At first glance, it may sound like the plot of Person of Interest, the CBS show about a genius billionaire who develops a software program that taps into all public surveillance systems and predicts when crimes are most likely to occur. But as Technology Review reports, researchers at Microsoft (MSFT) and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology are working on disaster-predicting software that is very real and also much less invasive than its fictional counterpart. Instead of using surveillance cameras to predict future events, the software analyzes news headlines in different regions to see if it can spot warning signs for outbreaks of diseases or civil unrest that could result in violence.
“I truly view this as a foreshadowing of what’s to come,” says Eric Horvitz, a co-director at Microsoft Research. “Eventually this kind of work will start to have an influence on how things go for people.”
Technology Review says that among other things, the software could have predicted cholera outbreaks in Angola based on reports of droughts in the region. The publication also writes that “in similar tests involving forecasts of disease, violence, and a significant numbers of deaths, the system’s warnings were correct between 70 to 90 percent of the time.”
Don’t expect this software to pop up as a new crime prevention system at your local police station anytime soon, however, as Technology Review says that Microsoft has no plans to make it available for commercial use at the moment.