A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend MarkLogic World 2012. The overall theme of the conference was converting Big Data into Big Ideas. Big Data is a paradigm shift for many in the IT industry; briefly, Big Data saves everything, whether it’s usefulness is obvious or not, in hopes that decisions can be made on that data. In theory, the traditional data model would be unable to make informed decisions because the data set would not be large enough accurately describe super-complex issues.
Psychohistory, then, as defined by Isaac Asimov in his novel Foundation, goes something like this:
Branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli; implicit in all these definitions is the assumption that the human conglomerate being dealt with is sufficiently large for valid statistical treatment.
In Asimov’s novels, psychohistory is used to predict the future on a large scale. It cannot predict an assassination of a leader or the popularity of a celebrity. These things are statistical anomalies. Instead, psychohistory predicts the fate of a society, the social and economic trends of nations, that nation’s success or failure.
For now, though, predicting the future still falls firmly in the hands of frauds and science fiction authors. However, given the Big Data paradigm shift, I’m not convinced it has to stay there. Asimov has already predicted the miniaturization of consumer electronics, the modern internet as we know it, and humanoid robots (which I believe someday will move beyond the uncanny valley). It isn’t hard to imagine integrating many years worth of behavior and census data with historical data and seeing patterns emerge and from there extrapolating, accurately, what is to come.
Psychohistory may be a pipe dream, but Asimov was a visionary and the future is a very exciting place 🙂