

To be fair, the citizens of Foundation knew about psycho-history and that they were destined to succeed (Hari Seldon's messages emphasized this aspect in every crisis message). The thing that needed to be kept from them was how the science actually worked so updated predictions wouldn't modify the large plan. In the meantime, the second foundation would be secretly checking that there were no deviations.

As the data we can store about are lives, systems and connections grows in volume and richness, these kind of statistical analysis can prove quite useful.

Re:It can't be reality now that you published it. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40681057)

Forget foreign countries. Right here at home we have flash mobs that roam around in gangs and burglarize legitimate businesses. Lets see them stop that! More recently a gang of 40 of them ransacked a Wal - Mart. Let psychohistory work on that without extreme birth control measures and cutting off welfare.

What's the stat here? (1)

cultiv8 (1660093) | about 2 years ago | (#40680329)

Kinda interesting application of statistics for the social science (if there is such a thing) to the intertubes. If I was to guess, probably some type of hierarchical linear modeling [wikipedia.org] with dates and locations as factors. Easy schmeezy, but interesting none-the-less.

And by "simple code to extract dates and locations", I'm sure they meant regex [xkcd.com] .

Re:What's the stat here? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 2 years ago | (#40680643)

You have the public stats of groups and regions supported by Pakistan, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, links to MI6/SAS/CIA and warlords, US protected drug growers/exporters.
Thats the public face of the region.
Then you have that strange http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunduz_airlift [wikipedia.org] event that shows the world the reality of what the US is really doing.
What can the US do now? Follow a MI6 vision of small drug growing areas dependant on outside help but stable enough to hold local "elections"?
The Soviet idea of holding a country for a few generations of education so that by default everybody is born into a new system?
The CIA backed strong leader?
To counter this you have Ireland, Algeria, parts of South America, South Africa - holding a country is hard work.
The US seems to have made up some Boar War/census approach - work out what district/city/town/village/street/home is going to be difficult and night raid them until they are less difficult.... i.e. newspeak targeting is a cute "psychohistory' and "night raid" is a local death squad. More drones are great too.

It's only temporary (5, Interesting)

Narrowband (2602733) | about 2 years ago | (#40680351)

Even in Asimov's world, psychohistory only works on groups that don't practice psychohistory themselves. Harry Seldon only kept things from going off the rails by making the science die out, and by starting a Second Foundation of telepaths.

Once someone starts making predictions from data aggregation more effective, the race will be on to duplicate or improve on it, and then nobody's prediction algorithms will work.

Almost sounds like someone should write a dystopian Foundation book, where the mathematicians race to predict each others' predictive abilities (and of course, stop them!)

Re:It's only temporary (5, Insightful)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#40680397)

Sounds like algorithmic trading.

Re:It's only temporary (5, Interesting)

Robotbeat (461248) | about 2 years ago | (#40680579)

Sounds like algorithmic trading.

That's EXACTLY, EXACTLY what I was thinking. We've solved a lot of the secrets of the atom (and seemed to decide mostly as a society that we don't want to harness that power), the two great superpowers have essentially made peace (superpower defined as a great power that can project regional-great-power-level globally... something that China will not be capable of for decades, hemmed in as they are on all sides by powerful rivals), money for "big science" has started to dry up (partly because of "starve the beast" politics starving the US of greatness, partly by the fact the Cold War is over), and we've just found the Higgs, basically confirming the Standard Model. So, what do we do? Well, theoretical physicists turn out to be really good at modeling arcane, abstract things. They've been moving en masse (remember, they're still a tiny group compared to all the MBAs out there) into quantitative finance. A lot of technology that once went to building faster and faster supercomputers (such as interconnect technology similar to Infiniband) is now being used to reduce latencies for financial transactions, where nanoseconds matter.

And while I've often felt pretty skeptical (as a graduate student physicist myself) about the purpose of string theory, a theoretical physicist-turned quant said, "It turns out that string theory is useful in valuing mortgage backed securities."

Somewhat unlike physical laws, the nature of financial systems changes constantly, so you have to redo your models (not just the constants in your models, but the models themselves) quite often, meaning endless job security for these physicist quants. And we're talking about the world's economy, meaning the potential profits aren't marginal, like they might be for designing a slightly more efficient laser or semiconductor, but is literally all the liquid or semiliquid assets in the world. After the end of the Cold War, physicists have found a way to be indispensable again.

