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posted by Dopefish on Sunday February 23 2014, @10:00AM   Printer-friendly
from the party-like-it's-1984 dept.

siliconwafer writes "The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is looking to acquire a vehicle license plate tracking system, to be used at the national level. According to the solicitation obtained by the Washington Post, commercial readers, supplied by a private company, would scan the plate of vehicles and store them in a "National License Plate Recognition" (NLPR) database. This is already being done at the state level, and privacy advocates are up in arms, with EFF and ACLU suing California over their automatic plate readers. Now that this has potential to become a broad and national program."

[ED Note: "Shortly after the Washington Post broke the story on the national plate reading system, it appears the DHS has shelved their plans for the tracking system, by order of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, at least in the interim."]

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by kebes on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:45PM

    by kebes (1505) on Sunday February 23 2014, @03:45PM (#5195)
    In the abstract, psychohistory is plausible. Human behavior is surprisingly predictable, especially when you can average over many different people. Bulk social trends (everything from energy use over time, to decision in elections) can be predicted well in advance. A sufficiently refined model, using reliable data, could in principle predict things like revolutions.

    But on the other hand, it's worth remembering that many complex real-world systems are inherently chaotic. So one can compare social systems (stock markets, the will of the people) to weather and climate. Very large-scale trends can probably be predicted (market will go up, there will be a revolution at some point), but making more local predictions is very, very difficult. And making predictions about common occurrences (how many people will watch the Olympics) is easy compared to making predictions about outlier evens (like revolutions).

    If you look at the state-of-the-art in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, and economics, it's clear that we're a long way from being able to make robust predictions about unpredictable and game-changing events.

    So, you're right: it's likely that government analysts will not be able to predict threshold moments. Another one may well be upon us.
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  • (Score: 1) by weilawei on Sunday February 23 2014, @07:31PM

    by weilawei (109) on Sunday February 23 2014, @07:31PM (#5291)

    The point of pyschohistory in Asimov's novels was that it WASN'T intended to predict the individual human. It was meant to apply only on a mass scale. In fact, since I have copies of them handy:

    Undoubtedly his greatest contributions were in the field of psychohistory. Seldon found the field little more than a set of vague axioms; he left it a profound statistical science....

    Emphasis mine.

    PSYCHOHISTORY--...Gaal Dornick, using nonmathematical concepts, has defined psychohistory to be that 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. The necessary size of such a conglomerate may be determined by Seldon's First Theorem which ... A further necessary assumption is that the human conglomerate be itself unaware of psychohistoric analysis in order that its reactions be truly random ...

    Now, while the beginning of the 1st novel suggests that Seldon developed psychohistory sufficiently well to predict the actions of individuals, the rest of the novels rely on the Foundation itself remaining largely ignorant, and later novels introduce the idea of psychic manipulation by outside forces, and various other twists that place less and less emphasis on psychohistory. The initial definition of psychohistory remains the most relevant to the span of novels in general.

    "I'm not finished," said the trader, coldly. "The future course of the Foundation was plotted according to the science of psychohistory, then highly developed, and conditions arranged so as to bring about a series of crises that will force us most rapidly along the route to future Empire. Each crisis, each Seldon crisis, marks an epoch in our history. We're approaching one now -- our third."

    From the second book:

    Psychohistory dealt not with man, but with man-masses. It was the science of mobs; mobs in their billions. It could forecast reactions to stimuli with something of the accuracy that a lesser science could bring to the forecast of a rebound of a billiard ball. The reaction of one man could be forecast by no known mathematics; the reaction of a billion is something else again.

    Hari Seldon plotted the social and economic trends of the time, sighted along the curves and foresaw the continuing and accelerating fall of civilization and the gap of thirty thousand years that must elapse before a struggling new Empire could emerge from the ruins.