Can human behavior be understood, predicted, and controlled? The advent of “big data” -- enormous datasets now being harvested from records from websites (including social media sites), mobile phones, GPSs and banking transactions are giving physicists, social scientists, and complex systems experts powerful new tools to understand and predict human behavior.

At a January 26 session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, titled "Human network dynamics," SFI External Professor Scott Page was among panelists who explored how big data will have profound impacts on politics, marketing, infrastructure design, and many other spheres. The other two panelists were Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (Northeastern University) and Boleslaw K. Szymanski (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute).

Scientists can only predict what they can measure. Big data now provides tools to predict human mobility and travel patterns. For example, recent studies using mobile phone data allow prediction of where a given human being will be on a certain day, at a certain time, with over 90 percent accuracy. 

While the responsible use of big data has significant social policy implications, it also presents risks of abuse. 

More about the World Economic Forum session

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