Supercomputer Nautilus 'knew where Bin Laden was'

A supercomputer in America predicted the revolutions in Egypt and Libya and located where Osama Bin Laden was, according to an academic - but only after the events had happened.

Kalev Leetaru from the University of Illinois fed over 100 million articles into the University of Tennessee SGI Altix supercomputer Nautilus. The computer analysed the mood of international news stories focusing on the incidences and locations of emotive words like 'terrible' or 'good' - which Leetaru called 'automated sentence mining' - before converting them into geographical co-ordinates.

Using the tone and location of the reports, Nautilus predicted the outcome of the Arab Spring and the location of Bin Laden to an area with a 125-mile radius in northern Pakistan, when many experts thought Bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan.

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In his study 'Culturomics 2.0: Forecasting Large-Scale Human Behaviour Using Global News Media Tone in Time and Space', Leetaru explained: "Applying tone and geographic analysis to a 30–year worldwide news archive, global news tone is found to have forecasted the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, including the removal of Egyptian President Mubarak, predicted the stability of Saudi Arabia (at least through May 2011), estimated Osama Bin Laden’s likely hiding place as a 200km radius in Northern Pakistan that includes Abbotabad, and offered a new look at the world’s cultural affiliations."

Leetaru said that although his study was done retrospectively to things that had already happened, it could be adapted to work in the present.

"I liken it to weather forecasting. It's never perfect, but we can do better than random guessing."