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Supercomputer helps predict human behaviour

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A recent research paper, first published in journal First Monthly, combines advanced supercomputing with a quarter-century of worldwide news to forecast and visualise human behaviour, from civil unrest to movemement of individuals. The paper, titled 'Culturomics 2.0: Forecasting Large-Scale Human Behaviour Using Global News Media Tone in Time and Space', uses the tone and location of news coverage from across the world to forecast country stability (including retroactively predicting the recent Arab Spring), estimate Osama Bin Laden’s final location as a 200km radius around Abbottabad, and uncover the six world civilisations of the global news media. The research also demonstrates that the news is indeed becoming more negative and even visualises global human societal conflict and cooperation over the past quarter century.

Using the large shared-memory supercomputer Nautilus, Kalev Leetaru of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign combined three massive news archives totalling more than 100 million articles worldwide to explore the global consciousness of the news media. The complete New York Times from 1945 to 2005, the unclassified edition of Summary of World Broadcasts from 1979 to 2010, and an archive of English-language Google News articles spanning 2006 to 2011 were used to capture a cross-section of the US media spanning half a century and the global media over a quarter-century.

Advanced tonal, geographic, and network analysis methods were used to produce a network 2.4 petabytes in size containing more than 10 billion people, places, things, and activities connected by more than 100 trillion relationships, capturing a cross-section of Earth from the news media. A subset of findings from this analysis were then reproduced for this study using more traditional methods and smaller-scale workflows that offer a model for a new class of digital humanities research that explores how the world views itself.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and managed by the University of Tennessee’s Remote Data Analysis and Visualization Center (RDAV), the Nautilus supercomputer is a part of the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS) network of advanced computing resources at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).