Can a Supercomputer Predict a Revolution?

Not quite yet. But a new study suggests how it may one day be possible.

JOSHUA E. KEATING

On Dec. 6, 1941, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), a radio monitoring operation set up by the U.S. intelligence community and one of the earliest experiments in what it now called open-source intelligence, delivered its very first report, an analysis of Japanese media sentiment. The report noted that Japanese radio stations had sharply increased their level of criticism of the United States and dropped their calls for peace. The next day, Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Obviously, no amount of media monitoring would have revealed when and where the attack would take place (that’s what spies are for), but it’s certainly possible that with a better sense of the likelihood of an attack, U.S. forces might not have been caught quite so unawares. Some 70 years later, one computer scientist believes that a somewhat more ambitious version of the same type of news monitoring may soon be able to predict social upheavals and conflicts — such as the recent revolutions in the Arab world — with a remarkable degree of accuracy.

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