|September 25, 2009
Source: London Telegraph
Conspiracy theorists on the web have claimed that the bots accurately predicted the September 11 attacks and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, and that they say a cataclysm of some sort will devastate the planet on 21 December, 2012.
The software, similar to the “spiders” that search engines use to index web pages, were originally developed in the 1990s to predict stock market movements.
The bots crawl through relevant web pages, noting keywords and examining the text around them. The theory is that this gives an insight into the “wisdom of crowds”, as the thoughts of thousands of people are aggregated.
However, the technology was later appropriated for another, more controversial – some say nonsensical – use: predicting the future.
Its study of “web chatter” is said to give advance warnings of terrorist attacks, and proponents claim that it successfully did so ahead of 11 September 2001. George Ure, one of two men behind the project, says that his system predicted a “world-changing event” in the 60 to 90 days after June 2001.
Despite the vagueness of this prediction, many believed it to be genuine. Now its makers claim that the technology can predict natural disasters, and that it foresaw the earthquake that triggered the 2004 tsunami, as well as Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that followed.
Its latest and most sweeping prediction is that 21 December 2012 signals the end of the world, possibly through a “polar shift” – when the polarity of the Earth’s magnetic field is reversed. Believers claim that as well as the bots, the 2012 apocalypse is predicted by the ancient Mayan calendar, the Book of Revelations, and the Chinese text I Ching.
Sceptics have pointed out several major flaws in the theory. First, the internet might plausibly reveal group knowledge about the stock market or, conceivably, terror attacks, as these are human-caused events. But, say critics, it would be no more capable of predicting a natural disaster than would a Google search.
Second, the predictions are so vague as to be meaningless, allowing believers to fit facts to predictions after the event: a blogger at dailycommonsense.com compares them to Nostradamus’s quatrains. They give the September 11 prediction as a case in point.
Third, the prophecies become self-distorting. “The more people publish about 2012 and the end of the world,” says the same blogger, “the more data web bots get pointing towards 2012.”
The polar shift theory is based on a genuine scientific theory, “geomagnetic reversal”, which suggests the Earth’s polarity shifts every few hundred thousand years. However, the theory in its current form is not reconcilable with the web-bot predictions of it taking place on a particular day in 2012: best estimates suggest each shift takes around 5,000 years to complete.
A film based on the predicted apocalypse, by The Day After Tomorrow director Roland Emmerich and starring John Cusack and Danny Glover, is due to come out in November, called 2012.