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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 March, 2004, 11:44 GMT
The computer that can predict your vote
There's a computer program which can predict how - and if - you'll vote, based on where you shop and which newspaper you buy. How does it work?

Ballot box
Can a computer predict the result?
Science fiction has become reality with a computer program whose makers claim it can predict the future with quite remarkable accuracy.

According to the program, Paan - which stands for Political Advanced Analysis Network - Tony Blair has got the next general election in the bag - despite Iraq, tuition fees and suspicions that tax rises are on the way.

Paan uses a mass of political and social information, including shopping habits, ethnic background and car ownership to produce predictions in every constituency. Despite its complexity, it can be operated from a PC.

In 2002, for instance, it got the Welsh Assembly elections pretty much spot on, miscalling only one seat, despite complications such as three-way marginals and proportional representation.

The system was devised by a whiz kid in his mid-20s who was inspired by the theories of Professor Stephen Hawking that technology would advance to such a point that the future could be predicted if computers were fed enough information.

Woman in supermarket
If Waitrose is coming to town and you're a Labour MP, worry
Steve Morgan
Paan's chairman, Steve Morgan, says the program is based on an analysis of human behaviour as well as polling information.

Someone who buys veggie burgers and The Guardian is likely to have a very different outlook on the world than a Daily Mail reader who likes best British beef.

"If Waitrose is coming to town and you're a Labour MP, worry," says Mr Morgan. "Only about 25 of its stores around the country are in Labour constituencies."

Seeing the future

Paan is so sophisticated that it is able to predict majorities and turn-out in individual seats, Mr Morgan says. It analyses thousands of pieces of socio-economic data, which is then cross-referenced against previous local and national election results.

Ballot papers
Its applications go beyond politics
Another major factor is the local popularity of the candidate and their party.

The program gives each contender and their party a rating based on the national prominence - or notoriety - of the candidate, the political make-up and actions of the local authority, and how much the sitting MP's party is perceived to be doing for the constituency. Perhaps most significantly, the system can tell candidates and parties what they need to do to improve their chances of success.

Away from politics, Paan can also be used to help target the marketing of new products. And that could bring an end to a mailbox crammed with unwanted junk mail with no relevance to the householder's lifestyle.

As such computer systems become more and more sophisticated, the predictions will become even more accurate. Who knows - perhaps at some future time we won't need to hold elections at all. But that's going too far. Isn't it?

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