Some Future Secrets Revealed: An Update on Recorded Future

7/18/11

The future for most of us is a totally uncharted territory. The noble art of divining doesn’t seem to have made much progress since the days of the Delphic oracle more than 2,000 years ago.

But Recorded Future, an American-Scandinavian startup founded by Swedish entrepreneur Christopher Ahlberg and headquartered in the Boston area, claims to be able to make fairly good predictions on what will happen, by organizing and analyzing information collected from the Internet and presenting the results in useful ways. To quote the company’s own description:

“Recorded Future offers robust tools for temporal and predictive analysis including advanced visualizations, data for predictive modeling, and fine-grain Future oriented alerts.”

The oracle of Delphi was known to be secretive, and Recorded Future has to a large extent embraced the same policy. If you look at its website under the heading “Press” you’ll find the statement: “We don’t grant interviews and we don’t issue press releases.”

There have, however, been some exceptions to the rule. In March, the company’s CTO, Staffan Truvé, gave a presentation of Recorded Future’s technology at a conference organized by students at Linköping University in Sweden.

And Christopher Ahlberg recently granted my colleage Mats Lewan at the Swedish magazine Ny Teknik an interview.

Dr. Ahlberg told Mats that he thinks that today’s search engines have shortcomings when it comes to temporal information: “Google doesn’t understand time. And there are very few systems that understand time. It’s tricky. Internet tends to organize in terms of publication date.”

“It is really not easy to be able to extract temporal information from human texts, especially when it is by journalists who like to write in a colorful way,” says Dr. Ahlberg.
To be able to do that, the software must make sense of vague terms like “early next week,” “on Thursday,” “soon,” “later,” and “towards the end of the year.” According to Dr. Ahlberg, Recorded Future has analyzed thousands of English temporal expressions and is now doing the same for other languages.

For a user, the analysis could result in knowing when a competitor’s new product will hit the market; or help one spot plans for mergers and acquisitions that will influence the stock market. Or maybe just knowing when the market thinks something will happen, and being able to track the rumors in advance, might be good enough for anyone trading in stocks.

The company has funding from Google Ventures and also from another party with a long history of gathering and analyzing information—the Central Intelligence Agency, via its venture capital company In-Q-Tel.

Christopher Ahlberg started out as a researcher in data visualization technologies. In the mid-1990s he started Spotfire, a company focused on analyzing and visualizing business-critical information from large databases. Spotfire had its head office in Cambridge, MA, with several customers in the New England biotech and pharma industry. Tibco, based in Palo Alto, CA, acquired the company in 2007 for about $195 million. Just like Spotfire, Recorded Future has part of its workforce in Sweden, as well as in other parts of the world, like Washington DC.

Erik Mellgren is a Swedish journalist who worked for Xconomy Boston in 2008 as part of the Stanford Innovation Journalism Fellowship program. His real job is with Ny Teknik, a leading technology and innovation magazine in Sweden, but he loved seeing the Red Sox at Fenway. Follow @

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