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Software Technology

Computer Software to Predict the Unpredictable 287

Amigan writes "Professor Jerzy Rozenblit at the University of Arizona was awarded $2.2Million to develop software to predict the unpredictable — specifically relating to volatile political and military situations." From the article: "The software will predict the actions of paramilitary groups, ethnic factions, terrorists and criminal groups, while aiding commanders in devising strategies for stabilizing areas before, during and after conflicts. It also will have many civilian applications in finance, law enforcement, epidemiology and the aftermath of natural disasters, such as hurricane Katrina."
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Computer Software to Predict the Unpredictable

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  • computer? (Score:5, Funny)

    by onemorehour ( 162028 ) * on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:14PM (#21018073)
    Sure, no problem. The software should work fine, as long as you find a computer powerful and irrational enough to run it [].
    • by schwaang ( 667808 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:20PM (#21018139)
      I'm absolutely certain such systems would be greeted as liberators from the drudgery of all the planning we do now for these complicated military and political situations.
    • When I read stuff like this it always amazes me that people actually think such things can be predicted for any degree of usefulness. Pick up a book on chaos theory and complex systems and you will see that for large interconnected systems a small change in the starting conditions results in a completely different result. No computer could have predicted 9/11 and yet it has had a massive change in how the world works - same thing if some crazy tomorrow assassinates the president.

      Even if we assume these r
      • Re:computer? (Score:5, Informative)

        by thrawn_aj ( 1073100 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @08:10PM (#21018747)
        Of course, you would also read that not all systems are inherently chaotic. It is by no means obvious that human society is complex enough to be called unpredictable in principle. People who tout their own "free will" should think long and hard about that and realize that simply being able to imagine a multitude of choices does not mean that each is likely to occur. Remember that a human being living in society has more in common with an electron BOUND in a crystal than a free electron. The former has several constraints while the latter is in principle unpredictable.

        Readers of Asimov will know the qualitative reasons for why such things as broad socio-economic-historical trends and the actions of large groups of people can in principle be made predictable. For a system to be chaotic, it must have a large PHASE SPACE of possibilities (physical size is not always important but it is significant). What matters is the degrees of freedom and how parts of the system are coupled to other parts. Do small perturbations in the system dissipate or do they spread? Modern society has evolved into a 2-phase system where it reacts to new perturbations by simply breaking them into two possibilities - this helps relieve tensions and most people get stuck in one of the two states. This has the rather fascinating effect of re-stabilizing the system despite the introduced disturbance.

        So, as the above example leads us to suspect, modern human societies are just not as complex as our egos would lead us to believe. There is strong coupling between its parts and few people stay undecided about issues - they simply get stuck orbiting one of two strong attractors in the space of possibilities and this serves to relieve any stress. In such a system of course, revolutions (in the sense of widely held beliefs changing within the lifetime of a single individual) simply cannot happen. At the worst, there might be a slow decay and unraveling of the social fabric. Barely noticeable.

        Equivalent arguments apply to the "free will" of individual human beings. Humans tend to congregate in packs - behaviorally, philosophically or otherwise. This strong tribal leaning that is presumably built into our genes ensures that most behavior patterns will be statistical in nature. Indeed, the actions of an individual can be simply predicted to a first approximation by merely qualitative means even in the absence of complete information by assuming rational behavior. A better approximation can be achieved by modeling the level of rationality of the individual and assigning probabilities based on that.

        While human beings may not be predictable in a strictly deductive sense, most people are (for better or for worse) rather mundane in terms of how eccentric they can be (in a way that actually affects other parts of society). This can hardly be a bad thing as the timescale of societal change must be greater than the lifetime of an individual for a society to be called "stable". If it is MUCH greater, we would call that society degenerate or decayed.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          You are, of course, presuming that Asimov was doing more than writing good FICTION. I sincerely doubt that any program will have any noticeable success in predicting anything, regardless of the wads of cash thrown at it to make it 'better'. Remember all the computers in the classroom priorities of the last few decades? How many of you used a computer in ANY bloody classroom that did not relate directly to the class? (ie- C+ programming {more likely FORTRAN}).
          • You are, of course, presuming that Asimov was doing more than writing good FICTION.

