Michael Drosnin / Web Bot

The Web Bot Project

 

Prophesies have been a part of our collective vision since ancient times, when soothsayers made predictions based on visions and dreams. These forecasts have always been tied to prevailing cultural paradigms and frameworks for understanding the world, and also to contemporary technologies. For example, astrological predictions are based on mathematical calculations describing the relationships between celestial bodies from our perspective on earth. These measurements and observations were made with the aid of tools such as the medieval astrolabe, which measured the position of the stars, as well as the ephemeris, which tracked and charted the locations of planets in the sky.

In 1997, a group of computer programmers developed a method for forecasting future events known as the web bot. As a product of our time, it used computer technologies to monitor and analyze internet communications. This tool tracks online exchanges, and uses the information it gleans to project upcoming events.

The system is propriety, so its developers do not make specifics widely available, but we do know that it uses an algorithm to track words and phrases, and then extrapolates from this information, pinpointing dates that the information targets as likely times for incidents to occur. Phrases containing significant keywords are assigned values based on variables such as the degree of emotional intensity associated with each mention.

Predictions

This tool was initially developed to track stock market trends, however it also happened to provide data pointing to the likelihood of a catastrophic event around the times of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. According to some folks, it also predicted the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, the catastrophic events caused by Hurricane Katrina, the blackout in the northeastern states in 2003, and the 2004 earthquake in the Indian Ocean which led to the devastating tsunami.

It is easier to believe in the program’s ability to predict some events than others. The 2001 terrorist attacks were caused strictly by human agency, so it makes sense that humans would have been talking about them, and a tool tuned into this chat could have picked up on these patterns. Many predictions are vague, and can be interpreted as referring to any number of events, such as a forecasted maritime disaster over the west in 2003, which could have been linked to the Space Shuttle Columbia crash, or any number of other incidents.

Although the details of how the system works are not public knowledge, it is still difficult to believe that internet chatter could predict geological events such as the Indian Ocean earthquake, or the mechanical error that most likely brought down Flight 587.  The effects of the flooding following Hurricane Katrina straddle both categories: on the one hand, the storm was a meteorological disaster, but on the other hand, the suffering that it caused was largely caused by human error as well as social inequities.

In addition to the tool’s possibly successful predictions, there have also been forecasts that have clearly not come to pass, such as widespread civil unrest caused by escalating food prices starting in July 2010, and a massive earthquake near Vancouver, British Columbia in December 2008. Despite the vagueness of the forecast about civil disturbance, there were still no events that correlated with this prediction.

Predictions for 2012

There are a number of web bot predictions regarding the year 2012, including expectation of a major catastrophe. This could be a major geological upheaval, such as a reversal of the earth’s magnetic poles, or a manmade cataclysm such as a nuclear war. In addition, the web bot foresees an information gap starting in 2012 and lasting until 2013, perhaps pointing to a disruption in digital technologies during that period.

These forecasts have contributed to the burgeoning movement anticipating apocalyptic events during that year, based on anticipated events and coincidences such as the end of the 26,000 year cycle represented by the Mayan calendar. Whether you believe in these web bot predictions and find them troublesome in themselves, or your imagination is captivated by the correspondence between these predictions and other prophesies, it is undeniable that the year 2012 keeps rearing its head in association with end-times scenarios.

Michael Drosnin and the Bible Code

The same year that the web bot began scanning and analyzing internet activity, a journalist named Michael Drosnin published a book titled The Bible Code. The book builds on the work of biblical scholars, who draw on the letters in the Old Testament, as well as their Hebrew numerical equivalents, to recognize patterns and predict events. For example, if you collate every fiftieth letter in the Book of Genesis as well as the Book of Exodus, the resulting letters will spell out the names of these respective books.

Like the programmers who designed the web bot, Drosnin used computer technologies to extrapolate from existing information and make predictions. He used a method called the Equidistant Letter Sequence, or ELS, which involves starting with a particular letter, counting forward repeatedly by a given number of characters, and forming words from the letters that make up the sequence.

Using a computer program to extensively search biblical texts for these types of sequential patterns, Drosnin found evidence predicting the assassination of Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Drosnin also used biblical text to predict a nuclear holocaust during the year 2006, which clearly did not come to pass.

Drosnin’s work has been widely criticized, not least because of failed predictions and faulty translations. Some scholars have double checked his work and found that he omitted words and phrases in an effort to make his conclusions seem more dramatic and clear. Others applied his method to the novel Moby Dick, and reached equally startling conclusions.

The Message

Perhaps the specific predictions made by the web bot as well as Drosnin’s calculations are less important than the general observation that these systems and forecasts consistently capture our collective imagination, and most likely will continue to bombard us for the foreseeable future.

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