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Whisperings of the Future Surround Us

By - November 17, 2011

Yesterday I met with Christopher Ahlberg, the PhD co-founder of Recorded Future, a company I noted in these pages back in mid-2010. Ahlberg is one of those rare birds you just know is making stuff that matters – a scientist, an entrepreneur, a tinkerer, and an enthusiast all wrapped into one.

He ran me through Recorded Future’s technology and business model, and I found it impressive. In fact, I’m hoping I can employ it somehow into my book research. And that conditional tense of “hoping” is the main problem I have with Ahlberg’s creation – it’s a rather complicated system to use. Then again, what of worth isn’t, I suppose?

Recorded Future is, at its core,  a semantic search engine that consumes tens of thousands of structured information feeds as its “crawl.” It then parses this corpus for several core assets: Entities, Events, and Time (or Dates). Recorded Future’s algorithms are particularly adept at identifying and isolating these items, then correlating them at scale. If that sounds simple, it ain’t.

The service then employs a relatively complicated query structure that allows you to project the road ahead for your question. For example, you might choose “Amazon” as your entity, and then set your timeframe for events involving Amazon over the past two months and into the next two months. Recorded Future will analyze its sources (SEC filings, blogs, news sites, etc) and create a timeline-like “map” of things that have happened and are predicted to happen with regard to Amazon over the next eight weeks. You can further refine a search by adding other entities or events (“earnings” or “CEO”, for example).

How does it work? Well, turns out the Internet is rife with whisperings of the future, you just need to learn how to listen. That’s Recordable Future’s specialty. As you might imagine, Wall Street quants and government spooks just love this stuff. I’d imagine journalists would as well, but most of us are too strapped to afford the company’s services. Embedded below is a new feature of the site, a weekly overview of a news-related entity.

Recorded Future’s engine is not limited to the sources it currently consumes. Not only is Ahlberg adding more every month, his customers can add their own corpuses. Imagine throwing Wikileaks into Recorded Future, for example.

Perhaps the coolest aspect of the service is a visualization of how entities relate to each other over time. Ahlberg showed me a search for mobile patents, then toggled into a relationship graph. Guess what entity broke into the center of the graph, connected to nearly everything else? Yup – Motorola.

Did I mention that Google is an investor in Recorded Future?

As I said, I hope to start using the service soon, and perhaps posting my findings here.

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8 thoughts on “Whisperings of the Future Surround Us

  1. Anonymous says:

    As a former journalist, this would have been an amazing research tool. But something tells me that the average newsroom would not be able to afford it. Am I right?

    • Anonymous says:

      Costs are $150 a month for a basic service (not very sophisticated) and in the high thousands a month for the customizable version, I’m told….

  2. gregorylent says:

    for those whose intuition has atrophied :-)

  3. Guest says:

    Why do I feel like the future is becoming a mundane place to wait for???

  4. immortal rose says:

    it DOES record the future and any other wave it can find ..it loves webcam in reverse when your unaware and the camera shutter going off all the time..over the top is hyjacking a pc with audio 2 way feed that cures me of my talking outloud to myself by interacting apps and responding to my temper rambles..mmmmm reminds me of 2001 a space oddessy welcome to powerless ,tracking terrorizing gps toys..and my 8th grade education is documented by family,friend its scared off everything but me and 3 laptops here latest strange glitches and whatever else can fingerprint u out of your own pc

  5. Anonymous says:

    If this works it could be an absolute gamechanger, I believe Google Waves is trialling something similar too? Having just read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (look up the premise if you haven’t read it) this post resonated particularly well with me. The future is bright? Or is it, I can’t afford the high thousands a month to tell so will have to wait and see.

  6. Muadib1158 says:

    I’d love to see that Mobile Patents relationship graph.  Any chance you can post it?