            Simply trying to save time by pointing readers to a good source for a feasibility analysis of psychohistory (the statistical prediction of future trends). Science fiction may be "just fiction" but in my experience, and in the hands of an honest author (which the good Doctor indubitably was), it offers excellent first order feasibility studies of speculative sciences.

            The program in the article may have limited success, but all I said in my original post was that it should, in principle, be possible to

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              I disagree. A chaos predictor cannot be more accurate than simple guessing, for it is attempting to predict chaotic events. Look at the political scene in the US; given the current climate everyone is attempting to say that the Democrats are going to take the election (and they might). It is just as likely that one of the Republicans will nose over the line (especially with the right third-party candidate). We know his system well and experts can only call a race with 50% accuracy, even with just two c
        • We already have companies that devote most of their energy to this. We call them marketing companies. They have a pretty good idea of how the average consumer (and an even better idea by demographic) will respond to a given stimulus. They also have a pretty good idea how well a product will sell in a given market. Companies do not spend billions of dollars per year on marketing without many facts to back it up. Kind of the same issue we have with Spammers and their Chums.

          I do not think the software wi

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by smellotron ( 1039250 )

          It is by no means obvious that human society is complex enough to be called unpredictable in principle... While human beings may not be predictable in a strictly deductive sense, most people are (for better or for worse) rather mundane in terms of how eccentric they can be (in a way that actually affects other parts of society).

          There's still the issue of dealing with the tail end of any distribution. I don't care about the 99.999% of people who, in the aggregate, fit a model. I care about that 0.001%

        • Your analysis seems valid, for situations that are relatively stable. For system which are in flux (such as in a combat area), reality is substantially more fluid than, say, the traffic patterns in Queens.

          It takes events like 9/11, or the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, to adjust the normal state of affairs. In a flux situation, small actions (and individual actors) can cause tremendous instability...or crystalization, depending.
      • The main variables are specificity and time frame, if you give a fuzzy enough prediction over a long enough time frame it will happen, guaranteed. The key that you are alluding to here is getting it accurate enough to be useful while in a time frame that is reasonable to work with.

        There is some degree of logic in a system like this, just not in the predictive sense. A system like this is much better used to make assessments of what conditions are like. As in what outcomes are favored by a change in conditio
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by cheater512 ( 783349 )
        Predicting especially the US Army isnt terribly difficult.
        You could do it with a switch:

        switch (case)
    • I'll remain a skeptic until I see reliable weather prediction at least.
  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by 427_ci_505 ( 1009677 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:15PM (#21018081)
    Didn't see that one coming.
    • Didn't see that one coming.

      I'm sure the computer did.
    • by thewils ( 463314 )
      I don't blame you. If it is unpredictable then by definition it can't be predicted, the best you could manage would be an educated guess. I guess they can really only predict the stuff that's just mindbogglingly difficult to predict.

      If it really can predict the unpredictable, let's see it try to predict which atom in a radioactive element is going to decay next. Then I'd be impressed.
    • Can it predict this response?

      Okay, I guess it is a predictable response, but can it predict this banana pants?
  • bullshit flag (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:16PM (#21018097)
    Go ahead and predict the weather for a week. I will be impressed.

    Predict it for 2 weeks, I will blow you.

    You cannot predict something with so many variables that you don't understand. You certainly cannot do it regarding how people will react.

    • I once heard that if you predict the weather tomorrow will be the same as today, you'll be right more often than most meteorologists.

      So lets start now on my free blowjob. How many chances do I get? ;)
    • Re:bullshit flag (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zeromorph ( 1009305 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @08:09PM (#21018739)

      bullshit flag

      I second that.

      The whole article is totally bizarre and buzzword populated begging for attention. Not only will it predict the actions of nearly every bunch of lunatics it will also "display data in graphical, 3-D and other forms that can be quickly grasped".

      Please! We have a highly complex situation, with a lot of different agents and a long genesis, and literally millions of different contextual factors influencing the situation and they take all this munch and crunch it a little with fancy buzzword concepts and put it in a pie chart?

      This is an insultingly brazen self-adulation.

      While the software ultimately could save millions of lives,...

      Ok, I changed my mind I'm gonna die laughing.

