I recently came across this article about Evidence for Informed Trading on the Attacks of September 11. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I am going to assume that the article is valid. Certainly, the idea that no one other than the perpertrators will have known about the attack is quite far-fetched in my mind. And it doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to think that someone might try to gain financialy from such an attrocity if they knew it was going to happen. In any case this post is not about that, it's about the ability to use the financial markets to forsee the immediate future.
The article indicates that it only took a day or so to start making links between certain trades and the attack. Now, how about if we work that analysis backwards. That is, spot suspect trades on the markets, link them to certain people and then see who these people are connnected to and so on until the the World Trade Center is identified as a target.
Well, shortly after reading the above article, I also came across this one by Tim Berners-Lee, called Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality written on the 20th Anniversary of the Web (November 22, 2010) in Scientific American. Largely about net neutrality, he also raises the idea of linked data and gives the fight against Alzheimers as an example of how it is already being put to use. So imagine a real-time linked data network of information designed to spot unusual trades on the world's financial markets and to link this back to those pulling the strings. We already have the ability to spot such trades as well as the ability link them to events that have happened. Once we can do this in real-time I think the ability to avert, or at least to perpare for, certain events should be within our grasp. I just hope we don't end up in a world like the one in Minority Report. Or maybe it will be more like the Issac Assimov's Foundation Series and their use of "psychohistory" to predict the future.
Where it will really get interesting is when people, knowing about the existence of such a system, still try to gain financially from such attacks. They will be trying to game the system. A bit like certain sites try to game Google's AdWords system. Perhaps Google will be the police as they have as good an insight into online behaviour as anybody. But what about privacy concerns? This discussion is endless, so I'll just leave it at that for now.