Data Mining Software Predicts How Depressing the Future Will Be

Try reading the news today and not getting depressed about the future. We're looking at tomorrows full of climate change, looming pandemics, and overpopulation. But just how unhappy do these possible future trends make us? Alberto Pepe, a computer scientist at UCLA wanted to find out. So he collected 10,741 public 'time capsule' emails that people mailed in 2006 to their future selves on FutureMe. Pepe mined the data for 'mood' words — words like "angry," "discouraged," or "happy," tallied them all up, and assigned each email a mood category. And the results tell us exactly which years people think will be the most horrible.

Pepe's work follows on the heels of MoodViews, which tallies of mood tags used on LiveJournal, and We Feel Fine , which scours a vast swath of the interweb for statments of "feeling."

Admittedly, Pepe's work is a little odd, but it's still a good first stab at trying to discern how people think about the years to come. So what sort of moods did people display when talking to their future selves from different eras?


From the present day (circa 2007) until 2012, depression trends downward, but there's a marked up-tick from 2012 to 2018. From there on it's smooth sailing, with depression going steadily downward from 2018 through the end of study period in 2035. the 'vigor' graph follows a roughly inverse trend.

The other four mood categories (Anger, Confusion, Tension, and Fatigue — again, odd choices) didn't show much in the way of statistical trends.

The peak in depression from 4-10 years into the future is tough to explain, and Pepe didn't offer at it during his talk at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Spring Symposium at Stanford University last week. But the overall decrease in depression towards 2030 makes sense: the distant future isn't very clear, so it's easy to picture all of our hopes and dreams coming true. That and, you know, it's going to take about that long for the Singularity to arrive.

Shaping a Collective Emotional Perception of the Future [research paper]


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