    • Yes you can.
      The weather and radioactive decay are random events.
      an individual is difficult to predict; large groups, however, are rather predictable.
      The whole issue with using humans to predict political situations is that humans are biased.
      The computer is not. Even with common polls showing the election one way ENIAC predicted the presidential election correctly for the expected loser.
    • What do you look like? On second thought, who cares?
    • You don't get it (Score:4, Insightful)

      by passthecrackpipe ( 598773 ) * <> on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @08:34PM (#21019021)
      It isn't about actually being able to predict anything useful. Think of it like this. As a "World Leader" [sic], how much would you spend on the Ultimate Cop-Out(tm)? yeah a few million is a *bargain* for what this thing can do. None of the people involved in this project are actually interested in the predictions. What they are interested in is that the *next* time they have a royal screw up, they can say: "well, its unfortunate this happened, but you see, we have really smart supercomputer. It has 3-D and stuff. And it tells us what is most likely to happen. This wasn't on the list. We only have limited resources, and this is the best way to focus those resources where they are most likely to be doing us good".

      Its the ultimate repudiation. As far as I can predict, they will spend lots and lots more money on this, get some buddies in on the gravy train somewhere to boot, and they still got themselves a bargain.
    • Partially cloudy, scattered showers on the windward side, highs in the mid 80s. I live in Hawaii, 90% of the time weathermen who live hear have it easy.
    • I suspect that what this software can predict is not so much like the weather as it is like the climate.
  • by lennier ( 44736 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:18PM (#21018119) Homepage
    The Asymmetric Threat Response and Analysis Project, known as ATRAP, is a massively complex set of computer algorithms (mathematical procedures) that sift through millions of pieces of data.

    They come right out and say it...
  • Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <`RealityMaster101' `at' `'> on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:19PM (#21018129) Homepage Journal

    Apparently there are those that have forgotten the old computer law of "Garbage In, Garbage Out". Even if we had a perfect model to predict these sort of things, we don't have any way of supplying the required data to model the prediction. What's the computer going to do, go undercover in secret groups? Read the web sites? Listen to radio chatter and analyze their conversations?

    Maybe someday when we have a real science of A.I. something like this might be possible, but all it shows is that this university professor will happily take government money for delivering absolutely nothing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Maybe someday when we have a real science of A.I. something like this might be possible, but all it shows is that this university professor will happily take government money for delivering absolutely nothing.
      He has already perfected the software and is using it to game the grant system.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jeremi ( 14640 )
      Apparently there are those that have forgotten the old computer law of "Garbage In, Garbage Out" [...] all it shows is that this university professor will happily take government money for delivering absolutely nothing.

      Unless, of course, garbage is what they are after. Last time it was "Curveball" that gave them the necessary disinformation to justify a war; next time they won't even need to bother with informants, they'll just look to their computer program to tell them an invasion is necessary. Accuracy

    • by 56 ( 527333 )
      Even if this were to work (which is by no means a given), people will begin to take its predictions into account in order to do the unexpected. Truly a preposterous endeavor.
    • by syrinje ( 781614 )
      While a bad use of tax-payer money, delivering nothing is the benign outcome of this whole fiasco - if they did deliver a half-assed electronic magic 8-ball of sorts. That would be a Really Bad Thing (TM). I shudder to think of the consequences of a government making choices on use of peoples lives and deployment of deadly force based on this.

      OF course, no doubt, by some weird law of self-fulfilling prophecies - it will predict the end of the world and it shall be so!

    • Apparently there are those that have forgotten the old computer law of "Garbage In, Garbage Out". Even if we had a perfect model to predict these sort of things, we don't have any way of supplying the required data to model the prediction. What's the computer going to do, go undercover in secret groups? Read the web sites? Listen to radio chatter and analyze their conversations?

      I think it's safe to say that a professor remembers something from Comp Sci 101. The article makes it difficult to know what they are truly doing, but their use of genetic algorithms and game theory indicates that they are hardly trying to build a "perfect" prediction model. I don't understand what your phrase "model the prediction" means, but it seems you are concerned about lack of data. The article specifically mentioned that there is way too much data for any individual or team of individuals to compl

      • by Surt ( 22457 )
        If you think it's safe to say that a professor remembers something from Comp Sci 101, man did you ever choose the right university.
      • I don't understand what your phrase "model the prediction" means, but it seems you are concerned about lack of data. The article specifically mentioned that there is way too much data for any individual or team of individuals to completely analyze.

        To make a prediction about the real world, you have to model reality. Sure, there is a "lot of data", but that doesn't mean that 1) the data is useful, or 2) the useful data can be interpreted by a computer.

