By Ryan Singel
Cell phones know whom you called and which calls you dodged, but they can also record where you went, how much sleep you got and predict what you're going to do next.
At least, these are the capabilities of 100 customized phones given to students and employees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- and they may be coming soon to your cell phone.
The phones were part of a Ph.D. project by MIT Media Lab researcher Nathan Eagle, who handed out the devices as a way to document the lives of students and employees of MIT, ranging from first-year undergrads and MBA students to Media Lab employees and professors.
Eagle's Reality Mining project logged 350,000 hours of data over nine months about the location, proximity, activity and communication of volunteers, and was quickly able to guess whether two people were friends or just co-workers. It also found that MBA students actually do spend $45,000 a year to build monster Rolodexes, and that first-year college students -- even those who attend MIT -- lead chaotic lives.
He and his team were able to create detailed views of life at the Media Lab, by observing how late people stayed at the lab, when they called one another and how much sleep students got.
Given enough data, Eagle's algorithms were able to predict what people -- especially professors and Media Lab employees -- would do next and be right up to 85 percent of the time.
Eagle used Bluetooth-enabled Nokia 6600 smartphones running custom programs that logged cell-tower information to record the phones' locations. Every five minutes, the phones also scanned the immediate vicinity for other participating phones. Using data gleaned from cell-phone towers and calling information, the system is able to predict, for example, whether someone will go out for the evening based on the volume of calls they made to friends.
Eagle sees the project as a way to envision how mobile devices will further change our lives, but also as a revolutionary new way to study social networks.
The project was able to record how the lab as a whole responded to events as disparate as an organization-wide deadline and the Red Sox's stunning World Series win in 2004.