Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Program can predict where you will be in hundreds of days, even years into the future

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

When we lament our loss of privacy we frequently think of somebody or something, even just a computer algorithm, knowing where we have been and what we did. Or what we are doing. What could be more frightening than that? How about knowing what you'll be doing in the future.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A new program, not yet released to the public, claims to be able to predict where you'll be days, even years into the future. The programmers, Adam Sadilek from Google and John Krumm, from Microsoft, have worked together to build "Far Out" and present a paper showcasing their findings.

"Where are you going to be 285 days from now at 2PM?" their paper asks.

The paper, "Far Out: Predicting Long-Term Human Mobility" suggests that human behavior is very predictable and such behavior can be monitored to discern patterns and later to predict what people will do. Not just entire populations either. It can predict individual behavior.

The paper explains that a large amount of research has been done to predict where a person will be in the immediate future, but the further from the present, the more difficult the predictions become. So Sadilek and Krumm developed new techniques for predicting the future.

To aggregate enough data, they found volunteers who would wear a GPS monitor for an extended period of time. They also installed GPS devices on busses and other mass transit vehicles they frequently used. Over time, they aggregated about 150 million location points.

They could then see where people shopped, where they jogged, and at what times. They noticed some interesting patterns. For example, Tuesdays and Thursdays tend to be very similar for most people. Week after week, nothing really changes. People are creatures of habit.

Even people who felt they were highly spontaneous turned out to be rather predictable.

Based on the data, the program was designed to recognize patterns so it could make educated predictions about where a person would be in the future.

For example, it's likely that 285 days from now, you'll be at your desk, reading the news, just as you are doing at this moment, when you should be working.

Did you look over your shoulder for your boss just now?

The program isn't that predictive yet, but it may become so, with enough data and enough work.

Far Out, they say, will have a number of important uses. For example, it could help health officials predict the spread of diseases, help city planners predict the flow of traffic, and even help retailers to greet you with more relevant offers.

For example, they suggest the program could predict when you need a haircut, then offer you a coupon when you visit nearby.

They also said that the program can even handle when people change jobs or move to different locations. Far Out can adapt to the new data.

The program is not yet commercially available, and is only in the research and testing phase. However, it's easy to imagine that in the near future such programs will become ubiquitous. When that happens, our past behavior will become important because it will be used to predict our future.

Whether or not that is something we wish to see, is up to the individual, at least for now.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)