        I think it's reasonable to assume that the inputs

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Good point. The Brits lived in India, their kids grew up there, learned the language and knew what was going on. With a more more recent empire it's fly in, fly out, rely on whatever a translator says and try to work out from photos whatever is going on. There is also the increasingly common problem of things like fake intelligence scripted by a PR company getting mixed in with the real stuff (sixteen thousand plus WMD sites remember) and all the futile horror of people that think they will be murdered i
  • 'Predict' has a specific meaning in statistics and machine learning. It definitely does *not* mean accurately predicting outcomes in every situation. Not to belittle this group's work, because it is no doubt important and complicated, but it is not going to magically 'predict the unpredictable'.
    • Indeed. One can view playing the lottery as `predicting'. As with any other `predicting', there's a probability of being wrong...
    • That's a good comment. However, a lot of machine learning work looks like predicting the unpredictable to the uninitiate. I have no doubt that the problem is approachable theoretically, or that it wouldn't be useful - if-, and that's a big if in my mind, it is practically achievable.

      As you note, the probable output wouldn't be in the form of "this is going to happen", but rather "this outcome is more likely than that outcome", to the degree of some percentage probability. That is certainly a useful
  • Reason (Score:5, Funny)

    by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:23PM (#21018187)
    From "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency," by Douglas Adams,
    New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

    "Well," he said, "it's to do with the project which first made the software incarnation of the company profitable. It was called Reason, and in its own way it was sensational."

    "What was it?"

    "Well, it was a kind of back-to-front program. It's funny how many of the best ideas are just an old idea back-to-front. You see, there have already been several programs written that help you make decisions by properly ordering and analysing all the relevant facts.... The drawback with these is that the decision which all the properly ordered and analyzed facts point to is not necessarily the one you want.

    "... Gordon's great insight was to design a program which allowed you to specify in advance what decision you wished it to reach, and only then to give it all the facts. The program's task, ... was simply to construct a plausible series of logical-sounding steps to connect the premises with the conclusion." ....

    "Heavens. And did the program sell very well?"

    "No, we never sold a single copy.... The entire project was bought up, lock, stock, and barrel, by the Pentagon. The deal put WayForward on a very sound financial foundation. Its moral foundation, on the other hand, is not something I would want to trust my weight to. I've recently been analyzing a lot of the arguments put forward in favor of the Star Wars project, and if you know what you're looking for, the pattern of the algorithms is very clear.

    "So much so, in fact, that looking at Pentagon policies over the last couple of years I think I can be fairly sure that the US Navy is using version 2.00 of the program, while the Air Force for some reason only has the beta-test version of 1.5. Odd, that."
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:25PM (#21018209)
    ...the program will still fail to predict it. By definition.

    The article (as would be unsurprising even from the professional press, and is less surprising from what seems to be a school newspaper of the school employing the professor getting the grant) seems to be a very uncritical regurgitation of an extraordinarily puffed-up press release that seems to suggest that the professor has gotten a grant to develop something that already exist and presently has the capacities sought by the grant. Sometimes. Maybe. Really, the shifting use of verb tenses gave me a kind of mental whiplash trying to read it.

    Also, I think that while this may be useful, the danger of overreliance on a system where quite literally no one using it understands how factors are really being used to generate outcome predictions are immense; if you get something that works well predictively at all, it will likely be prone to fail wildly if any of the many factors it is adapted to based on the historical data used to train it shift. Unfortunately, it is quite likely that the particular sensitivities will be opaque, and thus no one is likely to know when it is likely to fail. This is rather distinct from conventional analysis which, even though it may fail in many circumstances, where it is rigorous analysis and not just guesswork to start with, its assumptions are transparent and its weaknesses and vulnerabilities in application to particular situations can also be evaluated.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by orkysoft ( 93727 )

      ...the program will still fail to predict it. By definition.

      But it's magic! It's a computer program, which is magic to most people.

      • Ah well. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Colin Smith ( 2679 )
        You see.

        People will trust the answer a bit of software gives them when they won't trust exactly the same answer, calculated in exactly the same way but presented by the same expert who wrote the software in the first place...

        Particularly if the software system cost 8+ figures.
  • by Sunshinerat ( 1114191 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:26PM (#21018229)

    ..when Duke Nukem Forever will be released.

