How good can computers get at predicting events?
In 2012, when Cuba suffered its first outbreak of cholera in 130 years, the government and medical experts there were shocked. But software created by Kira Radinsky had predicted it months earlier. Radinsky’s software had essentially read 150 years of news reports and huge amounts of data from sources such as Wikipedia, and spotted a pattern in poor countries: floods that occurred about a year after a drought in the same area often led to cholera outbreaks.
The predictions made by Radinsky’s software are about as accurate as those made by humans. That digital prognostication ability would be extremely useful in automating many kinds of services.
Radinsky was born in Ukraine and immigrated to Israel with her parents as a preschooler. She developed the software with Eric Horvitz, co-director at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington, where she spent three months as an intern while studying for her PhD at the Technion-Israel Insitute of Technology.
Radinsky then started SalesPredict, to advise salespeople on how to identify and handle promising leads. “My true passion,” she says, “is arming humanity with scientific capabilities to automatically anticipate, and ultimately affect, future outcomes based on lessons from the past.”