#2. Palm Reading
Chiromancy, or "palm reading" is the supposed ability to discern a person's dominant personality traits or even divine their future by interpreting the lines on their palm. It's basically just a hand-fetish version of the cold reading we discussed earlier: close inspection of the hands can say a lot. The placement and amount of calluses, how well the nails are kept, indents from rings--they're all general clues to a person's life.
"Hm. You see here? The stickiness of the heart line indicates you're a bachelor."
How it's Becoming Real:
Your hand really is a gold-mine of information about your genetics and overall health. We have previously explained how researchers have figured out that finger length can determine sexual behavior, a.k.a. the Digit Ratio Theory.
But your fingerprints also contain a load of information about certain genetic disorders. For example, if you have something called Ulnar Swirls (pictured below) it's likely you have Down's syndrome.
The same creases in the palms the fortune tellers claim to read are actually indicators of certain genetic disorders and even fetal alcohol syndrome.
Of course, old-fashioned palm readers have seized on this to claim they were right all along. See! If scientists can find genetic clues in your Life Line, surely our experts will be able to predict when you'll meet your soulmate! For a small fee!
#1. Fortune Telling a.k.a. Predicting the Future
This is the big one. Whether it's a lady with a crystal ball, a cult leader predicting apocalypse or Sylvia Freaking Browne, there has always been a thriving industry in making (often vague) predictions about the future. You can be wrong 99 times out of a hundred, but as long as you get one guess right (usually something like, "I predict a major disaster somewhere in Asia this year") your followers will forget all the misses.
"Holy Shit, it did rain at some point. Nostradamus was right!
Just ask Ms. Browne, who has turned a career of never successfully predicting anything into a business that charges $850 dollars for a telephone reading.
How it's Becoming Real:
It looks like the only thing between us and having the computer equivalent of a crystal ball is getting the software right--and trust us, they're working around the clock.
Two ongoing crises are driving the research right now: Global Warming, with the corresponding need to develop more accurate models to predict warming trends, and the recent financial collapse that managed to blindside every expert whose job it is to see shit like that coming. Strangely, in the future the same techniques may be used to predict both.
And it's Magic!
It's not easy; it takes a shitload of computing power, and massive amounts of past and current data for a piece of software to predict what's going to happen. But, for instance, one model already predicted a crash of the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The programmers aren't claiming magic, the software just recognized that buyers tend to behave a certain way before a steep drop.
Meanwhile the U.S. Department of Defense is using computer models right now to predict geopolitical outcomes, anticipating events like regime changes using number-crunching techniques probably not all that different from what statistician, Nate Silver, uses to nail down his creepily accurate election forecasts.
And if you can get rough-yet-fairly accurate predictions with just some dudes and their desktop PC's, you can only imagine what could happen if we had, say, a gigantic supercomputer on the task. Or instead of imagining it, we could just go to Los Alamos National Laboratories where they have this fucker:
That's the Roadrunner system, it operates at 1.6 PetaFLOPS (that is, one point six quadrillion or 1,600,000,000,000,000 calculations a second) and they're busily teaching it to predict things. They're running mathematical models that will let it map everything from the chaotic spread of a wildfire to the expansion of the universe.
Of course, even then, the models are simply predicting broad trends. They could maybe predict what the crime rate in Baltimore will be next year, but can't predict that the guy in the next cubicle over is about to stab some dudes. No, for that you'd need the FAST (Future Attribute Screening Technologies) program, a system developed by the Department of Homeland Security that can measure your vital signs and fleeting facial expressions and accurately predict that you're going to commit a crime in the near future.
All of which leaves us with one question: What happens when personal computers get powerful enough to run the prediction software on their own, and everyone has access to it? How will people's behavior change when they know what the computer is predicting they'll do? And how will the computers adjust their predictions based on the subjects of their predictions knowing the predictions? Or will it have predicted the subjects' awareness of the predictions as part of its original predictions?
Wait, this is why they started burning witches, isn't it?
You can read more of Wang's articles at Gunaxin.
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For things the technology (read: the Internet) has given hope to, check out 5 Ridiculous Ancient Beliefs (That Thrive on the Internet). Or find out about how the Internet is destroying you, in 6 New Personality Disorders Caused by the Internet.
And stop by our Top Picks to see Swaim microwaving gallons of Pepto Bismol.