“Where do you see yourself in five years?” It’s a question anybody who has ever interviewed for a job has faced, one that always gets answered vaguely and in a way that you hope reflects confidence, ambition, and whatever silly thing the interviewer is looking for besides, “I just need a job.” Well, thanks to researchers from Microsoft, maybe you can give a more exact answer. Like, “At the laundromat down on 31st street picking up my dry cleaning.”

The word of the decade is “data.” And the word everyone wants in front of that one is “predictive.”

The researchers from Microsoft have taken that to what seems improbable lengths. Using a system called Far Out, they’re able to predict where an individual will be a year out.

And it’s apparently scary-accurate. From a Fast Company piece on the system:

Using information from a pool of 300 volunteers in the Seattle metro area, [they] gathered a mountain of location data. As the volunteers went about their daily lives–going to work, to the grocery store, out for a jog, even for transcontinental travel–each carried a GPS device much the same way they carried a cell phone. To further ensure accuracy, the researchers also installed GPS devices in commercial shuttles and transit vans that the volunteers used regularly, and the volunteers’ own vehicles. After collecting over 150 million location points, the researchers then had Far Out, the first system of its kind to predict long-term human mobility in a unified way, parse the data. Far Out didn’t even need to be told exactly what to look for–it automatically discovered regularities in the data.

Of course, we all have major life events that change our lives and our routines, but the system adapts to that pretty easily…and apparently we don’t have too many over the course of our life.

There’s a convenience and an opportunity to being able to predict the movements of the populace, but it can be pretty depressing too. I mean, if a year of our life is predictable, it doesn’t take too many jumps to being able to predict an entire life.

And predictable isn’t usually something we like putting on a job application.

Photo credit: Boston Public Library, Flickr