    And to be honest, this alone is worth the expense.

    • by Ruie ( 30480 )

      We will finally know... ..when Duke Nukem Forever will be released.

      Remember the proof that one cannot decide in advance whether a given algorithm will finish in finite time ? There was a reason they put "Forever" in the title..

  • someone predicted this, i'm sure of it
  • Trantor (Score:2, Insightful)

    You just need to find one single planetary system complex enough, some basic axioms, a lot of spare mathematicians and Hari Seldon to come up with a solution for predicting the unpredictable, as long as the unpredictable isn't the Mule.
  • It was accurate an astonishing 1 in every 165 million times. I used a brute force decryption strategy.
  • They did this in war games and I hope that this is not hooked up to any missile launch systems and they better also have tic tack toe on there as well with a mode where the system can play it self.

    The only winning move is not to play how about a good game of chess?
  • To that magical software that was supposed to guess if a movie will be a box-office homerun or not. It was supposed to turn the industry around and make poorly performing movies part of the past.

    Well, so much for this one as well.
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
      To that magical software that was supposed to guess if a movie will be a box-office homerun or not. It was supposed to turn the industry around and make poorly performing movies part of the past.

            Seems to me like they are using it. The software keeps predicting more income by making sequels than original movies...
    • There have been attempts to do that in multiple fields, including Marketing "Science". However, if you're going to bet on a system that can predict box office sales, I'd put my money on a computer science approach. Here's an interesting paper from 2006: Predicting movie sales from blogger sentiment. []
  • Let's see them predict the outcome of a series of discrete random events with a statistically significant greater success rate than the mathematical probabilities of the events would suggest.
  • I'll sell them a dartboard for only $1 million!
  • And he called it "psycho history." The way he describes it, it almost sounds plausible as long as you have trillions of people, and they don't know what your predictions are.
  • You create a really nice UI for a magic '8' Ball simulator... and call it a day before the brewskies warm up!
  • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:55PM (#21018591)
    "Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this, the peak of your civilization. I say your civilization because as soon as we started thinking for you it really became our civilization which is of course what this is all about..."

    -- Agent Smith
  • by meburke ( 736645 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @07:58PM (#21018631)
    Chinese researchers today announced $10.2 million (USD) funding for a system to predict the outcomes of unpredictable outcomes predicted and influenced by US ATRAP computing, with the goal of further influencing the the outcomes to produce a balance-of-trade advantage for China and producing a complete domination of Taiwan...
    • was revealed that GALLUP and MORI are to beta-test the new product when it comes out, as it can't be any less accurate than surveying one ten-thousandth of the population on dubiously-phrased questions. Meanwhile, speculation that ATRAP will replace the current ballistic missile shield by printing out sufficient quantities of meaningless data to trap the missiles in the world's largest paper jam have been denied by Admiral Poindexter.
  • That would be a better title for the article.

    In a perfect world, one could get enough data points to do such a thing.

    We don't live in that world.
  • It's based on the "Infinite Improbability Engine (tm)", a device no galactic hitchhiker should be without...

    You simply analyze the current level of improbability, determine outcomes of like chance, and match significant variables.

    It also makes a great "What if analyzer". At 15 to 234682894645 Hillary Clinton becomes the next Pope, at 73 to 23456516025806291678675351675702386 Pigs do fly, at 8 to 65416944165465205141982578424752139841454586232211 Hell freezes completely over, and at 11 to 21545632569865587

  • One step closer to understanding women?
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @08:19PM (#21018843) Journal
    For anybody who wants a little more info than is present in the popular-press summary, here's a couple of conference papers from Rozenblit's group on using coevolution and genetic algorithms to analyze/visualize military scenarios. I think they might require institutional subscriptions to see the full PDF, but I've pasted the abstracts below.

    A coevolutionary approach to course of action generation and visualization in multi-sided conflicts []

    The current state of military operations includes many stability and support (SASO), multi-sided conflicts. The research presented in this paper attempts to address this complex environment by creating a SASO simulation, coevolutionary generation of courses-of-actions (COAs) for each side, and visualization tools for analysis of the resulting COAs. The SASO simulation is significantly different from previous systems because it incorporates non-conventional warfare units such as terrorists and media. The coevolution algorithm is different because it allows all sides of the conflict to evolve their COAs. The visualization tools are important because SASO doctrine is not as well developed as conventional warfare doctrine. Therefore, visual analysis and understanding of a system that is not well defined provides insight for future modeling and verification.

