The Future Is Now: UC Institute for Prediction Technology

A person's brain, lit up, with connection points

By Jeané Blunt. Using technology to predict the future sounds like something straight out of a movie, possibly starring Tom Cruise. In reality, the University of California Institute for Prediction Technology (UCIPT) is a multi-disciplinary, multi-campus organization that leverages social technologies to predict human behaviors and outcomes. Founder and Executive Director Sean Young describes it as “a group across UC campuses who study how we can use social data to solve real-world problems in society.”

Young founded the UCIPT after winning the University of California President’s Research Catalyst Award in 2015. His role initially was to identify and recruit potential members from the UC campuses. Today there are faculty leaders at five UC campuses: UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, and UC Irvine. To identify what real-world problems UCIPT should tackle, they consult with stakeholders and industry partners like Google, Facebook, the California Highway Patrol, and the Centers for Disease Control.

Many of their studies utilize geolocation technology, identifying the geographic location of a person or device based on their Internet use. Recently, the UCIPT collaborated with Google and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to try to identify ways for first responders to get to car crashes faster.

Young said, “One study quoted that if you could cut off 30 seconds, then you can save about 10,000 lives. We got Waze data from recorded users and CHP data on car crashes that occurred within the state. We found that using Waze data, we could identify car crashes about 3.5 minutes before the CHP feed showed it. We’ve brokered this relationship between Waze and CHP to see if Waze data can be integrated into CHP and first-responder feeds.”

The UCIPT has made some interesting discoveries in the medical field as well. Their research found that the number of Twitter “tweets” suggestive of HIV risk behaviors predicts the number of HIV cases at the county level. They are now working with AIDS directors around the country to develop maps and tools. Another study found that Internet searches for opiods were linked to opioid-related hospital admissions.

Currently, the UCIPT is completing a research study that aims to minimize panic during the coronavirus pandemic. The researchers hypothesized that “regular contact and information on the Coronavirus provided by peer leaders on social media will reduce participant’s levels of anxiety and panic related to the outbreak.” The study worked well, and the scientific publication is still under review.

In the meantime, the UCIPT recommends four empirically verified tips to minimize anxiety: practice self-care, meditate, build community (support from family, friends, etc.), and exercise.

Jeané Blunt is IT communications and UC FCC licensing coordinator at UC Office of the President.Jeané Blunt is IT communications and UC FCC licensing coordinator, Information Technology Services, UC Office of the President.

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