Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Big data: 'We see you.'


     Jing Shyr is not afraid of big data.
     In fact, the IBM statistician spends her days trying to find better ways to hoover up the personal information that you spread around the Internet like a drunken sailor, and use that information, well, to better know what you're going to do and want next.
     "Every time you try to explain predictive analysis, people think it's 'The Matrix,'' said Shyr, who works for IBM's Analytics division in Chicago.  She said it's closer to weather forecasting. Is there a chance of rain? What does the data suggest? Should I bring an umbrella? That's predictive analysis.
     I wanted to talk to Shyr—pronounced "sheer"—because the description of her field was so obscure, to me. In the announcement last week naming her an IBM Fellow—the company's top technical innovation honor—she is identified as "a widely recognized leader in the field of predictive analytics. Her methodology for end-to-end automation of statistical analysis became the core of IBM SPSS Analytic Catalyst, a tool that enables non-specialist users to derive forward-looking insights from data."
     My hunch was, that means you can fire your middle managers and run your sales stats through an IBM program that tells you whether you'll need to stock more mittens in February. But I wanted to find out.
     "We watch web behavior of all kinds," she said, "listening what you are doing. What do you say on the blog? What do you tweet? Who do you follow? We take the behavior data, we understand you, we see you."
     And to think some find that ominous. She doesn't.
     "Technology is helping humans to articulate their thoughts, to make humans much smarter," she said.
     Two keys I keep in mind when approaching technology. First, every single device we use, bar none, was seen by some as the opening gong of doom when it first appeared. Gas lights were an offense to the night. Cars were fiendish. Computers would "take us over."
     Oh wait, that sort of happened, didn't it? Yet we don't mind. Which leads to the second key: people change along with technology. If the thought of billboards reflecting what TV show you watched last night seems intrusive, so did installing a telephone in your home, once.
     "If you really know how to connect the data, to give you a more clear view," Shyr said. "You get a much more focused and effective type of advertising. Now its still a little bit like junk mail."
     She worries herself about the online world.
     "As an individual, I am very very afraid to let other people know who I am," she said. " I'm very afraid someone will steal my identity. I'm anxious about that.  .... I am very troubled by all types of advertising. It becomes very annoying. "
     I told her a story about Amazon, which, like many writers, I tend to despise. But I ordered three books last Friday, they came--miribile dictu--on Sunday, two days later, via the US Postal Service. But only two books. I hurried online, thinking I would have to wage a private war against Amazon to get credit for the missing third book. The information was all there. The shipment split, the tardy book on its way. I felt more positive about Amazon.
     "The future is about  relationship between vendors and customers," she said. "You give your data, and that is trust. The company knows more about you, they can do the right thing about you. The company holds data and really knows you. How do they know you? They know the data: how often you shop, what is your behavior. Your likes and dislikes, Everything you do and don't do, that 's giving them information."
     So be afraid if you like. But this is happening, and some people are thrilled.
     "I am very very excited by this data," Shyr said. "Once you feel someone is taking the data, and it is for your own sake, predicting what it means, doing the things you want, it's magic. That's what I see. Predictive analysis can help society. I always explain to people: machines don't get tired. You just need to get them data. Then the machine helps humans become more focused and more efficient."

46 comments:

  1. >>Oh wait, that sort of happened, didn't it? Yet we don't mind.<<

    The winners (or those still hanging on) in the new economy don't mind. Those who can't find jobs because the machines have helped humans become so much more efficient, as Shyr puts it, might not be as "thrilled." Lawrence Summers recently came around to the notion that what is happening now with technology impacting the labor market is historically unprecedented - not the relatively minor/localized disruptions to certain fields we've seen in the past. You'll be hard pressed to find an economic recovery as long as the current one where individual workers on average didn't benefit from it.

    Yes, technological change "happens" and we can't stop it. But retrospective mocking of the Chicken Littles of the past keeps us from facing the challenges and debating what are going to be immense sociological questions. I will continue to go back to NS' post last November, when he mused about what displaced workers will do in the future and concluded "baristas and warehouse workers, I suppose." But the robots are increasingly doing the warehouse work (see 60 Minutes segment) and there's a limit to the amount of coffee we can drink (though admittedly I haven't hit it yet).

