Google And The Psychohistorians

The recent surge in popular uprisings in Middle Eastern countries caught US intelligence services by surprise, it seems. Is there a way that national political change could be detected in advance?

Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, an instructor at West Point, and Joshua Goldstein, a researcher at Princeton University, think they may have at least a partial solution. They are seeing if they can tap into the mood of the country by tracking what its citizens are searching for online. And the way they do that is by using the search engine Google Trends.

"What we did was a comparison of search terms over time starting from the moment the Internet was plugged back in by the government of Egypt on Jan. 25, and moving forward for a period of about 30 days to see what we could find out," Koehler-Derrick says. As he saw it, it was an electronic way of taking a very broad poll.

Technovelgy readers may recall an earlier article on unexpected uses for Google Trends; see this article on Google Flu Trends - Dr. Google Beats CDC.

This kind of information is central to creating a real science of psychohistory, Isaac Asimov's pseudoscience from his 1951 novel Foundation.


(Psychohistorian Hari Seldon)

PSYCHOHISTORY–...Gaal Dornick, using nonmathematical concepts, has defined psychohistory to be that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli....

... Implicit in all these definitions is the assumption that the human conglomerate being dealt with is sufficiently large for valid statistical treatment. The necessary size of such a conglomerate may be determined by Seldon's First Theorem which ... A further necessary assumption is that the human conglomerate be itself unaware of psychohistoric analysis in order that its reactions be truly random ...
(Read more about Asimov's psychohistory)

Via NPR.

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