What do the trails of data that we leave in the cloud say about us? If you followed them closely, what could you predict about future events, such as riots, pandemics, or consumption habits?
An experiment set to begin in April will use publicly accessible data (search queries, tweets, Wikipedia changes, etc.) to try to discern the laws that guide social phenomena, much in the same way that scientists have studied the laws that dictate physical and chemical phenomenon, according to a report by John Markoff in The New York Times. The effort is funded by Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (Iarpa), a branch of the office of the director of national intelligence. Its goal is to be able to "anticipate and/or detect significant societal events, such as political crises, humanitarian crises, mass violence, riots, mass migrations, disease outbreaks, economic instability, resource shortages, and responses to natural disasters."
The details of the project, called the Open Source Indicators Program, are still vague (IARPA officials would not respond to Markoff's inquiries), but even just the basic outline has raised concerns from privacy advocates and social scientists who don't want their work to be used for military purposes.