As last week's babble seemed for some unaccountable reason to wander towards a science fictional theme, I thought I might as well follow up this week with something from my favorite (well, one of my favorite) sci-fi authors. I refer, of course, to the unforgettable Isaac Asimov. I got to thinking about his work while watching a TV program about how the Internet is shaping our lives, and how the future for young people will be influenced - and even (rather worryingly) - controlled by the social media sites and commercial content producers that inhabit it.
Asimov's famous character Hari Seldon, a mathematics professor at Streeling University on Trantor, developed the science of psychohistory, which effectively provides a way to accurately model the collective behavior of entire galactic populations over very long periods of time. Thus he could predict with unerring accuracy the major events that will befall each civilization; such as wars, plague, pestilence, and lack of Internet connectivity (OK, so I made that last one up).
But, anyway, until a rogue being appears on the scene, all is running pretty much according to plan and the regular appearances that his holographic automaton makes prove amazingly accurate. And there are some people who think that psychohistory could, in fact, be a reality and not just fiction. Adolphe Quetelet's "Social Physics" and John Xenakis's "Generational Dynamics" follow a similar theme, and there's even whole Web sites devoted to the science of "Cliodynamics".
Thing is, it seems that an increasing proportion of the population is influenced more and more by what they see on the Web. I'm personally not a twitterer or spacebooker, and I tend to avoid networking sites such as LinkedIn and the plethora of similar ones on the grounds that I'm too busy working with computers to spend my leisure time at the keyboard. I'm certainly not interested in what Stephen Fry had for breakfast this morning, and I'm quite content with having about 4,999,980 less friends than Lady Gaga.
Meanwhile, psychohistory relies on two axioms: the population whose behavior is modeled must be sufficiently large, and must be unaware that psychohistorical analysis is taking place. It's probably safe to say that the population of twitterers, spacebookers, diggers, stumblers, and the like is sufficiently large; and I'd imagine they're too busy twittering and spacebooking to notice that we're watching them. So the axioms should hold. Therefore, what can we actually predict? How about:
All I need now is my holograph likeness, a glass box, and a smoke machine...