Asimov's Psychohistory May Be Possible

Psychohistory, according to Isaac Asimov's 1950's Foundation series, says that "while one cannot foresee the actions of a particular individual, the laws of statistics as applied to large groups of people could predict the general flow of future events." It turns out that Indiana University researchers agree:

Much as meteorologists predict the path and intensity of hurricanes, Indiana University’s Alessandro Vespignani believes we will one day predict with unprecedented foresight, specificity and scale such things as the economic and social effects of billions of new Internet users in China and India, or the exact location and number of airline flights to cancel around the world in order to halt the spread of a pandemic...

... advances in complex networks theory and modeling, along with access to new data, will enable humans to achieve true predictive power in areas never before imagined.

"While the needed integrated approach is still in its infancy, using network theory, mathematical biology, statistics, computer science and nonequilibrium statistical physics will play a key role in the creation of computational forecasting infrastructures," Vespignani said. "And that should help us design better energy distribution systems, plan for traffic-free cities and manage the deployment of the world's resources."

Would-be psychohistorians (like maybe Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman) are presumably rejoicing at this development.


(Psychohistorian Hari Seldon)

Before we really get the party started, though, we would do well to remember that psychohistory is just a discipline; what really mattered was Seldon's Plan. If we produced psychohistorians, what would they plan to do?

Via Creating a real life version of psychohistory from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/29/2009)

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