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Big data is useful, scary, and more subjective than you know

Big data helps us understand our customers, but it also helps budding companies sell information about you (or TO you), and is more subjective than you may know – it takes a human touch to determine what info is important.

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Big data is here and unavoidable

For years, we’ve written about big data and showcased the progression of business intelligence available now to brands of every size, in fact, most businesses have a feel for this type of data – open a spreadsheet of your sales data and you already know it’s just a bunch of numbers unless they are analyzed and filtered. Today, I want to review what big data is, how it is currently being used, what this means for the future, and most importantly, how it can be cherry picked and why it can upset entire industries.

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]”Big data” is typically consisting of at least dozens of terabytes in a single data set.[/ba-pullquote]“Big data” is defined as large data sets which cannot be managed with simple, common software that captures and processes the data, and is typically consisting of at least dozens of terabytes in a single data set. The challenges of big data are really big. It is described by Gartner analyst, Doug Laney as being three-dimensional, i.e. increasing volume (amount of data), velocity (speed of data in/out), and variety (range of data types, sources).

Let’s talk about how BIG this really is

Let me illustrate. The University of Nebraska physics department has 1.6 petabytes of data – that’s 1.6 million gigabytes in one department at one school. Boeing jet engines can produce 10 terabytes of operational information for every 30 minutes they turn. As of 2012, the average smartphone user has 736 pieces of personal data collected every day, stored for one to five years by service providers.

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]By 2020, there will be 5,200 gigabytes of data for every human on Earth.[/ba-pullquote]IBM’s chief executive, Virginia Rometty said, “By one estimate there will be 5,200 gigabytes of data for every human on the planet by 2020. And powerful new computing systems can store and make sense of it nearly instantaneously.” It has also been predicted that in the coming years, over 200,000 big data specialists will be required to make sense of the barrage of data being collected.

Big data is already being used today in a big way

Big data is a big deal and it’s not just because there’s a lot of it. In fact, today alone, SumAll raised $4 million and DataSift raised a whopping $42 million to help businesses make sense of their data as it relates to social media.

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]Retailers are analyzing your facial expressions on camera to tell if you’re a happy shopper, and tracking your gender, age, and size as you walk in the door.[/ba-pullquote]Big data is already used in amazing ways by the retail industry by analyzing shopper height and size as they walk in the door to determine age, gender, and more, and even have cameras analyzing facial expressions while you’re shopping to gauge your experience. If that doesn’t impress you, there’s already a seasoned company that is tracking “visual mentions” online so if you share a picture of your Starbucks cup on Instagram, even if you don’t say Starbucks or use GPS, Starbucks can see that their logo, even if curved, was used online on a social network.

Predicting the future with big data

But it’s not just that data is having a tremendous impact on life today, it is still a young sector with many startups yet to pop up to solve the data conundrums. SiftScience fights fraud using machine-learning that learns from data to recognize patterns of fraudulent behavior based on past examples, and Hadoop helps companies analyze massive amounts of generating about user behavior and their own operations while Recorded Future uses algorithms that unlock predictive signals based on web chatter to determine a brand anticipate risks and capitalize opportunities.

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]Intel is working on technology using big data to allow you to see three cars ahead, behind, and beside you.[/ba-pullquote]There are already projects in the works that allows forecasters to predict weather up to 42 days in advance, potentially saving lives and billions of dollars a year.Intel is working on a big data project that allows cars to communicate so drivers will be able to see three cars in front of, behind, and to the left and right – simultaneously. Ford is developing vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure systems to warn drivers of potentially hazardous traffic events, like cars going through red lights.

But big data has some really big problems

First, and least upsetting, is that there are big problems with demographics, leaving brands with a lot of data that doesn’t yet mean much. Why? Incomplete self reporting is a huge issue because brands are still focused on using social networking profile data to gather intelligence on their site users, fans, and the like, but when they rely on this data, people may not be completely truthful (they may say they are 32, but they’re 12, and so forth). Additionally, privacy does protect users to a certain extent, blocking intelligence gathering by brands. Lastly, data is still largely inconsistent and unconnected – you may have a Twitter account and Facebook account, but a third party doesn’t know that unless (a) you use the same username consistently or (b) you grant access to both accounts through that third party.

While other problems exist (like how will we ever store all of this data, disseminate it, and make sense of it, and does it all really matter?), the biggest one we see is the potential for cherry picking, because when you look at a data set, it still takes a human to actually determine what is important to garner from that data set.

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]Big data may mean more information, but it also means more false information.[/ba-pullquote]Industry expert Nassim Taleb opined in February, “With big data, researchers have brought cherry-picking to an industrial level. Modernity provides too many variables, but too little data per variable. So the spurious relationships grow much, much faster than real information. In other words: Big data may mean more information, but it also means more false information.”

