Researchers Successfully Predicted Violence In Afghanistan By Crunching WikiLeaks Data

afghanistan war soldier

Photo: U.S. Army

Researchers built a model – based on WikiLeaks data – that was able to predict levels of violence throughout Afghanistan in 2010, reports Jon Bardin of the Los Angeles Times.The research, published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that the project “allows deeper insights into conflict dynamics” by finding a general pattern of violence and providing a “strikingly statistically accurate” prediction of insurgent activity. 

Based solely on Afghan War Diary reports of violence from 2004 to 2009, the model could also anticipate how much the violence in each province would go up or down in 2010 despite the “surge” of 30,000 troops into the country.

Our findings seem to prove that the insurgency is self-sustaining,” Sanguinetti told the Times. “You may throw a large military offensive, but this doesn’t seem to disturb the system.”

The model could even predict activity in Afghanistan’s relatively quiet northern provinces, leading the authors to conclude that the patterns existed everywhere.

From the LA Times:

“The model we employed is both complex and simple,” said Guido Sanguinetti, an expert in computational sciences at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the study’s senior author. “It doesn’t take in any knowledge of military operations or political events, and it treats all types of violence exactly the same, whether it’s a stop-and-search or a big battle.”

Michael Ward, a political scientist at Duke University who has shown that location data can improve predictions of conflicts, said that the study shows why it’s important to make as much data public as possible because without WikiLeaks the model would have been much harder to make.

Interesting sidenote: Paulo Shakarian, a West Point computer scientist, indirectly hinted at the ability of the government to collect and analyse U.S. internet communications when he told the Times that “we have large data sets from places like Facebook and Twitter that we can analyse with high-powered computers and get meaningful results.”

SEE ALSO: The First Major ‘Surge’ Operation Shows Why The US Is Failing In Afghanistan >

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