    Modeling and simulation of stability and support operations (SASO) []

    Stability and support operations (SASO) are becoming increasingly important in modern military operations. Conflicts are no longer comprised solely of two opposing sides engaged in combat on an open battlefield. Instead, they are more likely to involve groups sharing various alliances and relationships each pursuing a range of different goals. The Sheherazade SASO wargaming engine presented here: a) incorporates subjective criteria for scoring course of action (COA) success such as the animosity between factions and attitudes of locales, b) uses nontraditional units such as refugees, media and information operators, and c) employs a coevolutionary genetic algorithm in modeling the dynamics of the complex multisided simulation for generating COAs. This paper outlines our approach towards the development of a wargaming model that handles the more complex and computationally demanding arena of SASO.
  • by MrCopilot ( 871878 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @08:28PM (#21018949) Homepage Journal
    Professor Jerzy Rozenblit,

    Be advised the Foundation has Patents covering the areas of study and interest.

    H. Seldon

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @08:30PM (#21018969) Homepage
    ...using a computer model is like driving by looking out the rear view mirror. I bet after the first major miss, they'll claim to have added that to the model. Then the next big thing will add five new factors and make three others irrelevant. Computers can't predict what they don't know what means. I'd much rather take a well reasoned human analysis over that unique situation than trying to find patterns that are spurious at best and plain out wrong at worst.
  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <> on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @08:31PM (#21018985) Homepage Journal
    Welcome the flim flam predicting the unpredictable coding in a bunch of random number generating overlords.

    What a waste of 2 million bucks.
  • by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @08:35PM (#21019027)
    "...and the aftermath of natural disasters, such as Katrina."

    Dealing with the aftermath of Katrina wasn't a matter of applying rocket science. It was simply a matter of simple logistics and a government that gives a shit about people. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has shown time and again under this administration that it could care less for the lives of its citizens, let alone the citizens of other countries. These problems can't be fixed by software. They can only be fixed by real leadership, something the people of the U.S. haven't shown much interest in electing...

    It doesn't take software to predict that going into Iraq was a huge mistake. Just ask Chaney circa 1994 []. He knew it would be a major mistake, and he wasn't the only one. A lot of us were yelling and screaming to stop it before it started...

    Software can't predict the future nor can they predict what stupid leaders will do. On Sept 10th, could anyone (or more importantly, any software) predict what things would be like in this country today? Even remotely? The war in Iraq, a country completely disconnected from 9/11. Guantanamo, spying on our citizens and other erosions of liberty... I doubt it. A single event and the responses by inept leadership led to a variety of disasters that nothing and nobody could have predicted.
  • unpossible? I can imagine the computer saying, "Insufficient data to arrive at a logical explanation."
    • I mean, can a computer predict how much toilet paper 25 different people will consume after eating at Taco Bell?

      Butt, a head start would be to print on each sheet "Did I predict the number of sheets and plies you just used? Call 0BADF00D 000hDW1PE"
      • by Surt ( 22457 )
        I'd be interested in knowing just how much toilet paper 25 people would be willing to consume as an alternative to eating at Taco Bell.
  • My best guess is that, with enough data and broad enough terms, some kind of vaguely accurate predictive "crowd behavior" model could be made. Better than nothing, but not very specific.

    There's already a lot of documentation on group/crowd behavior, and some particular people have been quite adept at "crowd control," which implies that there is a way to do it. Advertising firms sell their services based on the principle.

    The A to B part of it with regards to computer software is the hard sell.

    So... maybe, ma
  • Major: Sir, the computer has given us a plausible scenario for operation Sandy Whirlwind
    General: OK Major, lets see what this pile of junk has to say for itself
    Major: It says that we can overcome all undesirable outcomes by sending in CL22 using a classic scissor movement.
    General: Let me see that! How did the computer even know about CL22, our crack regiment of killer circus clowns! That's amazing!
    Major: There's more sir. It also talks about project CC.
    General: Project CC! The stealth car capable of carrying thousands of CL22 troops in a vehicle the same size as Robin Reliant? How did the computer even know about that project, it's only been discussed between myself and my 2 year old daughter!
    Major: This program is amazing sir. Have another star.
  • You can predict anything you want. You don't need a fancy computer to do that. Just flip a coin.

