Last week, a Wired exclusive detailed a Massachusetts web startup called Recorded Future. The name leaves little to the imagination in describing what the 16-person firm does, clearly it ‘records the future’. What requires some creative thinking, however, is learning exactly how the company learns what is going to happen before it happens.
To answer your first question: no it does not involve crystal balls or tarot cards in any way. Rather, the process incorporates complex analytical tools that takes names, locations and activities from tens of thousands of websites, blogs and social media accounts. The company’s “temporal analytics engine” then takes that data based on past events and uses artificial intelligence algorithms to determine likely future events.
“The cool thing is, you can actually predict the curve, in many cases,” Christopher Ahlberg, Recorded Future’s CEO, told Wired on 28 July.
The technology is similar to machine readable data products that large corporations such as Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters have been developing for some time. Those products work by analyzing news on certain industries to predict how individual stocks will perform. Recorded Future claims to take that concept further, into predicting common events and occurrences.
Both Google Ventures and In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of America’s various spy agencies [think CIA, NSA, FBI etc.], quietly bought into Recorded Future in 2009, the same year of the company was founded. While dollar figures have (unsurprisingly) not been disclosed, Wired writer Noah Shachtman notes that both Google and In-Q-Tel hold seats on Recorded Future’s board of directors, and that In-Q-Tel “doesn’t make investments in firms without an ‘end customer’ ready to test out that company’s products.”
In other words, there is a very good chance that Google, the CIA, (or possibly both) have already signed on to Recorded Future’s index of more than 100 million events or it’s real-time analytics service.
“We’re right there as it happens,” Mr. Ahlberg told Wired‘s Danger Room blog during a a demonstration. “We can assemble actual real-time dossiers on people.”
That both Google and the U.S. intelligence community are both investors in Recorded Future appears to be purely coincidental. Though it certainly doesn’t help dispel criticism of the search giant for being too close to government officials.