Taleb addresses something that could lead one to think that big data is faulty and bad, but perhaps Taleb is really pointing out the human nature that is still required in some instances of analyzing big data – and most people would not typically question a researcher or their methods, leaving analysis in its youngest phase subjective.

Chris Treadaway, CEO and Founder of Polygraph Media which is famous for data-driven analytics said, “To analyze big data, you have to know when you have enough data, know that you’re looking at the right data, and know how and when to draw conclusions from the data using methods developed from statistics theory and data science. That’s the great irony of “big data” – it’s as much of an art as a science, which is why the best efforts are multidisciplinary.”

“Big data can find tremendous hidden relationships,” Treadaway continued, “but you have to make sure your bias isn’t to find conclusions that don’t exist. Bias can cause the situation Taleb describes, and will cause disinformation as he says. If you’re cautious, discerning, and careful, you can make the most of big data. But there are pitfalls for the careless.”

And the coup de gras

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]Your performance data, finances, company info and more are already being repackaged for public consumption and monetization.[/ba-pullquote]The coup de gras is that professionals are being threatened by new ways big data is being used, but they are not recognizing it as a big data issue.

Several industries are seeing data about them individually, their performance, their company, their finances, all analyzed and repackaged for public consumption or monetization.

Imagine a site launches tomorrow based on publicly available data and you’re a social media consultant. Let’s say that this new site looks at who has recommended you on LinkedIn, Yelp, Angie’s List and so on, and has determined that the people recommending you are clients of yours, based on the assumption that it is the only reason they’d recommend you or review you. The new site also analyzes words and pictures used in your online bios to determine characteristics about you.

Then, they take those reviews and characteristics and quantify you into a score, giving you more points if someone from Coca Cola reviewed you than if the local dentist reviewed you, implying that you’re a higher quality consultant if you’ve worked with a major brand like Coca Cola than if you worked with a local dentist (God forbid you specialize in social media for independent medical professionals).

Then, Google gets interested in this new site and they invest, and later, they want to use that data to populate your Google+ profile, so now you, the social media consultant, has a score next to their face to determine how good you are at your job.

What’s wrong with that?

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]You must understand that data requires a human to determine what is relevant, which doesn’t always allow for the full context of the data points.[/ba-pullquote]Data is subjective, even when raw – it takes humans to determine what data points in the sea of data are relevant, and it doesn’t always take into account the context surrounding that data. You, the social media consultant, could have taken a two year sabbatical to execute social media strategies pro bono for three tiny charities, four local restaurants, two African orphanages, and a spa, earning a reputation for your high quality of work and compassion that can’t possibly quantified by a computer.

This scenario is fake. For now. But with every human generating billions of data points every year, evaluations are just the first of many steps in what is to come with big data – the data is now generated, and it is a race to see what can be displayed about you and your business so that companies can sell to you or repackage your data and sell it to someone else. Even your brand will be using big data to gain insights into your customers so you can better serve them.

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]The race is on to see what can be displayed online about you and your business, which is being repackaged and resold.[/ba-pullquote]There are pros and cons to big data, but the reality is that it is unavoidable, even if you ignore it or misunderstand it. Consumers need to begin to recognize when they see big data, and understand that it may not be the true context of that data, as it is ripe with humans’ decisions regarding what is important about a data set. This is just the beginning.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Patrick Gallagher

    December 6, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    100% spot on conclusion: “…as it is ripe with humans’ decisions regarding what is important about a data set.”

    I like how Rory Sutherland (sometimes with Taleb or speaking about his work) kicks these ideas around. As soon as you pick certain data points and make them *the* metrics to follow the data becomes skewed and meaningless. You changed it just by looking at it so hard.

    Good stuff.

  2. Hank Miller

    December 9, 2013 at 7:35 am

    We are drowning in data and it can lead to paralysis by analysis.

    Watching videos and researching how to make shrimp scampi, set a broken wrist or install a hard drive does not mean that you can do it. Somewhere along the line a human with experience in the appropriate field has to provide guidance and identify the key points.

    Piles of data are just that – without someone with the abilty to effectively apply the appropriate parts to the specific question at hand there is nothing. Nothing but confusion

  3. Pingback: Top venture capitalist explains how tech startups can stand out when seeking funding - The American Genius

  4. Pingback: Big data is watching you - some will panic, others will rejoice - The American Genius

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A look into why AI couldn’t save the world from COVID-19

(TECH NEWS) AI is only as powerful and intelligent as the teams building it, but we just don’t have the data yet. So perhaps, we just aren’t there quite yet.

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Even in the best of times, the human race can hardly be defined by our patience in the face of uncertainty. COVID-19 has rocked our feelings of safety and security. Hospitals have struggled to keep up with demand for care, and researchers are working tirelessly to create a vaccine. Early on in the fight against this virus, some looked to artificial intelligence technology to lead the pack in finding a solution to the global health crisis, but science takes time and AI is no different.

