Using Technology to Predict the Future

E-Meme: Tracking the Flow of Ideas Online

Many believe that the Egypt revolt was spread on Twitter and YouTube, but today, with the use of new technology, a group of researchers from Aptima, Inc. claim that Egyptians may have been infected with the idea instead.

Backed by the Office of Naval Research, the researchers are currently developing a technology that would take Internet scanning to another level. The program is called E-Meme, short for “Epidemiological Modeling of the Evolution of Messages.” E-Meme scans all aspects of communication on the web, including news stories, social network interaction, and blogs in order to extract popular topics or phrases.With this capability, the program is able to explain how conversations multiplied, as well as chart the locations and timelines of those conversations.

This tool will allow the Pentagon to track social movements easier. By “pulling apart” a web conversation and noting the author, site of publication, and subsequent comments, analysts will be able to figure out what, and who, contributed to the spread of popular messages. They would even be able to establish what people in certain demographics, such as region, or age, are discussing. With this technology, the Pentagon aims to determine “how the flow of ideas or ‘memes’ through electronic media can … infect and influence susceptible populations.”

Currently, their goal is to “develop appropriate strategies” for responding to, supporting, dissuading, or even predicting movements.

If successful, the project’s lead investigator, Dr. Robert McCormack, says the next step for E-Meme technology will be to start analyzing attitudes and group perceptions in order to determine the outcomes of online discussions before they actually occur.