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Math Privacy Science

The Data-Driven Life 96

Posted by kdawson
from the mining-minutiae dept.
theodp recommends a somewhat long and rambling article by Wired's Gary Wolf, writing in the NY Times Magazine, on recording and mining data about your personal life. "In the cozy confines of personal life, we rarely used the power of numbers. The imposition on oneself of a regime of objective record keeping seemed ridiculous. And until a few years ago, it would have been pointless to seek self-knowledge through numbers. But now, technology can analyze every quotidian thing that happened to you today. 'Four things changed,' explains Wolf. 'First, electronic sensors got smaller and better. Second, people started carrying powerful computing devices, typically disguised as mobile phones. Third, social media made it seem normal to share everything. And fourth, we began to get an inkling of the rise of a global superintelligence known as the cloud.' And the next thing you know, exercise, sex, food, mood, location, alertness, productivity, even spiritual well-being are being tracked and measured, shared and displayed."
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The Data-Driven Life

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  • by BlueBoxSW.com (745855) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @07:27PM (#32059772) Homepage

    I see it as a rise of the Many-to-Many relationship.

    Amazon suggestions, Netflix movies. Facebook.

    The many-to-many relationship, long overlooked in database construction because of the complexities it brings with it, has now come onto it's own and is changing our lives.

    • by the_humeister (922869) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @07:50PM (#32059878)

      I make it a point to disseminate misinformation about me. That's one of the main things I learned watching DS9 (especially with regard to Elim Garak).

      • by dnwq (910646) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @08:12PM (#32059982)
        So... did you really watch DS9? ;)
      • by CODiNE (27417) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @08:16PM (#32059998) Homepage

        I make it a point to disseminate misinformation about me.

        Whoah... is that like "This sentence is a lie." Those things always confused me.

        *stares at navel* ..

        *clicks submit*

      • I make it a point to disseminate misinformation about me. That's one of the main things I learned watching DS9 (especially with regard to Elim Garak).

        And who, exactly, do you think cares enough about you in some nefarious way for this practice to be useful? Odds are you're not a retired spy on the run from old enemies, or anything else that would make you worth keeping tabs on.

        • What makes you think I'm not? Besides, it amuses me.

        • ...who, exactly, do you think cares enough about you in some nefarious way

          Nothing intently nefarious is implied. It's simply exploiting aggregate knowledge to the benefit of those with money. As Carl Sagan said: The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.

        • by oakgrove (845019)

          And who, exactly, do you think cares enough about you in some nefarious way for this practice to be useful?

          Oh, I don't know. Off the top of my head, insurance companies, ex-spouses, political opponents (if he ever runs for anything), human resources people, district attorneys, on and on.

          No matter how much of a nobody you are, there is always somebody that cares. Interesting, your sig implies a more subtle understanding than your post suggests.

      • by Yvan256 (722131) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @08:53PM (#32060184) Homepage Journal

        "Of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren't?"
        "My dear Doctor, they're all true."
        "Even the lies?"
        "Especially the lies."
        - Garak and Bashir (DS9: "The Wire")

      • That’s just as dumb if not even dumber than spreading correct information about you.
        Why? Because misinformation can bite you back later. And it can be much worse for you.
        Say you state that you were in place X, and it happens to be the location of a crime. And that’s a mild one.

        The wisest thing is to understand how the human mind works: We only remember differences from normal. That’s even true for the programs that we write. We always seek the differences from normal. Encryption works that

        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If you truly don't want or intend for anybody in real life to ever learn your sexual fetish, then you truly deserve to be pitied.

        • by ultranova (717540)

          The wisest thing is to understand how the human mind works: We only remember differences from normal. That's even true for the programs that we write. We always seek the differences from normal. Encryption works that way.

          Steganography works by disguising things as other, mundane things. Encryption simply renders the original message incomprehensible without the proper key, and is extremely noticeable, unless you think it's normal to send messages composed of white noise.

      • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @09:19PM (#32060284) Homepage Journal

        This idea is in Vinge's work. A group called the Friends of Privacy tries to dilute the flood of accurate information about people by spreading erroneous information, making net searches on people less useful.

      • by dangitman (862676)

        I make it a point to disseminate misinformation about me.

        That's interesting. Generally, I just try to seminate as much as possible.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I make it a point to disseminate misinformation about me.

        I make it a point to disseminate misinformation about you too.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I expect to see a stupid or shitty article linked to here on Slashdot every so often. It happens. But the presence of this article here is just absurd!

      It's bullshit from top to bottom. When it's not delivering outright misinformation, it's making baseless assumptions, or misusing common terms.

