Supercomputers That Predict Human Behavior

There is factual news and then there is news presentation and nuances and even reporting tone. Simply through the choice of words, a news article intended to convey factual information, becomes a commentary and persuasion piece. For example, 2 stories on the same subject may have headlines that read, “Prime Minister Fights to Maintain Party Control” versus “Prime Minister’s Party Expected to Win Election”.

The reason this concept of journalistic influence is discussed first is due to the fact that the BBC announced a USA university computing group is developing a supercomputer that can predict world events by relying on published news stories. The computer is fed information from government websites including BBC Monitoring and Open Source Centre in addition to newspaper articles and online news outlet reports published in a variety of sources.

These two news monitoring agencies are fascinating because they collect multiple information sources on the same topic and then report the story and how the story is being told around the world. In other words, a whole new level of analysis is added to news reporting. This laid the foundation for the supercomputer concept.

The SGI Altix Supercomputer is named Nautilus and is programmed to identify a news report’s mood as positive or negative and to analyze the actual event. The computer then prepares graphs and statistical data on information interrelationships and makes predictions. The growing sense is that a computer like this may be able to do a better job of predicting future world events than traditional government intelligence. The computer can process more and faster data and does not have built-in bias. Evaluation of mood by the computer is called “automated sentiment mining” and relies on the descriptive words chosen like “nice” or “horrible”.

So far the computer has charted Egyptian and Libyan revolutions, the Arab Spring, possible Osama Bin Laden locations (before his death), the turning sentiment against Egyptian Mubarak despite President Obama’s supportive words and others. To date the analysis has been conducted on past events, but real time analysis will be the next stage.

The question in my mind is how the computer will handle reporting bias. One news agency may call a political uprising “necessary and enlightening” while another may call the same uprising as “tragic and unnecessary.”  Perhaps the sheer quantity of information creates statistical certainty. However, there will always be a need for sensible government leaders who know that computer analysis is only the first step in decision making. It is always possible the supercomputer may not be so “super” and will get it wrong.


The Borderless Act of 9-11

On 11 September 2011, as families continued their mourning over the loss of loved ones, the world recalled the attack on the World Trade Centers. Though the loss of lives and property was horrendous, I take heart from the fact the memorials are not limited to just the U.S. They were held around the world including in the United Kingdom. Memorials in the UK, France, Japan, Israel, Scotland and other countries held ceremonies on the tenth anniversary of the attack while dozens of other countries sent messages of sorrow and hope.

The fact is that the particular buildings chosen for attack, the World Trade Center, was a microcosm of the world. The act of destruction was borderless which was not what the attackers really intended. They were specifically attacking the U.S. and yet what they attacked was a group of people who represented some of the best and the brightest from around the world. The New York City victims were citizens of the United States, of course, but they also represented citizens from the United Kingdom, India, Japan, China, Canada, Guyana, Ecuador, Poland, Russia, Haiti, Cuba, Pakistan and dozens of others. Many of these people were young, educated and working on the very solutions we seek through Web Governments.

All the major religions were represented by those killed in the 9-11 attack also. There were Jewish, Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. The fact Muslims working and living in the United States were killed only reinforces the fact that the attackers were misguided and proved nothing by taking so many lives.

The UK Prince of Wales and Prime Minister David Cameron attended a London remembrance ceremony on the 10th anniversary of 9-11.  On the same day a Briton was killed by Somali pirates, a Bedfordshire raid uncovered a male slave trade, Sweden arrested terror suspects, and 80 US soldiers were injured in Afghanistan by a truck bomb set by insurgents.

Will we never learn? The answer, in my humble opinion, is that we will. I take hope from the message embedded in the 9-11 attack and the headlines. The message is that as a global community we still recognize the difference between morality from immorality, human rights and injustice, terrorism and peacefulness, and the need for war and the need to end unjust wars.

The 9-11 attack crossed borders, religions, ethnicities, gender and age. In that fact lies our hope as the upcoming generation that will have to work to insure such a senseless act does not happen again.

Recession Equalizing Child Poverty

Mention the topic of poverty it’s not countries like the UK and the USA that first come to mind. It’s the sad hungry children dealing with the famine in Somalia or the children living in fear in huts in the Republic of Congo as hoarding groups terrorize villages. I think about the over 4.9 million poor children working for a pittance in Bangladesh or Cape Verde where as much as 14 percent of the population is said to be ultra poor…not poor…ultra poor…and many are children.

