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September 11, 2011

Culturomics 2.0 could predict future Jasmine revolutions

Supercomputer estimated Osama Bin Laden's likely hiding place, claim scientists  

By CBR Staff Writer

Researchers in the US claim that a supercomputer used in their study could unveil clues about future revolutions and track people like Osama Bin Laden by using online news articles.

The BBC reported that the researchers from the University of Illinois charted the deteriorating national sentiment ahead of the recent revolutions in Libya and Egypt by using millions of articles. The scientists claim that the same analysis could be used to predict future events similar to the uprisings in the Arab countries.

Researchers also say that the Culturomics 2.0 system provided clues about Osama Bin Laden’s location.

The University of Illinois’ Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Science assistant director Kalev Leetaru said in the journal First Monday that news is increasingly being produced and consumed online to represent nearly half of the news monitored across the world today by Western intelligence agencies.

Recent literature has suggested that computational analysis of large text archives can yield novel insights to the functioning of society, including predicting future economic events, said Leetaru.

Leetaru added, "Applying tone and geographic analysis to a 30-year worldwide news archive, global news tone is found to have forecasted the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, including the removal of Egyptian President Mubarak, predicted the stability of Saudi Arabia (at least through May 2011), estimated Osama Bin Laden’s likely hiding place as a 200-kilometer radius in Northern Pakistan that includes Abbotabad, and offered a new look at the world’s cultural affiliations."

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The scientist continued: "Along the way, common assertions about the news, such as "news is becoming more negative" and "American news portrays a U.S.-centric view of the world" are found to have merit."

The scientist claimed that the Culturomics 2.0 approach introduced in the paper focuses on extending the traditional model by imbuing the system with higher-level knowledge about each word, specifically focusing on "news tone" and geographic location, given their importance to the understanding of news coverage.

"Translating textual geographic references into mappable coordinates and quantifying the latent ‘tone’ of news into computable numeric data permits an entirely new class of research questions to be explored via the news media not possible through the traditional frequency count approach." said Leetaru.

The scientists used an SGI Altix supercomputer, known as Nautilus, based at the University of Tennessee to carry out their study.

Nautilus generated graphs for different countries which experienced the ‘Arab Spring’.

Leetaruu said about Osama Bin Laden: "Indeed nearly 49 percent of all articles mentioning Bin Laden included a city in Pakistan and both Islamabad and Peshawar rank in the top five non-Western cities associated with him."

"The next four most closely associated countries are the United States (38 percent), Iran (33 percent), Afghanistan (28 percent), and the Philippines (20 percent). The city of his capture, Abbottabad, makes only a single appearance in an article on 16 April 2011 regarding the arrest of a terror suspect in the city (Mir, 2011). However, Abbottabad is less than 200 kilometers from both of two most popular cities associated with him, or roughly the radius between Islamabad and Peshawar."

"While far from a definitive lock on Bin Laden’s location, global news content would have suggested Northern Pakistan in a 200 km radius around Islamabad and Peshawar as his most likely location, and that he was nearly twice as likely to be making his residence in Pakistan as Afghanistan."

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