Those who believe that Armageddon is a matter of only four years, finally have their fears confirmed. The Web Bot Project, a system used to predict financial trends, warns that a "worldwide calamity" is in store for 2012.
The Web Bot Project was established in the early 1990s and has been greatly developed within the rapid spread of the Internet at the onset of the twenty-first century. One of the project's main advantages is its simplicity: a programmer composes a set of words or phrases such as "crisis" or "stocks," which are later searched for on the Internet. Whenever one is traced, the system copies it and sends to the server where the word is described and explained by specialists. At first, Web Bot constructors hoped that the system would help predict the future fluctuations on Wall Street and give businessmen enough time to prevent financial crises comparable to the crash of 1929.
But if the Web Bot could handle such a difficult area as global finances, then why shouldn't it be used for other purposes? George Ure, who runs a website on "business, financial, and earth change news," became interested in the technology seven years ago. "In June 2001, I began to correspond with a reader of my website who said he was willing to share access to a promising new web technology, on the condition that I protect his identity," Ure begins his account of his acquaintance with the man who had played a major role in developing the Web Bot. Their cooperation lasted several weeks and produced a surprising outcome. Ure and his mysterious partner learned than in 60-90 days a "world changing event" would take place, a phrase they associated with a new anti-missile weapon that was to be tested in the fall.
Only after the first airplane hit the World Trace Center twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001, did Ure realized what the Web Bot had been talking about. "So there I was, having just completed a sales & marketing job in San Francisco the previous week, wondering was the ABM Missile test the 'world changing event," remembered Ure. Although the system had warned against "an attack on house or assembly," Ure never took it seriously "because the technology doesn't come out and say 'go look for a terrorist attack over there.'"
Two years later the system made another discovery. "[I]n January of 2003, the web bots were going on and on about a 'maritime disaster,'" said Ure. He remained befuddled, much like in 2001, until, on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia exploded while attempting to re-enter the atmosphere. Suddenly everything made sense: a space shuttle can also be described as a space ship and from there it is not hard to draw a parallel between the sky and the sea. "We think of web bot outputs like holding up a sheet of paper with several hundred pinholes in it - and trying to guess what's on the other side by looking through pinholes, but just for an instant."
The Web Bot Project only scans the Internet for words whereas it is people who analyze them. In this aspect, the system resembles what linguists call language corpora - software designed to search words and present them in the right context. For example, if a foreign teacher or student wants to see how the word "crime" is used, he or she types it into the computer and the language corpora produces all the sentences with "crime" it has found in its database. But here appears a problem similar to one obstructing the Web Bot. "How can students be expected to understand language evidence that, perhaps, comes from scientific journals or from highly idiosyncratic language varieties?" asks professor Jeremy Harmer, the author of Practice of English Language Teaching.
If Web Bot results are prone to multiple interpretations, can the system be trusted? Those who are ready to pay $30,000 per run to prove that the end of the world will come in 2012, believe it can. Their confidence is additionally boosted by the system's ethics which says: "There is no witchcraft or woo-woo in what we do - it's hard core computer science and radical linguistics. So, no magic to be had. And all the source code is kept in 'ready to disappear' mode." The records provided by the Web Bot have confirmed the ancient Mayan and Chinese prophesies that the year 2012 will bring an unspecified disaster and maybe even the anticipated Armageddon. "Here's where it starts to become very interesting. The bot program also predicts a worldwide calamity taking place in the year 2012," writes one excited blogger.
So far, the Web Bot, rather than a fortune teller, has been regarded as harmful software spying on people e-mail addresses. The system designed to prevent a future crash on Wall Street, has found the majority of its clients among companies interested in sending advertisements to online users without asking for their permission. If you are frustrated every time you have to type strange numbers and letters to sign up to a chat room or your mailbox - a required step to prove that you are a real person, not a spying software - blame the Web Bot. What is more, the software also lacks the intelligence necessary to predict the future. "Web bots basically stumble trying to perform simple tasks that humans, even those not terribly bright, can do in their sleep," wrote an Associated Press journalist who covered the topic in 2002.
Web Bot warnings are like the prophesies of Nostradamus. There are as many interpretations of his texts as people willing to read them. To quote the French journalist Marcel Pagnol, "The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved that it will be."