      Seriously, what the fuck does "rise of a global superintelligence known as the cloud" mean? Aside from the obvious misuse of "cloud" since it's just the buzzword-of-the-day, there is no "global superintelligence". Face

      • You must be new here. Anything theodp posts is either buzzword infested hype or hysterical overreaction based of misinformation and hearsay.

        I think he's a sockpuppet manipulated by some researcher in social psychology or the like; that makes us the rats.

      • there is no "global superintelligence". Facebook and twitter are made up of the same morons and dumbfucks we deal with every day. If there's a "global" anything, it's a global idiocy.

        Mod parent Insightful. The intelligence of crowds is not cumulative. The article summary was like goatse, but with words.

    • by lonecrow (931585)
      This was rated 4 interesting? Since when have many-to-many relationship been overlooked or difficult in databases? Granted I find change the brakes on my Sabaru dificult but thats because I am not a mechanic. However many-to-many relationships are trivially easy but I guess thats because I am a DBA. So please don't confuse the fact that you don't know something with that thing being difficult.
      • Correction: My post is rated "5, Interesting" not "4, Interesting". Please check your facts before posting.

        • by lonecrow (931585)
          Failure to display timestamps on mod point assignments does not denote a failure of my fact checking team. I keep them well fed and trained.
  • by FuckingNickName (1362625) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @07:31PM (#32059782) Journal

    they want their rationality back...

    • It's a good thing IEEE 754 can't represent irrationals...
    • Funny story. The Pythagoreans in fact believed(religiously) that all numbers were in fact rational; that is very number can be expressed as a/b, where a and b are integers. When a mathematician called Hippasus proved (using the Pythagorean theorem) that the square root of 2 was irrational, the Pythagorean were so offended, they killed him.

      Having digressed, I will return to the topic at hand by saying that most people often for get that just because you can do something, that doesn't mean that you should. Just because we now have the technology to tag, monitor, follow and record everyone at all times, it is not necessarily going to be good for anyone if we do so.

      This and many similar suggestions are based on what Edmund Burke--writing in the wake of the French Revolution--called "levelling reason". Without some kind of grounding; without a philosophical or moral compass, people and societies can lose their way particularly when enabled by new technologies. Ridiculous ideas and notions, contrary to all prior reason, are lauded as rational, neccessary and beneficial developments and will indeed may appear as such especially to those devoid of any real education or philosophical grounding. Unfortunately, this group now encompasses the majority of those entrusted with making decisions in society, as well as their backers. No one listens to calm thinkers anymore; everyone just listens to PR men.

      We are turning into the society Burke feared. One dominated by emotive, shallow views which applies naive levelling reason to all problems it encounters. This is why our prisons are filling up as crime goes down; why our internet is being censored even as our society becomes more tolerant; why our politics becomes more polarised even as our political parties become more homogeneous. And it is why we seek to gather vast, unprecedented amounts of data about ourselves without bothering to really try and use it, or to consider the consequences of doing so.

      For most stories like this, despite the modern age and technologies involved, ninety percent of these--usually negative--consequences can be discovered by a simple reading of Aesop's Fables. Not that anyone--particularly the people who report them--will bother to. As a society, uur reasoning remains at a primary school level and rationality is something we can only apply to numbers, not ourselves.

      • by russ1337 (938915)

        We are turning into the society Burke feared. One dominated by emotive, shallow views which applies naive levelling reason to all problems it encounters

        I blame Fox News.

      • And yet, ironically, you have railed at this use of reason without applying any of your own. You wail that people embracing new technologies do so without and moral guidance or grounding, implicitly crying wolf. Yet you fail to point out any specific danger. Where is the potential harm in the behaviour described in the article?

        Your third paragraph in particular is worthy of an astologer or palm reader. Vague, generic alarm backed up by wooly thinking.

      • by javilon (99157)

        Well, what really happens is that if something can be done, there is always someone willing to do it. This is a consequence of the current diversity in cultures, politics and individual views of the world (which I take to be a good thing overall).

        So if information can be shared easily, there is going to be people using P2P. If personal information is easy to record and share, there is going to be people doing it.

        At the end of the day, morality is just a set of frozen rules that used to work. But this days o

  • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @07:37PM (#32059816) Homepage Journal

    I have not joined the need-to-share-everything-about-my-life-with-the-world bandwagon. In fact, I have taken steps backward, such as deactivating my Facebook account (good luck trying to actually delete your account). In the data-driven future I plan to be Blank Reg (look it up). Or possibly a new riff on Luddite could be applied to people like me. Social-site Luddite?

