Computational linguists predict TIME's "Person of the Year" using computer model

December 11, 2013, Radboud University Nijmegen

On Wednesday 11 December the American TIME Magazine will announce its 'Person of the Year' 2013. An international team of computational linguists has now built a quantitative model that has predicted the outcome for 2013.

Ever since 1927 TIME has annually named a "Person of the Year". In doing so, the American weekly journal highlights the one person "who TIME's editors think most influenced the news this year, for good or bad". An international team of computational linguists has now built a that has predicted the outcome for 2013. The model only uses the articles which TIME itself published during the previous year.

Learning to rank

With methods from it is possible to measure the "cultural impact" of people in texts. It turns out to be very significant, for instance, if a person is continuously mentioned in a long series of issues of TIME. Instead of using the plain frequencies of names, the model uses an advanced technology called "Learning to Rank" that is often used by online search engines. The model moreover makes smart use of Wikipedia to resolve ambiguous person names. Of course, computers have a hard time to determine which "Clinton" is meant in a text at first sight.

29 percent accurate

The researchers have tested their model on a previous list of 'Persons of the Year'. For the period 1923-2006, the "Person of the Year" was among the model's top-ten candidates in 78 percent of the all the years tested. Furthermore, the model was able to rank the correct person in first position in 29 percent of the cases.

These are excellent scores, because the magazine often mentions over 5000 distinct persons per year. Sometimes, TIME also elects abstract groups, such as "The American Soldier" in 2003. "Understandably, the method fails in the case of such difficult to predict choices", says Mike Kestemont (University of Antwerp, Belgium).

Folgert Karsdorp (Meertens Institute, Amsterdam / Radboud University Nijmegen) further comments: "It is quite surprising that we were able to model this mediatized election in a lot of cases. Perhaps our prediction will prove right tomorrow; perhaps not. TIME's editors always have the last word and they are certainly not scared of last-minute surprises."

Barack Obama?

For 2014 the model predicted the following ranking, with Barack Obama in first position and a surprising third position for actress Miley Cyrus. The recently deceased Mandela falls just outside the top 10 in this list. The international team of researchers now anxiously awaits tomorrow morning's official announcement of TIME's "Person of the Year". In the near future they will submit their method for peer review with a leading scientific journal. These results demonstrate the major role which computers are yet to play in scientific research, especially in what is nowadays called the "Digital Humanities" or "eHumanities".

  1. Barack Obama
  2. Vladimir Putin
  3. Miley Cyrus
  4. George W. Bush
  5. Angelina Jolie
  6. Katie Couric
  7. David Bowie
  8. Rush Limbaugh
  9. John Kerry
  10. Hamid Karzai

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3.8 / 5 (5) Dec 11, 2013
I bet the name on whole world mouths is: Edward Snowden but I bet Times will never admit that.:)
3 / 5 (2) Dec 11, 2013
Year 1984 + New Brave World = World Year 2013.
2 / 5 (4) Dec 11, 2013
Well, it was just announced on the CBC - the Time person of the Year is Pope Francis - IMHO a good choice by all counts. My advise would be is to scrap this predictive model and start again. Also, don't use it to predict your next win in Vegas.
2.3 / 5 (6) Dec 11, 2013
I predicted they would be wrong.
not rated yet Dec 11, 2013
Computational linguistics live in another word. Pope Francis is not listed in their "predictions", but he is the Time person of the Year.
I think that this team of researchers should change job.
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 11, 2013
They have equal success as the AGWites and their flawed models.
3 / 5 (3) Dec 11, 2013
It's just a pattern search.

@ineuw: "a good choice by all counts".

A terrible choice by most accounts. The organization is generally known as a global mafia sect that aids and abets pedophiles. And it is a base, tawdry, misogynistic movement that works against helping rape victims, abortion and contraception and doesn't stoop to lying in the process. It also lies about science such as biology and cosmology, and promotes a magic superstition which is tantamount to homeopathy. The physical process of inflation dilutes any presumed initial cosmological sect magic (aka creationism) to 1 part in 10^150, while generic homeopathy dilutes its magic ingredients to 1 part in 10^60 - 10^400.

The former leader Ratzinger is documented as a main organizer of the pedophile ring, avoiding prosecution on the technical matter of the italian state mocking global democracy and jurisdiction with having a contract with the organized sect as a 'state'. Nothing says Bergoglio is any better.
1 / 5 (3) Dec 12, 2013
Adolf Hitler made "Times Man of the Year" along with Stalin, and George Dubbayah Bush.
1 / 5 (3) Dec 12, 2013
The former leader Ratzinger is documented as a main organizer of the pedophile ring,

Isn't it peculiar that only "pedophile" priests in this scandal have little boys as their victims? Where's the little girls, or the nuns with little boys? Answer: they were gay priests.

If you knew any history at all, other than the totalitarian fantasies from "history" books written by communists like Howard Zinn, you'd know that draft evaders during the VietNam war took two paths: the heteros went to college or Canada and the gays went into the seminary. What better place for them - a career where marriage was denied to priests, and they had spiritual power positions over young boys in a variety of situations.

For decades, prelates have worried about the homosexualization of the culture of the priesthood. This is all but ignored by those who for ideological reasons choose to demonize Catholics, gays being among their most vocal critics. More hypocrisy from the statists.

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