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Art and Science

Future Foundation

Future Foundation summarizes a letter to my father, Duncan Smith. Dad asked if Google's real-time tracking was "scary." Here is how I answered that difficult question.

Smartphones, when on, constantly bounce a signal off cell towers creating a virtual map of a user's movement. Read  Albert-Laszlo Barabasi's books (Network Science, Linked, Bursts) to learn why tracking doesn't matter. TRACKING = NEW KNOWLEDGE isn't usually the case since chances are good every move is predictable and forecastable from other data points.

I read an article about two years ago where Facebook explained they didn't need an account to know everything about a person. Since their numbers are large enough predicting behaviors for everyone on the planet is possible.

Psychohistory

Isaac Asimov in his Foundation books created a concept called "psychohistory."  The world's path was known said psychohistory. In aggregate man's course wasn't a mystery. An individuals journey couldn't be known, but man's future was inevitable.

Today's world is upside down psychohistory.

There is so much data about individuals behavior is forecastable like the weather. This tendency toward ever more accurate behavioral forecasts, described in Barabasi's Bursts book, is what Russian hackers used to sow dissonance and discord inside our Filter Bubbles.

And those bubbles bring is where the real damage is happening.

Filter bubbles

Eli Pariser explains filter bubbles in an excellent TED Talk. These self-reinforcing "bubbles" are how social engineers use data to predict the future. Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al. create continually reinforcing feedback loops to model you, my, and everyone we know's behavior. In Google's defense, that feedback loop is from known and observed tendencies.

The echo chamber filter bubbles create blot out questions, accuracy or reason.

Google isn't doing anything Facebook, Twitter, and hundreds of other businesses, the NSA, and the Russians know how to do. Humans are pattern producing machines except when we aren't (read Black Swan by Taleb).

Taleb's book is a favorite on Wall Street. Banks and investors forget the danger of bogus pattern recognition. Thinking pattern where there is only NOISE can hurt. Weather PREDICTION is how I explain the web. We have Big Data and so predict trends. Often what we thought was a predictable pattern was only noise.

We know a pattern until it is dramatically disproved often in real time.

The Rise of Real-Time

Real-time predictive analytics is the web's weather prediction. We spend BILLIONS to understand and tighten the web's weather prediction. Will there come a day, as Barabasi notes, when the Singularity is reached (listen to Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near )? Is the singularity's arrival scary? Certainly. Do we have much of a choice? Since Asimov's psychohistory and Gordon Moore's Law are already doing an incredible dance choice may have left the building.

Can all of this stuff be used for EVIL instead of GOOD? Certainly, algorithms can be used in evil ways and by bad actors as the Russians proved. Will any of it matter or change our psychohistory? Who knows :). M

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