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Forecasting The Mood of A City Using Phone Data

Apr 25 2011, 1:42pm CDT | by , in News | Technology News

Forecasting The Mood of A City Using Phone Data

The future is here. And a little creepy.

After months and months of the daily grind, you decide it's time for a vacation. But where to go? You want to visit somewhere beautiful, interesting and, most of all, detached from the stressed-out madness of your hometown. If only you could search for vacation spots based on how mellow and happy the locals are.

Thanks to cell phones and some tech-savvy scientists, you may soon be able to. This fascinating WSJ article covers the work of several different researchers on how phone data can be used to predict social trends. Of most interest to me was the work of George MacKerron, with the London School of Economics. He created an iPhone app- named Mappiness, to track the emotional states of 40,000 volunteers across the UK.

MacKerron used this data to map the average happiness of several towns and cities by the hour. He's been able to determine the "happiest" time of the week in the UK and pinpoint the most miserable spots in the country. While his research is still in a very early stage, the implications are rather staggering.

One day- not far off from now, we'll be able to call up "happiness" data from locations around the world. If you want the most relaxing vacation possible, just search for the countries that will be feeling their best at that time.

But that's only one possible use for this kind of data. Politicians could use it to determine the perfect time to visit different cities on the campaign trail. Governments may start tracking local happiness as a way to predict riots or other forms of unrest. The police would be able to monitor just when- and where- their presence will be most needed.

At this point, all the data is anonymized. So we're a while off from Whoever tracking your personal happiness. But such a development can't be far away. We may even see for-pay services crop up that monitor customer moods and give recommendations or offer on-the-spot (over-the-phone) counseling during times of extreme personal crisis.

It's hard to predict just how far this will all go, but one thing is clear. We're on the cusp of a brave new frontier in behavioral science and sociology.

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