It's an arms race of quantitative finance going on out there. Personally, I think it's unsustainable and will eventually result in an enormous clampdown as we have more flash-crashes or something unforeseen, but even then, there will still be a market for quantitive finance as long as there is money.

Re:It's only temporary (2)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#40680807)

I think it will eventually kill non algorithmic speculation. Then they will only have each other to feed on.

It's much harder to model investments. Long term it's more about having the information or not. losing 1/4 penny per trade isn't a huge deal if you stay in positions for months at least.

Speculation is a basic market distorting problem.

On your post: I've worked with a bunch of underemployed physicists on utility system models. It must have sucked reporting to an engineer who wasn't even a PhD. I called them 'doctor' a lot to cut the sting.

Re:It's only temporary (1)

Isaac Remuant (1891806) | about 2 years ago | (#40680645)

Exactly.

I had an interesting chat about how economy is taught and this popped out. Having a science where the mere prediction of an outcome might influence that outcome makes it absolutely interesting and quite chaotic.

Re:It's only temporary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680835)

Once someone starts making predictions from data aggregation more effective, the race will be on to duplicate or improve on it, and then nobody's prediction algorithms will work.

Welcome to the stock markets for the past 20 odd years (but more specifically, the last 8 or so).

Its already been done (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40681119)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychohistorical_Crisis

This book is exactly what that is about, and its pretty damn good.

Mull (1)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about 2 years ago | (#40680357)

Wait until the Mull shows up and screws everything up.

Re:Mull (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680383)

With his secret weapon, hot cider.

Oh, wait, you mean the Mule?

Re:Mull (1)

lennier (44736) | about 2 years ago | (#40680851)

With his secret weapon, hot cider.

No, he's from Kintyre.

(oh mist rolling in from the sea)

Re:Mull (2)

Teresita (982888) | about 2 years ago | (#40680655)

mv /home/* /dev/mule

Hey Daneel (1)

Uncle Wiggin (932944) | about 2 years ago | (#40680365)

You reading this ?

Re:Hey Daneel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680513)

Like he'd tell YOU, Speaker.

Re:Hey Daneel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40681149)

No, but Betteridge is.

Not a prediction (5, Interesting)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#40680431)

This is model building, not prediction. They tried to find a model that can calculate the events of 2010 based on data from 2009. This may sound like prediction, but the important thing is that the researchers started this after the events the model "predicted" happened. Thus, they were able to tweak their models to fit reality. This is not a bad thing, that's how you create working models, but a prediction is a statement about things in the future. They only made predictions now that they have published their results, and whether they are right or not remains to be seen.

Re:Not a prediction (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680647)

No, actually it is a bad thing. It is not how you create working models. That's how you create models that seem to work over a limited data set and fail miserably in the end. You can build a model that calculates events in 2010 based on data from 2009 for almost anything you choose. Relationship between horse races and stock prices, rainfall in Bolivia and ice cream sales in Boston, you name it. If you "tune" the model enough you may get startlingly accurate results. They won't be worth a crap in 2011 however. If you use slightly less ridiculous associations, the odds are you will get some sort of correlation in 2011, but you might get none in 2012.

  Until you actually model the underlying system you are just making crap up.

Besides, it's been a while since I read any Foundation books, but wasn't it eventually revealed that Psychohistory was a smokescreen and the Foundation had been manipulating things to fit their predictions all along?

Re:Not a prediction (2)

Teresita (982888) | about 2 years ago | (#40680717)

The original Trilogy ended with the Second Foundation firmly in the ascendant, and the Plan intact, but the Encyclopedia a sham. Then in 1982 Asimov threw a monkey wrench in the works when Golan Trevise chose for "Gaia" and Psychohistory was deprecated in favor of Galaxia and it was the Seldon Plan that was a sham. Then David Brin, in "Foundation's Triumph" had the final word, when he asked Daneel if Galaxia would have need for an Encyclopedia Galactica. Daneel answered in the negative, and so Hari Seldon made him a friendly wager, that would not be settled until long after he died, that the Second Empire would still have an Encyclopedia Galactica, signifying that human will won through after all. And of course, every blurb from the Encyclopedia throughout the series has been from the edition published in 1054 of the Foundation Era, half a century after the Second Galactic Empire.

