Digital World: I have seen the future,and it's on the Web

The Web Bot Project helps filter information, put it into context - and tell us where we're going, in advance.

computer 88 (photo credit: )
computer 88
(photo credit: )
It's been an eventful year, to say the least. 2008 was like a riches to rags story. What's amazing is how quickly the shine came off the new "gilded age." From boom to recession (or maybe worse) in barely a year! Who could possibly have seen it coming? Answer: You, me and hundreds of millions of other Internet users around the world. Deep down in our consciousness, we "knew" what was coming - and the bad news isn't over. Such, at least, is the theory behind the Web Bot Project (, which sends out bots (spiders) around the Internet to collect text and information from publicly accessible Web sites. The bots look for about 300,000 words with emotional context, like intensity, impact, etc. - words with a "kick," coming from posted articles, forum opinions, chat rooms, etc. (the bots do not check e-mail or other private communications). The words are then put into contexts, and if the emotion is strong enough, a context becomes a trend - a prediction, based on the feelings of those who feel most strongly about the information, the ones who bother posting information. It's a form of theory of the Wisdom of Crowds ( the truth is out there and everybody has a little piece of it. The Web Bot Project helps filter that information, put it into context - and tell us where we're going, in advance. Data from the Web Bot Project is publicly accessible on the Urban Survival site (, which posts a daily newsletter based, in part, on the information generated by the bots and interpreted by its specialized linguistic software. Predicting the future is tough enough for prophets, much less for Web sites. But if you look at the list of predictions that cam out of the Project at the beginning of 2008 for this past year (, you can't help but be just a little impressed, since the average person wasn't aware of the extent of the financial problems in the US at the time. While it's probably no biggie to figure out what February and March are going to look like when it's January, October and November are something else. The list for September, for example, includes "Mood of the population improves: People have a renewed sense of optimism that the corporate/elite can and will be replaced in the elections and the 'us against them' grows." September, if I recall, was when the excitement over Barack Obama started cresting; back in January, most people expected Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination. The October predictions, meanwhile, contain statements like "Think of the US economy as a lit fuse that is lit over the early part of 2008," and "In late 2008 the rest of the world's currencies are 'touched off' by the dollar and US decline." The Project also predicted "a significant event" occurring on October 7, which turned out to be a precipitous decline on stock markets around the world. That event, according to the Project, would have an even bigger effect than 9/11, which the Project also claims to have predicted 90 days before it took place ( According to the Project, data collected from the previous June indicated that a "life-altering event" would take place within 60 to 90 days. Somehow, there was a feeling that "something big" was about to happen - and it was this that the Project focused on. Most of the specific predictions for 2009 haven't been released yet (check to see when George Ure of the UrbanSurvival site will be on the radio, which you can hear over the Internet on an affiliate). But a few predictions for early 2009 are already available ( very cold winter in the US northeast (seems correct so far); "a 2009 winter/spring natural disaster, which caused people to become angry about government response," and an event in which "a permanent loss of low-lying territory globally and foresees that one continent in particular will get hit badly, but it does not say which one. Places to avoid: anything at sea level (Bangladesh/Florida/ etc)." Scary, huh? On the other hand, the system is not flawless; note that the Project also predicted "a West Coast/Vancouver-area large-scale earthquake around December 12, 2008" (didn't happen). The Web Bot Project isn't the only prediction game in town. Princeton's Global Consciousness Project (, also called the EGG Project, examines consciousness over the Internet, using a complicated statistical formula. Global consciousness predicting future events? Sounds a little "left coast," as they say in the East. The overwhelming tendency of most people who post stuff on the Internet seems to be that they expect the worst (apparently the optimistic people are too busy enjoying life to bother with chat rooms and forums). And nowadays, it's almost second nature for people to believe that "the worst is yet to come," since no one wants to be labeled "Pollyanish." If we're "relying" on the Web to tell us the future based on what people think, we shouldn't expect too much, since most people are so pessimistic - as they were even when "the tide was high" and things were going relatively well. But maybe there's a lesson we can learn: If the power of suggestion is such that it can will bad stuff to happen (which could be what's going on; after all, the Web Bot Project makes its predictions based on how people feel, which could technically be called a self-fulfilling prophecy), maybe a little positive thinking will help make things better. Can't hurt, can it?