    Making accurate predictions is something else all together.
  • by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @09:32PM (#21019569) Homepage Journal
    ...good movie with Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman.

    Tell the future and then make it happen...

    But then there is the quantum physics problem of changing the outcome by observing it.

    At what point do you prove the software actually works in a manner that doesn't lend to the creation or alteration of what would have been had it not been predicted in the first place?

    Oh I know, 2.2 million to produce software to predict the future but nobody is allowed to see the results.

    Or this is where computer become smarter than humans by making humans not need to think for themselves...Hmmm, some already don't and they apparently have loads of money...
  • I thought that I was a pretty good proposal writer, but this guy has me nearly speechless with awe! I bow to the Master.
  • by DrBuzzo ( 913503 ) on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @10:02PM (#21019827) Homepage
    It sounds like this software is able to predict the probability of certain situations given variables of various social and societal factors. Doubtful it could be 100%, but it's akin to profiling or sociology. You can make some good educated guesses based on known information and previous patterns.

    If it could predict what the weather will be on this day in four years or which atoms of uranium will decay then i'll call it "unpredictable" The headline is missleading.
  • I'm guessing... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by qzulla ( 600807 ) <> on Wednesday October 17, 2007 @10:23PM (#21020011)
    They never heard of the chaos theory.

      Deep Blue, the first computer program to beat a world chess champion, is an example of how ATRAP can respond to changing factors, Ten Eyck explained. "Every time its opponent made a move, Deep Blue recalculated all the possibilities and likely courses of action, eventually settling on the fittest move that would achieve its goal of winning the game."

    However, chess is not an exact analogy because only two players are involved and the end goal is for one player to win.

    In unstable areas, winning often means establishing an environment in which the factions co-exist in a win-win situation or at least in an equilibrium in which there are no rewards, and some penalties, for disturbing the status quo, Rozenblit said.

    "Deep Blue is a good analogy because it illustrates the complexity of the problems, but in chess you have a finite court and a well-defined set of operations," Rozenblit added. "Therefore, a move constitutes a valid move.

    But what we're dealing with now is a world with no rules, with infinite possibilities and moves that defy logic, such as total disregard for the basic instinct of self preservation."

    Or maybe they have but are ignoring the fact it cannot be predicted. I like the last graf. It kind of says it all.

    Oh well, good luck on that one.

  • 10 for i=1 to 4
    20 read a$
    30 print a$
    40 next i
    50 end
    60 data "You're not going to like it", "You're really not going to like it", 42, "I think the problem is you don't know the question."
  • The Asymmetric Threat Response and Analysis Project, known as ATRAP

    What is this, Fark?
  • The software will predict the actions of paramilitary groups, ethnic factions, terrorists and criminal groups, while aiding commanders in devising strategies for stabilizing areas before, during and after conflicts.

    I've got a simpler solution that can be implemented today. As a US citizen (which I am) I can realize that it's none of my goddamn business what other 'areas' do. OTOH, Katrina sucked. But I doubt any policy maker will listen to such software, because they barely listen to their constituents an

  • Music (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stooshie ( 993666 ) on Thursday October 18, 2007 @07:58AM (#21022957) Journal

    A nice analogy when people think computers can make decisions or have "Artificial Intelligence" of any merit.

    Pupil (Excited about AI):- I have just written a programme that writes music in the style of JS Bach.
    Tutor (Seen it all before):- Really? How does that work then?
    Pupil:- I programmed all of the known manuscripts by Bach and the computer uses that to write new compositions.
    Tutor:- Great, can it write in the style of Mozart?
    Pupil:- Sure, give me all the compositions by Mozart and I'll show you.
    Tutor:- You mis-understand, can it decide, of it's own volition, to write in the style of Mozart.
    Pupil:- Well, no it needs to base it's composition on something.
    Tutor:- It has the entire works of Bach, is that not enough?
    Pupil:- No, it needs the entire works of Mozart to write in the style of Mozart. Hell, even music students need to have heard Mozart in order to write in the style of Mozart.
    Tutor:- Oh, so how did Mozart do it then?

Real Programmers don't write in PL/I. PL/I is for programmers who can't decide whether to write in COBOL or FORTRAN.