Re:Not a prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40681011)

And to reduce the models' complexity they engineered a virus to make humans responses more predictable...of course we use Fox News instead

The full paper ... (5, Informative)

bwoneill (1973028) | about 2 years ago | (#40680443)

for those who are interested. I'm looking forward to reading it this weekend.

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/07/11/1203177109 [pnas.org]

Re:The full paper ... (1)

siddesu (698447) | about 2 years ago | (#40680791)

Thanks.

Psychohistory (5, Interesting)

br00tus (528477) | about 2 years ago | (#40680447)

Most modern Americans are unaware of the worldwide ideological debates of the early 20th century, and thus they miss the boat on what psychohistory obviously is. From a variety of things, including knowing Asimov's involvement with the Futurians in the 1930s, it's obvious that psychohistory is a parody of the Marxist conception of historical materialism [wikipedia.org] . In fact, to anyone familiar with Marxian historical materialism, it is incredibly easy to see that this is what is made reference to by psychohistory in the book - although in the book the technique has been further developed. I've always felt the Mule was a reference to charismatic leaders like Hitler and Mussolini - ugly at close view, but with the ability to persuade large masses of people nonetheless, something which Marx did not foresee. That's just my interpretation though, it's not completely clear. I think that Hari Seldon is a Karl Marx figure is even more of a sure bet than the Mule possibility. To people who don't know the ideas of the Futurians, or the ideological ideas within the milieu of left-wing Jewish intellectual circles in New York City in the 1930s, I think it is easy to miss a lot of the references being made.

Re:Psychohistory (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 2 years ago | (#40680587)

Considering Asimov's political leanings, I doubt it was meant as some sort of parody.

Re:Psychohistory (1)

Isaac Remuant (1891806) | about 2 years ago | (#40680659)

Thanks. Very interesting.

Re:Psychohistory (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680889)

What's more,I strongly suspect the findings in this analysis are a 'no shit!' type finding. on a broader scale, i would guess:

* they predict ebbs in the winter
* they predict surges in the summer, after poppy planting
* they predict surges again in the fall, after poppy harvest
* additional ebbs and flows are based on religious and cultural happenings
* anything not fitting the model is small enough to fit an outlier

With anything relatively binary and predictable, like social custom, it's fairly easy to model predictable results.

I go to work 5 days a week and take two off. every once in a while i'll work a weekend, and sometimes i'm sick. even the same, you can predict with over 90% certainty when and when i will not be working (and where it will be happening). the same goes for things like grocery shopping, knowing only a little information like when i get paid and where I live (with high certainty).

Re:Psychohistory (1)

JWW (79176) | about 2 years ago | (#40681001)

Very interesting idea. This would definitely explain why, upon reading the trilogy, I found psychohistory so distasteful.

I felt the Foundation trilogy was nowhere near as good as people made it out to be. The Dune books far far outpaced it in creating a complex galactic human empire.

but... (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#40680453)

But what if there's the triumvirate of the LA Times, Wikileaks, and Miss Cleo's pyschic hotline and one of them disagrees and files a minority report? Then how will anyone take this precrime prediction seriously? lol.

Re:but... (1)

Teresita (982888) | about 2 years ago | (#40680571)

How come Miss Cleo's Hotline needs me to STATE my Visa number and expiration date?

Butterfly effect. (3, Interesting)

bmo (77928) | about 2 years ago | (#40680469)

And there is no accounting in any of this for the actions of a dumbass Lance Corporal and his buddies inducing utter chaos into the system.

Scene: Djibouti near the Ethiopian Border. A bunch of Lance Corporal Marines and their CO.

"Stand watch here, and if anyone in Ethiopia comes over, you need to tell us and chase them back into Ethiopia. But under no circumstances are you to go into Ethiopia yourselves, not even if they're firing upon you. We mean it. Got that?"

"Sure thing"

Armed Ethiopians of doubtful allegiance cross the border into Djibouti
Lance corporals enthusiastically chase them back and cross into Ethiopia themselves while armed

Possible outcome that didn't happen:
"Daddy, what did you do in the Ethiopian War?"
"Our unit started it."

This may or may not be true. But I tell this story to make a point. Like a butterfly flapping its wings in the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone to trigger a hurricane, the action of a few dumbasses can trigger some serious shit. Since we're talking psychohistory here, Hari Seldon's Plan broke down under the chaos of the Mule. You can do all the modelling you want, but complex systems such as human societies and such, are prone to chaos introduced by small numbers of influential people, whether they know it or not and good luck trying to model *that* and predict on it.

