RiftLand works by chewing its way through a range of data collected by charities, academics and government agencies, and uses these to predict where groups of people will go and with whom they may clash in times of drought or armed conflict.
Dr Cioffi-Revilla gives the example (though he will not name names specifically) of a tribe of nomadic herders known for sharing its notions of veterinary medicine with others. This tribe, the model predicts, will reckon it safer to cross the lands of groups who also rely on keeping their animals healthy. Another point is that tribes who own a radio or mobile phone will steer clear of roads after news reports of government atrocities against their kin. A third is that much of the movement of herdsmen can be predicted from satellite data on the condition of pasture lands, modified by knowledge of what Dr Cioffi-Revilla calls “the complex network of IOUs” between tribes: which are currently hostile to one another, and who owes whom favours.
More in the Economist.