Data era: When politicians and big companies know you better than yourself

Valletta, Malta, 30-Dec-2016

Dear my fellow Young Leaders,

Recently, in the beginning of this (not so) happy December, my German friends in our Computational Linguistics study program here started to discuss about a breaking news in their German magazine about the triumph of Trump and one of its contributors – Big Data. It then circulated around the data science community and became a big debate in which if Big Data won the US election or not, which you can find another view point in this Bloomberg article.

However, let us let aside all the controversial Trump and the buzzword “Big Data” from our attention and take a deeper look at how this truly affects our community. Back to my fellow researchers, they were not alerted by Trump, yet by the name Michal Kosinski whose paper we had already discussed the week before.

As reported from their work, Kosinski and his colleagues showed that after analyzing around 200 interactions (which is “like” in case of Facebook), their program can predicts your personality even better than your family members.

screenshot-from-2016-12-30-01-02-01
Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans. Kosinski et al. (2015)

I would bet that this scientific proof is far more convincing than those breaking news when they come to your skeptical minds of leaders.

Then how is the real effect on the community around us?  You may already know the targeted marketing campaign online, where they show you the products that you might want to buy (“personally hand-picked for you”) on every websites you visit. This seems normal to all of us, the Y generation, the digital nomads. However, game changes when it comes to politics. When our “beloved” big guys target group of cohort sharing a common personality trait for their own purpose. When they listen to your voices and leverage the power of computers not to make our citizen more engaging (which I proposed, so naive) but to serve their goals. When your votes may (or may not) reflect your digital traits instead of your intention and choices.

This reminds me of “Franchise”, a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov. Once, the US has converted to a “electronic” democracy, where the POTUS is elected by a supercomputer asking one single “representative” citizen several meaningless questions. Of course, this sounds so fancy and crazy (at the same time) in my mind.

And you, what do you think, the Ilustrados?

Best wishes,

Hai Pham.

P/S: this chaos year is about to come to its end and a new year is at our doorstep with its greatest potential ever. Happy leading the way.

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