    The odd thing is that it's usually conservatives who are willing to put their trust in the "invisible hand" to take care of everything. When it comes to technology, all I've heard from progressives (other than a handful of people, including the highly recommended Michael Lind) is a call to soak the rich - which indeed may be part of the answer but not in the ways (mostly) they seek to use the money.

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    1. We have a Republican here, I see. or a DINO perhaps, for A not A.

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    2. One more time -- he's not a Republican or a DINO. He's a thoughtful progressive. That was an excellent comment that could be appreciated by somebody on either "side" who finds ideas more compelling than slogans.

      And "...I haven't hit it yet" was funny, to boot!

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    3. Thanks J (and I'll be here all night :-) ).

      Anon 8:39 - I'm honestly baffled: how did my calling for government intervention and higher taxes of some measure make you think I was a Republican? (Michael Lind, who I mentioned, used to write for Mother Jones). But if by DINO you mean blue dog dems, if you want to win elections you don't want to kick them out of the tent.

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    4. that person prob reads the posts too quickly and then gives wrong answers

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  2. I think you mistake reporting for mockery. When I say that people were aghast at telephones, I'm not attacking them. That's just the truth. And they were right, in that their genteel, tea-and-conversation world was going to be replaced by something faster. I'm not sure how getting the rich to contribute more to the society that enriches them is "soaking" them. It wasn't in the past. I wish we were as nostalgic about the ideas that encouraged a more equitable society as we were of the technology that allowed it. We miss manufacturing. Trade unionism, not so much.

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    1. Was this an in person interview, if may ask, phone, Skype?

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    2. Seems to me that trade unionism WAS one of "the ideas that encouraged a more equitable society" in the past. Now, we're getting back to the "good ole days" of noblesse oblige.

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    3. Re: "soak the rich" - I'm referring to those progressives who propose doing little more to fix our budget problems than raising taxes on the wealthy (e.g., Karen Lewis). As I've said a number of times, I'm for higher taxes both on the 1% and the 5% myself - I think there's a point where taxes on the wealthy are too low to support the safety net/social programs we want as a society and a point where they are too high in that they become counterproductive to the economy in general (and other nations have had this experience when wealth became too concentrated and was chaotically "yanked down.") The "brave new employment world" is going to take more than just hitting up the 1% - believe me, I wish I had time to go into all the devils/details here :-)

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    4. I'm not a big Lewis fan myself

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  3. Tech is great but still bad with all the hackings on credit cards or bank cards that can take place, so still intrusive with cookies dropped-but the good outweighs the bad.

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  4. Beware of the Koch brothers.

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  5. I'm getting a stiff wrist from having to check the matching food groups on the captia.

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  6. Just spotted a story on Yahoo about a man who took his uncooperative computer out in the alley and "killed" it with several shots from his handgun. Said he didn't know it was against the law. Bet the Judge gives him a pass.

    John

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    1. If the puter was black in color, then the judge might give him a pass for shooting it.(like in a recent story)

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  7. John Maynard Keynes, arguing against the conservative notion that government intervention to address underemployment is futile because labor markets are self correcting in the long run, famously said "In the long run we are all dead." Were he alive today he might have said "in the long run we are all data."

    Tom Evans

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    1. Keynes ideas were a big help to FDR and his programs. None of that trickle down bull.

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  8. The Chinese overtaking us in tech. worker numbers. Of course their numbers are so huge. Some reports say many of the hackings come from there or Russia.

    How about telling this lady that China is building items in free seas and bullying some southeast Asian nations? Or about human rights in her nation?

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    1. Taiwan. Different nation than China (despite their "renegade province" palaver). Democratic. Much better at human rights, at least the past 30 years. Confusing China and Taiwan is like confusing North and South Korea.

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    2. Yes, I know of Taiwan, where Chang Kai Shek and nationalists went to hide after Mao's commie takeover in the late 40's.

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    3. Someone didn't read the column carefully. They are even ethnically different in Taiwan if original inhabitants. Where as that isn't the case in the Koreas, then same ethnicity. I used to teach some Asian History.

