Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Brave New World, "1984", The Minority Report... Get Ready For the Age of Big Data

Big Data is the big buzz, and the opportunities are endless.... but do we know what we are getting into? Jeremy Bailenson, the director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and co-author of the book Infinite Reality, wrote a fascinating and scary piece for Slate - Your Kinect Is Watching You.

"Just imagine if teachers, based on a small sample of their students’ nonverbal behavior, could instantly detect which students needed extra attention or specialized assignments.....  Other scientists have developed applications for detecting behavior in the home. Jaeyong Sung and his colleagues at Cornell University are looking at whether a Kinect could assist people by recognizing their activities—automatically detecting, for example, if someone is brushing her teeth, cooking, or opening a pill container. The models were highly accurate (84 percent) at categorizing behavior for people who the system had seen previously. But even more impressive was how it categorized new people. If someone new visits your home and walks past the video-game console, it still recognized that person’s behavior 64 percent of the time."
"Also consider a project we worked on at the behest of Kyoto-based factory automation company OMRON. With a single camera, we demonstrated that some workplace mistakes can be detected before they occur simply by examining the workers’ facial movements. Again, while tracking nonverbal behavior may help prevent accidents, it could also clue in employers about personal habits that workers might not want to share."
If that makes you think about where we are heading, go on and read Stephen Shankland's article for CNET News - How Google is becoming an extension of your mind:
"Think of Google diagnosing your daughter's illness early based on where she's been, how alert she is, and her skin's temperature, then driving yourcar to school to bring her home while you're at work. Or Google translating an incomprehensible emergency announcement while you're riding a train in foreign country. Or Google steering your investment portfolio away from a Ponzi scheme.
Google, in essence, becomes a part of you. Imagine Google playing a customized audio commentary based on what you look at while on a tourist trip and then sharing photo highlights with your friends as you go. Or Google taking over your car when it concludes based on your steering response time and blink rate that you're no longer fit to drive. Or your Google glasses automatically beaming audio and video to the police when you say a phrase that indicates you're being mugged."
If you think Google or Facebook is tracking your every move, listen to what these two researchers at the online educational start-up Knewton has to say:
"Mr. Ferreira: Knewton's capturing in the hundreds of thousands of data per user per day. We're capturing what you're getting right, what you're getting wrong, what answers you're falling for if you get something wrong, what concepts are in that answer choice that you're falling for. We're also capturing when you log into the system; how much you do; what tasks you do; what you don't do; what was recommended that you do that you didn't do, and vice versa. Your time on task for every little task, whether it's reading something or doing a practice question or watching something. Your click rate—how fast you're clicking on stuff. You can imagine one student accessing different material. If her click rate increases between math and verbal—maybe she's going through the verbal a little faster—maybe it's a little easier for her." (A Conversation With 2 Developers of Personalized-Learning Software, Chronicle of Higher Education)
Remember John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program? Congress pulled the plug on the project in 2003 after a heated debate where conservative and progressive commentators slammed the Orwellian implications of the gigantic surveillance project. TIA was killed, but parts of the project were picked up by other agencies under the pretext of fighting terrorism. The big difference between this early Big Data project and today's Big Data is that TIA was based on monitoring transactions of unknowing individuals, while today's Big Data is volunteered by the online public everytime you add something to you Facebook timeline or add something to Google+. We sign away our privacy as easily and untroubled as we sign EULA's whenever we install a new program or application.

Where will this lead? Nobody knows. That may be the scariest part!