    Of course, the article is about much more than that and it's very interesting, but that's just my mini-rant.

    • I plan to be Blank Reg

      Blank is beautiful!

    • > In the data-driven future I plan to be Blank Reg (look it up).

      But you had a FaceSpace account, which you admit cannot be undone. You probably have a Google account as well. Too late for you.

      BTW unsurprisingly the concept is not original with Max Headroom. You should be saying "My Name Is Legion", but, as I noted, it's too late for you. It may be too late for me as well, but I'm closer than you are.

      • by maxume (22995)

        The worst is when someone finds out you exist.

        I'm running out of places to hide the bodies of the people that deliver the mail.

        • > The worst is when someone finds out you exist.

          It only counts if they tell the computers.

          > I'm running out of places to hide the bodies of the people that deliver the
          > mail.

          They're ok: computers are their enemies too. Just make sure all your mail is hand-written and hand-addressed. As soon as you receive anything machine printed you have to move (and don't give a forwarding address: they use computers for that).

      • No Google accounts except for whatever they call their Jabber client, and I have used that exactly once.

        "It may be too late for me as well, but I'm closer than you are."

        I hope that nick is not your real name.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      TFA actually talks very little about sharing your data with others (FB etc.) It's about collecting data on yourself, and using that data for your own purposes. Now, I wouldn't be surprised if the people who do this also tend to be people who blog compulsively about their personal lives, but you could certainly do one without the other.

    • by dwye (1127395)

      > In the data-driven future I plan to be Blank Reg (look it up).

      But the REAL Blank Reg is using that identity. You will have to be Blank "Concerned Onlooker" or something.

  • by LockeOnLogic (723968) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @07:40PM (#32059836)
    Each little personal anecdote in the article makes my inner statistician scream.

    Barooah wasn’t about to try to answer a question like this with guesswork. He had a good data set that showed how many minutes he spent each day in focused work. With this, he could do an objective analysis. Barooah made a chart with dates on the bottom and his work time along the side. Running down the middle was a big black line labeled “Stopped drinking coffee.” On the left side of the line, low spikes and narrow columns. On the right side, high spikes and thick columns. The data had delivered their verdict, and coffee lost.

    Lookie! I made a graph and it shows something! It MUST be causation, there is no other explanation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vux984 (928602)

      Lookie! I made a graph and it shows something! It MUST be causation, there is no other explanation.

      He made a graph. That's more than most people do. And yes, its enough to move from 'anecdote' to 'supporting data'. Is it enough to make a general conclusion about the effect of coffee on society? No. Is it enough to make a limited conclusion about the effect of coffee on him? Still no.

      But is it enough to suggest maybe he should continue avoiding coffee? Sure. Why not?

      • I guess it's unclear that i'm not trying to criticize the experimenter. It's the authors use of phrases like "good data set", "objective analysis", and "the data had delivered a verdict" that anger me.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by dangitman (862676)

          It's the authors use of phrases like "good data set", "objective analysis", and "the data had delivered a verdict" that anger me.

          If that's enough to anger you, may I suggest laying off the coffee?

      • Let me boil that down:

        He made a graph. That's more than most people do.

        Ad populum fallacy [wikipedia.org].

        And yes, its enough to move from 'anecdote' to 'supporting data'.

        This is just a statement about “something’s enough”. Ok, but without arguing why, it’s worthless.

        Is it enough to make a general conclusion about the effect of coffee on society? No.

        While I agree, this is another statement without any arguments supporting it, still hanging freely in the air. We’ll see...

        Is it enough to make a limited conclusion about the effect of coffee on him? Still no.

        I also agree on this. But it is a third statement awaiting supporting arguments. Let’s hope that now they’ll come...

        But is it enough to suggest maybe he should continue avoiding coffee? Sure.

        Oh no. You blew your last line on yet another castle in the clouds. Where’s the "why"?

        • However, there's no practical way for him to get data that would allow him to conclude causation. With only one test subject, and presumably being aware of the differences between regular and decaf coffee, he cannot perform a blinded study. In this case, the best he can do (without getting very silly) is to look at the data, see if it has a strong correlation (which apparently it did), and examine if there were any confounding variables that might have altered. For example, he might have changed jobs from o

        • by vux984 (928602)

          Frankly, I'm not even sure what you are arguing here. It seems like you are arguing he should draw no conclusion from his efforts, due to its lack of rigor, and unexplored limitations...

          But people MUST make countless decisions each day based on far less than that. So having even this little serves as very convincing evidence in a world that usually gives you far less. It is entirely rational for him to lay off the coffee based on his experiment.

