Futurescope: Fluidics history projection system computer program: Uses word count statistics to extrapolate future scenarios based on past and present trends. (1976)
Google now has a word count feature that shows how often words are being used in publications. Predicting the future by counting the number of times words are being used? Well, see the movie "WORD" or since that's not currently possible, read the screenplay for "WORD". There is a basic social change tool in this word count business that I think is being overlooked.
In 1976 I thought of a way to predict important future events by extrapolation of past and present social trends using simple word count, counting the number of times words are being repeated in common usage in literature and all major publications and media. I called my future predicting number counting system "Futurescope". Of course like most of my inventive concepts I had no way of trying to build a Futurescope contraption which would require corporate or university level expertise and funding to development. I never did anything with Futurescope except write a screenplay thriller based on the idea which I called "Word". Google came out with a word count feature a few years ago but as far as I know no one is using it to predict future events using word count streams and fluidics interaction principles.
Google Book Tool Tracks Cultural Change With Words
December 16, 2010
Perhaps the biggest collection of words ever assembled has just gone online: 500 billion of them, from 5 million books published over the past four centuries.
The words make up a searchable database that researchers at Harvard say is a new and powerful tool to study cultural change.
The words are a product of Google's book-scanning project. The company has converted approximately 15 million books so far into electronic documents. That's about 15 percent of all books ever published. It includes books published in English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Russian and Hebrew.
Many of these books are covered by copyright, and publishers aren't letting people read them online. But the new database gets around that problem: It's just a collection of words and phrases, stripped of all context except the date in which they appeared.
Yet Erez Lieberman Aiden, a mathematician and bioengineer at Harvard and co-creator of this new database, says it opens the door to a whole new style of literary scholarship.
"Instead of saying, 'What insight can I glean if I have one short text in front of me?' — it's, 'What insight can I glean if I have 500 billion words in front of me; if I have such a large collection of texts that you could never read it in a thousand lifetimes?' "
A 'Fantastically Addictive' Tool
You can, for instance, type in a word or a short phrase, and the database produces a graph — a curve that traces how often an author used those words every year since 1800.
"And you realize that it's fantastically addictive," says Jean-Baptiste Michel, a mathematician and biologist at Harvard who created the new database together with Aiden. "You can just spend hours and hours typing in the names of people you know, places you like, or just random stuff. And so you end up discovering quite a lot of things that way."
The researchers discovered, for instance, that the trajectory of fame — the curve that shows how often a very famous person is mentioned in books — has changed over the centuries. Today, fame is more fleeting.
"You become famous earlier in life; so fame knocks on your door earlier than before. And then you rise to fame even faster than before. The flip side of this is that you become forgotten also somewhat faster than before," says Michel.
Specific years — 1973, for instance — also seem to fade from the literary record more quickly nowadays. And God got a lot of print in the early 19th century, but not today.
Windows Into Evolving Cultures
Aiden and Michel argue that these graphs are windows into evolving cultures. All those words represent a chunk of our cultural DNA; not a genome, they say, but a "culturome." They've named the website where anybody can search their database culturomics.org. It's just been unveiled in the journal Science.
Aiden is, however, quick to point out that the collection is limited.
"Books are just one form of cultural exchange," he says. "It's a biased form of cultural exchange. Only certain types of people write books, and only certain types of people manage to get their books published."
But at least books have survived, and it's possible to catalog the words in them, unlike casual conversations or lovers' quarrels.
Some scholars may be horrified by this approach to literature, but Stanford historian Caroline Winterer is not. She says such new tools give historians more comprehensive information about the words that people used in the past to describe their world.
"Before, you had to sit there and, well, you actually had to read the whole text, God forbid! And you'd find two or three examples, and nobody could really check up on it. For better or for worse, it does give you a more accurate sense of some things in the humanities."
But some things require knowledge of a word's context. Take the decline of the word "God," Winterer says. Over the past century or two, some writers started describing the wonders of the natural world as divine. Their books don't always use the word God, "But they are talking about nature, or the environment, or Yosemite, or Yellowstone; these are all codes for God."
Findings From The Study
Using analysis of more than 500 billion words scanned as part of the Google Books project, researchers tracked themes and phrases through time. Below is a sampling of their findings from the study.
Known Events Exhibit Sharp Peaks At Date Of Occurrence
Chart: Known events exhibit sharp peaks at date of occurrence
Researchers selected groups of events that occurred at known dates, then analyzed the relevant words and data around those dates. The chart to the left focuses on a list of 124 treaties. Click the chart to see a similar graph of a list of 43 heads of state (U.S. presidents and U.K. monarchs), centered around the year when they were elected or became king or queen; and a list of 28 country name changes, centered around the year of name change.
An Example Of Grammatical Change
Chart: An example of grammatical change
Irregular verbs are used as a model of grammatical evolution. For each verb, researchers plotted the usage frequency of its irregular form in red ("throve/thriven"), and the usage frequency of its regular past-tense form in blue ("thrived"). Virtually all irregular verbs are found from time to time used in a regular form, but those used more often tend to be used in a regular way more rarely. Click the chart to see more comparisons.
Chart: Events of importance provoke a peak of discussion shortly after they happened
Events of importance provoke a peak of discussion shortly after they happened, but interest in them quickly decreases.
There Are Many Routes To Immortality
Chart: Many Routes to Immortality
People leave more behind them than their name: "Mary Shelley" (blue) created the monstrously famous "Frankenstein" (green).
Tracking Historical Epidemics And Influence
Chart: Tracking Historical Epidemics
The usage frequency of various diseases: "fever" (blue), "cancer" (green), "asthma" (red), "tuberculosis" (cyan), "diabetes" (purple), "obesity" (yellow) and "heart attack" (black). Click the chart to see more about HIV/AIDS, cholera and polio.
Check out WORD, the first half of my thriller screenplay based on the Futurescope word count system