Big Data

I listened to a new podcast sponsored by NPR called Hidden Brain.  This episode focused on how big data knows more about human behavior than I think most people realize.

One example (Note: I am not quoting exact statistics because this isn’t a research paper and it really doesn’t matter to prove the point) is when males in the United States 4% will identify as gay.  But when you look at search terms for gay pornography online 8% of males could be identified as gay.  The real interesting fact shows that males living in a state where gay rights are quite progressive, the self report surveys and porn searches for gay porn are about equal.  In states where gay rights are still very limited males will self-report as gay about 2% of the time, but gay porn searches will equal the more standard 8%.

Example two.  Areas of the United States where search terms included racial slurs at higher levels where high predictive of whether they would have supported/voted for Donald Trump for President.

Example three.  People who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancers had there previous search history reviewed to see if there were things in their searching past that could have lead to early diagnosis.  Compared to a control group with no pancreatic cancers, a person searching for indigestion with pain was much more higher correlation to being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than the people who search indigestion alone.

I highly suggest you listen to the podcast if this is of any interest because I know I did not do it justice here.  Listen Here

But it was semi important for me to lay some ground work to share my thoughts.  First I don’t think we realize how much data we provide to the companies and apps through our daily interaction with our devices.  I can definitely see now when billions of search terms happen on google it is easy to start seeing trends and to predict future behaviors.  As much as we always think people change over time, one generation usually thinking what the next generation does is ridiculous, but in reality the human brain and basic human behavior has not changed that much.  The medium on which the human expresses themselves on has.  Humans today have the same flight or fight response when they sense an unexpected motion out of the side of their eye as our cavemen ancestors.  The chemistry in the brain has not changed drastically.

Our devices and the internet allow us to search things and discover things in a much more “private” way than in the past.  It is much easier to be racist online by searching for racist jokes, or watching videos that further your current view than to have to public stand in front of friends and family to share your view.  Who really shares with the people closest to them what exactly you search for online.

We are just as the beginning of this mass collection of data and having the ability to use it to analyze human behaviors.  How powerful would it be to have google analyze your search terms on an on going basis to predict future illness, to connect you with long last family members, or to find your perfect romantic match based solely on an aggregate of data being constantly collected and analyzed. We either will be completely run by robot in all aspects or we will have a great shift of human behavior for the first time in our history as we need to adapt to a whole new set of circumstances.  It can be a little nerve racking to think computers will know us better than we know ourselves, but there could also be some great hidden answers that we will uncover.  Let’s see what happens………


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