Where does the UK and the USA fit into such a grim picture? Before answering that question, first get rid of any stereotypes you may hold on to about childhood poverty. The poor children are white, black and Asian and all ethnicities. Some of the poor families even have an income, but it’s not nearly enough to pay living expenses.

To answer the question about the UK and the USA, you only need to look at the statistics. In the UK, one out of three children lives in poverty. The government and foundations were making tremendous strides in reducing the number of poor children but mostly in workless families. Then the recession hit and the working families faced unemployment and rising prices and they are joining the ranks of the workless. Unfortunately, austerity cuts do not leave enough public money to address the growing child poverty rates.

Currently, the UK Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that between 2012-13 and 2013-14, absolute numbers of children sliding into poverty will be 100,000. If austerity measures are fully implemented and maintained, child poverty will grow by 200,000 in 2012-13 and by 300,000 in 2013-14. What is largely to blame? The answer is: The recession.

In the USA, a national study was released this week by the Annie E. Case Foundation. It reports that child poverty increased by 20 percent in the years between 2000 to 2009 and there are 14.7 million children living in poverty. One out of every five children is poor in the USA. An increase in poverty in 38 states over the last decade offset gains made in reducing child poverty levels before the year 2000.  What is largely to blame? The answer is: The recession.

Some people claim that you can’t compare poverty in Somalia to poverty in the UK or the USA. They say that only owning the clothes on your back cannot be compared to living in a country with so many social services. Yet in the richer countries, children continue to slide into poverty and hunger increases meaning social services are not reaching everyone as they should.

Here’s a fact: Hunger in the UK child’s stomach hurts as much as hunger in the stomach of the Somalian child. Here’s another fact: Lack of good nutrition for UK and US children will cause the same health conditions and disease as lack of nutrition for Somalian children.  The recession is equalizing poverty between the rich countries and the poorest of the poor countries.

No child should go to bed hungry at night. So…I look at the starving Somalian children and I see every child no matter where that child lives.

A Comment on Military Spending and Current Wars

As the global economy struggles to stay in recovery mode, you can’t help but wonder why so many countries are spending so much on military defence spending. Take note of the word “defence.”

Reductions are looming for the UK armed forces with 7,000 Army, 5,000 Royal Navy, and 5,000 RAF military personnel to be cut by the year 2015. Germany has passed a reform package that will reduce the Bundeswehr by 72,000 military personnel by 2015 which is a staggering 29 percent. Recently, the USA Congress passed a bill raising the debt ceiling and cutting expenses and the military defence budget is set to be reduced by as much as US$1 trillion over the next 10 years.

Those who support defence spending question these kinds of cuts for very obvious reasons. How are we going to defend ourselves with ancient creaking military equipment, reduced military staffing, and a dissatisfied military?

My question is: What exactly are we supposed to be defending?  With such massive budget cuts and military personnel reductions, is it safe to assume that the world is much safer post-recession than it was pre-recession?

It is interesting that the high levels of military spending were seen as justifiable before the recession, but now that government budgets are short funds, the military spending levels are seen as too high. The Europeans and the USA have gone a generation fighting only distant wars. The USA is particularly good at fighting wars using technology like drones, but it has not slowed down deaths by roadside IED devices. Afghanistan desert soldiers, a nation that has a natural life expectancy of 44 years and a literacy rate of 43.6 percent for men, have managed to send the Russians away in defeat and dragged a coalition war on for 10 years. As of 18, July 2011, the UK Defence Ministry reported 377 British forces have died while doing their duty in Afghanistan.

It is fitting that the economic crisis has forced European governments to cut their military budgets and personnel. What common sense and logic should have dictated, economic disaster has accomplished.  Europeans are not threatened by military action. Most do not perceive threats to their way of life either. Wars, if necessary at all, should be fought with technology in this day and age – drones, robots, computerised defence systems and so on. In this way, the stability of the global system is still kept safe but at reduced cost and loss of life.

Do you think this is naive? Consider the Stuxnet virus cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear plant that sabotaged its nuclear plant. And just recently, the computer security company reported that hacking attacks threatened the U.N secretariat, U.S. defence contractors, and even the U.S. Energy Department. The culprit? Though not named, leaks indicate it was China.

The war is on…

The best and brightest of our young scientists are our best and brightest hope that the recent cuts in military personnel and spending are justified by the coming technology.