Wednesday, April 27, 2011

So, how about psychohistory?

Asimov himself stated, if I recall correctly, that psychohistory was a dramatic device. But can we really predict human behavior?

The answer may be...better than Asimov predicted. Anyone not living under a rock is likely aware of the iPhone and Android privacy flack. Yes, your smartphone can accurately track your movements and, with the right software, your social interactions. Measurements of movement taken by the smartphone's internal motion sensor (the same mechanism that allows the screen to switch from portrait to landscape mode and is used in some smartphone games) have even diagnosed the flu...before any symptoms become obvious (likely, there will be an app for that soon...)

Belgium has a political crisis and can't choose a government. Smartphone data gathered by researchers using volunteers clearly show that this could have been predicted. Cell phone companies can use calling data to predict who is most likely to bail for another carrier and target them with ads and promotions. And you may recall another flack, a couple of years ago, when somebody wrote an app that allowed a smartphone to determine whether its holder was actively working at a manual job or...slacking off.

In Asimov's version of psychohistory, predicting the behavior of individuals was impossible. In a way which is disconcerting even to an unashamed advocate of technological progress such as myself, the real version may be able least for those of us who have our treasured habits and routines.

Here's one frightening cyberpunk possibility. Why have people vote...when their phone data predicts who they will vote for?

Original story here.