Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Review: The Numerati

With the advent of the Web and the fall in electronic prices, we have seen an explosion in digital data in the form of huge databases collecting various pieces of information to ever larger collection of documents. The Numerati (a portmanteau between the Number and Illuminati) are the statisticians, mathematicians, computer scientists, linguists and others involved in making sense of this data using sophisticated statistical techniques. The book describes the kind of problems being solved in the following areas, citing various examples at a bunch of organizations like IBM, Intel, Umbria, etc.:
  • Workers - building employee profiles, understanding employee networks, using it for optimal use of resources
  • Shoppers - microtargeting shoppers using personal information to customize service, give recommendations and increase sales
  • Voters - Understanding voter intent, issues - so that campaign messages can be targeted to focussed groups.
  • Bloggers - Understanding public opinion from the information on blogosphere, useful to understand sentiments on products, etc.
  • Medicine - Baker focusses on futuristic health monitoring (like floor tiles which capture your walking patterns!), whereaas he totally ignores contemporary challenges and work in analyzing medical records, genomic and proteomic data.
  • Terrorism
  • Match Making
All this comes at a cost. The Numerati has access to vast amounts of personal data, and we don't need an Orwellian Big Brother who is going to use it to learn about us, turn us into commodities and control our lives.

That's about it in the book - it can be a brisk read, which - you can give it a miss if you think you are familiar with the above topics.

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