The Washington Post

After the Iran ‘time machine’ story fizzles, a small comfort to time-travel fans

Actor Jon Pertwee (1919 - 1996) as Dr. Who from the BBC children's television series of the same name. (Evening Standard/GETTY IMAGES)

But that doesn’t mean people aren’t legitimately working on or around predicting the future or future trends. Wired’s Klint Findley has a report on University of Connecticut professor Peter Turchin and his work in cliodynamics, where scientists and mathematicians analyze history to ascertain trends. Such knowledge could be applied to affect how civilizations operate in the future. The field even has its own journal.

As Findley writes:

“In the simplest of terms, Turchin and his colleagues will build a mathematical model using one data set and then test that model against other historical data sets they’re unfamiliar with. That way, they can see if the model holds. This isn’t exactly the psychohistory described by Isaac Asimov. “For the most part, we don’t predict the future. It’s too far. We can’t wait 200 years to see if something’s right,” Turchin says. “I’m not a prophet.” But cliodynamics moves in that direction — and it’s not science fiction. Though traditional historians are often wary of the practice, others very much see the value.”

Then there’s predictive analytics — the use of algorithms and large pools of data to try and predict an individual’s or group’s future actions. The technology is hardly new, but it is evolving and, as more data becomes available, becoming more powerful.

In short, while a time machine may still remain elusive, innovation and study is, indeed, underway when it comes to predicting the future.

View Photo Gallery: Some of the world’s greatest inventions have science fiction to thank for their easy-adoption and popularity among consumers.

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Emi Kolawole is the editor-in-residence at Stanford University's, where she works on media experimentation and design.

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