--
BMO

Re:Butterfly effect. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680691)

The point is that you cannot predict what 1 unit will do but there is a point that with enough data on training and background you can predict that if you have X number of units protecting a border 1 of them will cross it the same as you cannot predict the next roll of a dice but you know eventually you will roll a 6

Re:Butterfly effect. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680797)

It is the difference of electrons. You cannot predict the path of an electron, it's wavefunction fuzzes out if you try. But give me 10^9 of them, and V=IR falls out.

Re:Butterfly effect. (1)

Teresita (982888) | about 2 years ago | (#40680887)

You cannot predict what one air molecule will do, but give me 10^9 of them and you still can't predict the weather out more than five days in advance. Asimov had a thousand years laid out like a movie script. And we, being young and naive, believed it.

Re:Butterfly effect. (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 2 years ago | (#40680813)

I would call it the blue butterfly effect, for PKDick's The lethal factor story Knowing the future and acting, without knowing the effect of that action could get strange results.

Re:Butterfly effect. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680917)

Bullshit. Humans are predictable morons. The chances of a unit doing something like in your example are well known and can be statistically modeled.

Sure, there will always be the "random" factor but 9 times out of 10 you can predict everything because humans are idiots and that can be forecast.

Re:Butterfly effect. (1)

monoqlith (610041) | about 2 years ago | (#40681013)

I agree. Group behavior is much simpler than individual behavior. When people act in a group they become extensions of a system. When they act alone, they must justify (and rationalize) their action, and this process can become very complicated. For example, the health care Supreme Court decision. In-Trade got it completely wrong. Our modelling systems, which are well applied to aggregate decision-making, failed when trying to predict the actions of a single wildcard sitting on the Supreme Court, who acted unpredictably.

Yeah this is working out great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680477)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHUB8HVKUJc

But I thought... (2)

TWX (665546) | about 2 years ago | (#40680507)

But I thought that The Mule left office in 2009...

Re:But I thought... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680675)

They always get replaced by another.

Re:But I thought... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680731)

He was replaced by The Jackass.

Hmm (1)

lightknight (213164) | about 2 years ago | (#40680583)

So the only way to change the world is to create someone who is unpredictable.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40680715)

Sounds like The Golden Path, eh?

Predicting the present (1)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | about 2 years ago | (#40680599)

Science fiction stories that appear to predict the future do so only because they're already true. They're not so much predictions about the future as caricatures of the present, the modern equivalent of Aesop's fables or the biblical parables. Big Brother already existed in some form in the Soviet Union when Orwell wrote 1984 (1948). Psychohistory is behavioral psychology given a statistical twist.

But (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 2 years ago | (#40680669)

Seldon's plan only workrd because he had the Second Foundation to keep the Empire on track.

Wait... (1)

Alimony Pakhdan (1855364) | about 2 years ago | (#40680751)

Is this saying that by studying history you can get an understanding of future events? HOW COME NO ONE EVER TOLD ME THIS BEFORE? (sorry)

See also _In the Country of the Blind_ (2)

steveha (103154) | about 2 years ago | (#40680789)

The idea of psychohistory was also explored by Michael F. Flynn in a novel called In the Country of the Blind; he didn't use that word, but rather the word "cliology". In that novel, cliology was independently invented by multiple people at approximately the same time, and there were several secret societies trying to use cliology to model what would happen and steer the course of history. But with multiple societies working at cross-purposes, things got a bit messy at times. (But at least one of the secret societies just used cliology to pick stocks and get fabulously wealthy.)

http://books.google.com/books/about/In_the_Country_of_the_Blind.html?id=xVqB5-DLRAgC [google.com]

It's not a perfect book, but some of the ideas are really interesting.

steveha

2012 (1)

cstacy (534252) | about 2 years ago | (#40680811)

Vote MULE in 2012!

modeling geography (1)

mandginguero (1435161) | about 2 years ago | (#40680997)

I think that there are certain behaviors that this version of psychohistory can more easily model. When looking at 2 dimensional maps, given features of the environment are represented on the map, then there are some unequivocal positions of power from which to stage incursions or defensive stands. If your model accounts for shifting boundaries of who controls what territory, it can predict in which direction the next skirmish may move, jumping between these strategic nodes. Now get it to try to predict something completely different, such as attendance at a sporting event. Maybe you could model the traffic congestion as a function of temporary population density....
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