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  9. quiet here today

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    1. @Anonymous above -- Compared to what?

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    2. compared to same days there are more posts by late morn.

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    3. True, but only recently -- this blog goes back a few years. There are a lot of new commenters now, which is good. For a reader like myself, quality of comments can trump quantity, but I do enjoy the occasional free-wheeling aspect here. One issue I have which has been previously discussed: I find that replying to one of the several "Anonymous"es here -- is it the same "Anonymous" as the previous commenter or a different "Anonymous"? -- can be a challenge.

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    4. meant some days, not same days

      I am the great and powerful Anon, don't look behind the curtain

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  10. Hmmm... You despise Amazon, but then you got two books delivered in two days and they kept proper track of your order. This made you feel more positive about Amazon.

    So what do you despise about Amazon? Because sending you stuff relatively cheaply, promptly and efficiently is the whole point of the enterprise. The fact that they reportedly treat their employees like machines is what's despicable, but that's a large part of how they get you the stuff, as cheaply as they do, in two days. Why would you feel more positively about them for demonstrating the ruthless efficiency of their business model -- the model that is giving places such as the Book Bin a hard time? (Not that I know a single thing about the Book Bin -- feel free to insert any of the thousands of CLOSED independent book shops, instead.)

    Alas, I know exactly where you're coming from, as does any bookstore aficionado who's ever ordered from Amazon. A conundrum, indeed. And I realize that there are additonal reasons for writers to hate Amazon, beyond their physical book operation.

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    1. Well said, Jakash. I admit using Amazon frequently.

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    2. yes, one can get books deeply discounted there and used and cuts into writer's $, but by same token, then more books can be sold if more can thus afford them when cheaper

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    3. Anon not Anon and Jackash sound similar in their writing styles and also always trying to outdo the host.

      Why is some people in certain groups, say AKS instead of ask-gets on my last nerve.

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    4. it just gives me an axe to grind

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    5. at 1:01 meant why is it some people, insert IT

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  11. NS, can you remove or lighten the captia, it's not even numbers now but picture games.

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    1. it's hard for those with vision probs

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    2. The captia? You mean the test they give you to prove you're human. I can't even change the color on the font of the blog. It's all frozen. Sorry.

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    3. I mean change the test to numbers again or words, not food pics or signs, harder to see-if you have any say on that.

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  12. Wow, read all of ST today. So Rahm the elitist having his big wheelin bro renting out theaters for pre showings of films. Must be nice.

    And too bad the Ind. Dunes people got screwed by someone selling out to really build a banquet hall there. Done hush hush, Daley style so people couldn't do much.

    Yes, indeed good thing for CTU and Karen telling Rauner what a scrooge he is indeed.

    And 20 mill to pay for principal training? Like a feedback in paper said, spend it on teachers and school supplies and the class instead. wow, Rahm should have vetted Bennett first but he's prob in league with the school board.

    Sandy, hope this title helps to discern names.

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  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Tate, how do you delete comments please?

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    2. Anonymous can't delete comments. Only those of us that aren't cowards can delete them!
      And only anonymous commenters must use the CAPTCHAs!

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    3. thanks, now I put in name but captchia still came up!!!!!!

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  14. I got along fine without her services for decades. What she doesn't mention is the bias created by her algorithms. They think they know what I want and exclude what I might really want. We are devolving into societies of like minded groups to our overall detriment.

    Dave Tank

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    1. good point, Mr. Tank, that lady is too slick in her explanations, sneaky

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  15. I'm getting hungry looking at all those food captchias.

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  16. on new pic above-ridiculous on that fanatical kosher rules, down to no potholders even being used for same dairy or meat, fanaticism at it's worse, all religions have some, do they God would worry about that? oy vey on organized religion, believe if you wish, independently

    but mostly thank goodness for the Protestant Reformation (not counting fundamentalist Puritan types) and the Reformed Judaism group

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  17. yes and a lot of this is just to sell more stuff and make business, as NS hints at

    ot/ we should all read that INfidel book by this Somali lady on Islamic tribalism, it would be a bottomless pit for U.S. to get into that





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