Friday, April 16, 2010


The book “ Super Crunchers” by Ian Ayers explained how statistical evidence obtained through data mining is fast replacing human intuition in decision-making. “ Cutting-edge organizations are already crunching increasingly larger databases to find the unseen connections among seemingly unconnected things to predict human behavior with staggeringly accurate results. From Internet sites like Google and Amazon that use filters to keep track of your tastes and your purchasing history, to insurance companies and government agencies that every day make decisions affecting your life, the brave new world of the super crunchers is happening right now”.

Credit card companies use data mining extensively to send out the right mailer to the right group. If your spending pattern shows that you like Chinese food, they can send you a mailer when a new Chinese restaurant opens in the city. The connection will not even register in your mind, but you will be led subliminally to the ‘Wong Fu” or the “ Fong Chu” or whatever the new restaurant is called.

Now, the field of  data mining is getting far more advanced and nuanced. This article that I read (via) says that Visa Card can actually predict when someone is going in for a divorce. Other seemingly strange correlations have been unearthed from the data. Passengers who prefer aisle seats on planes spend more money on others than on themselves and so, I guess, will be the prime targets for ‘gift’ shop brochures.

Below the article, a commenter adds, “British airways are understanding consumer behaviour in a different light. Passengers now look to the airlines not simply as a mode of transport, but to catch on movies they've missed. That seriously resonated with me, am often guilty of that. With the average traveler facing a lack of time, behaviours shift with the passage of time and the way entertainment is presented will start to shift radically.”

Flights not as mode of transport, but as movie theatres! Where are we heading?

Is it all about computers/data/numbers/super-crunching? Is there no value to human intuition? A Little Birdy has commented on the article :

"After working for 10 years as a bartender and 20 years in the legal field, I can tell you that it's amazing the things that all people do and share no matter what their race, religion, gender or socio-economics. It's very easy to predict behavior. I used to be able to take one look at a couple who came in to the bar where I worked and tell if they were married, if so how long, if the were on their first date or if they were cheating lover and I could do it in about 60 seconds. We used to bet on how long it took for certain behaviors to occur.”

Thank you, Little Birdy. There’s hope for the human race.

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