Over two months ago, when COVID-19 was still most prevalent in China, researchers were already attempting to use AI to fight the virus’ spread. As Wired reports, researchers in Wuhan, China attempted to screen for COVID-19 by programming an AI to analyze chest CTs of patients with pneumonia.

The AI would then decipher if the patient’s pneumonia stemmed from COVID-19 or something less insidious. This plan failed for the same reason many pursuits do – a lack of time and data to pull it off.

The United Nations and the World Health Organization examined the lung CT tool, but it was deemed unfit for widespread use. The lung CT tool, and all other AI driven projects, are limited by the humans designing and operating them.

We have struggled to collect and synthesize data in relation to COVID-19, and as a result tools, like the lung CT scans, cannot hope to succeed. AI is only as powerful and intelligent as the teams building it, so perhaps, we just aren’t there quite yet. Our tenacity and optimism continue to drive AI forward, but progress can only be sped up so much.

Like all science, AI has its limitations, and we cannot expect it to be a miracle cure for all our problems. It requires data, experimentation, and testing just like any other scientific pursuit. There are many problems to unlock before AI can be a leader in the driving force for positive change, but its shortcomings do not outweigh its potential. AI couldn’t save us from COVID-19, but as researchers continue to learn from this global event, AI may still save us in the future.

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Chrome can now group and color code your open tabs

(TECH NEWS) Do you have too many tabs, and can’t tell what’s what? Google has tab groups that make it easier to find what you’re looking for.

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Are you a tab collector? That’s Google’s name for people who have tabs upon tabs upon tabs open on their Google Chrome browser. And while third party apps are already available to help collectors manage tabs, Google is now stepping in with Tab Groups.

Tab Groups, try it here, allows users to color-code, group and add text or emoji labels to separate clusters of tabs in their browser.

Right-click on any tab and choose Add to New Group. A gray dot will appear to the left of the tab and outline it in the same color. Clicking on the dot lets users update the color, label and name the group. Once grouped together, the tab groups can be moved and reordered. They’re also saved when Chrome is closed and reopened.

Google said after testing Tab Groups for months, they noticed people usually arranged their tabs by topic and that appeared most common when people shopped or were working on a project.
“Others have been grouping their tabs by how urgent they are, “ASAP,” “this week” and “later.” Similarly, tab groups can help keep track of your progress on certain tasks: “haven’t started,” “in progress,” “need to follow up” and “completed.”

Of course, this new feature does nothing to dissuade users from opening too many tabs, despite research that says multitasking may change the structure of your brain and Chrome is notorious for using too much RAM. So now you can’t concentrate, and your computer is running hot and slowing down.

A solution? Use Chrome extensions such as The Great Suspender, which suspends tabs that have been inactive for a specific amount of time. Don’t worry, you can whitelist specific websites so if you always need a tab for Twitter open, it won’t be suspended.

Another tip is to focus on one task at a time using the Pomodoro Technique, breaking tasks and your workday into 25-minute bursts of productivity with five-minute breaks in between. FocusMe uses a timer and website blocker to reduce the risk of getting distracted. You’re on the internet, after all.

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Quarantine bod got you down? AI trainer Artifit lifts you up

(TECH NEWS) If staying home has caused some unfortunate weight gain, Artifit can help you keep your home body fit during and way after quarantine is over.

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Mandatory lockdown’s have changed people’s routine’s in every conceivable way. From the way we work and cook to how we exercise. Home workout routines have been a hot topic in the last couple of months. People are trying to find a way to retain some sense of normalcy and maintain their healthy lifestyles We’ve all heard jokes about the so called “Quarantine 15” online and maybe you’ve even made a disparaging comment or two about your weight since gyms closed.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a little weight gain the face of a global pandemic. The world is changing, your life is changing, and times are scary. Be gentle with yourself and those around you.

If you are looking for a way to get regular workouts back into your life and YouTube videos just aren’t cutting it, there is a high-tech solution. Artifit is an AI personal trainer designed to make your solo workouts safer and more effective. The app acts as your personal trainer by creating your workout plans, tracking progress, and providing posture corrections.

The app uses your phone’s camera to track your reps and spot errors in form while providing real time audio feedback. According to the app creators, [Artifit] recognizes 20 major joints movements via mobile camera, and we are constantly working on adding new joints and improving the algorithm.”

Beyond the workouts, Artifit taps into your competitive side by providing you with a score at the end of each work out that you can then share with friends. The app measures and analyze your progress over time and uses this data to create a workout plan that is best suited for you.

There are a ton of reasons you might be looking for a tech-driven approach to your workout routine. Most of us already rely on technology to track out movement in one way or another – think about the Health app on your phone or your Fitbit. Working out from home isn’t for everyone, but some are thriving under a more flexible schedule and want to keep it that way.

If you are not sure when you’re going to feel comfortable going to the gym again or you no longer want to fuss over scheduling appointments with a personal trainer, this could be the app for you. Artifit can help you keep your homebody tendencies intact way after quarantine is over.

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