        • by welcher (850511)
          The guy doesn't need to prove causation to give up coffee, he just needs to show strong correlation with what he want's to achieve an giving up coffee. The actual, physical cause may be interesting to find but is not what the guy is aiming for -- he just wants to concentrate better. In many cases correlation provides a very good proxy for causation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      So if you wanted to know the effect of coffee intake on your productivity -- not the population in general, but you personally; remember that caffeine is a drug to which many people react idiosyncratically -- how would you suggest designing the experiment? Speaking as a fellow statistician, I'd say it sounds like the guy's doing the best he can with what he's got to work with.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by John Hasler (414242)

        > So if you wanted to know the effect of coffee intake on your productivity --
        > not the population in general, but you personally; remember that caffeine is
        > a drug to which many people react idiosyncratically -- how would you suggest
        > designing the experiment?

        Buy a can of decaf, a can of regular, and two containers. Label one container "A" and one "B". Have an assistant put the decaf in one and the regular in the other out of your sight and record which is which without letting you see the re

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by AndrewBC (1675992)
          Experiment log, day 1:
          Slapped assistant for taking too long hiding the coffee; Assistant left. Drinking blend of both. It's the only way to be sure.

          Experiment conclusions:
          I need my coffee.
        • The problem is that he is very likely to be able to recognize regular versus decaf from their differing effects on his nervous systems, which would render the elaborate (maybe overelaborate--does remixing the labels serve a purpose, since the assistant isn't part of the experiment after that? I don't see how it could improve the blinding, since you're both the subject and the observer) blinding you have proposed useless. In this case, it shows a correlation, possibly quite a strong one, and that is enough f
        • by maxume (22995)

          It won't work. The amount of caffeine in a couple of cups of coffee isn't something someone who is acclimated can pretend to have consumed.

          Before you tell me to try it, try it yourself.

          • When researchers doing a double-blind study of the efficacy of a drug notice that half the subjects appear to have been cured of the target disease by the end of the first week they do not declare the study a failure. The point is to have no a priori knowledge as to which is placebo and which is real.

            • by maxume (22995)

              I understand the point of it. I'm saying (with near certainty) that the research subject would see through the blinds about 1 hour into the study, so they are so much puffery, he might as well just spend 6 weeks drinking his coffee and then spend 6 weeks not drinking coffee (or just drinking decaf), perhaps with a cooling off period in-between to make sure that withdrawal is not impacting the clean period.

    • the internet has moved on it.
      If you want points for correlation/causation comments go to digg or reddit ;)

    • by ultranova (717540)

      Each little personal anecdote in the article makes my inner statistician scream.

      No they don't. Your inner statistician just happened to cry at the same time you read these anecdotes. Correlation is not causation, and personal anecdotes prove nothing :p.

      Lookie! I made a graph and it shows something! It MUST be causation, there is no other explanation.

      Oh, I'm sure that there are plenty of possible explanations; however, since he has a priori knowledge that caffeine has an effect on central nervous system, i

  • How retarded. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sudog (101964) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @07:43PM (#32059844) Homepage

    "Superintelligence" known as the cloud?

    There's not even any need to read such tripe. In fact, I hate everyone who read that story after seeing the word "superintelligence" linked with "cloud."

    There is no bound to the contempt writers of pieces like this should be shown, nor to all of the idiots who were involved in reposting it here.

    • "Superintelligence" known as the cloud?

      There's not even any need to read such tripe. In fact, I hate everyone who read that story after seeing the word "superintelligence" linked with "cloud."

      There is no bound to the contempt writers of pieces like this should be shown, nor to all of the idiots who were involved in reposting it here.

      Awesome! Also, I'm not sure anyone has the time and/or desire to analyze their daily routines, including coffee consumption.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Trepidity (597)

        Indeed, it seems the most likely effect is that, if the data-collection becomes easy, they'll outsource the data-analysis to someone else. It won't be empowering people to make decisions about their own lives with more information than they had before. Rather, it'll just strengthen the tendency many people already have to abdicate responsibility for their own lives, and expect someone else to tell them what they should do. In this glorious future, they can collect a bunch of data about all aspects of their

        • > In this glorious future, they can collect a bunch of data about all aspects
          > of their life, and someone will tell them what they're doing right/wrong,
          > and what they should change.

          No. They won't collect the data. They'll "outsource" that to: they'll buy a dohicky from Apple (or Google will give them one). It will upload the data to "the cloud"[1] and they will get back "suggestions"

          [1] "The cloud" is going to become the popular term for any sort of off-site processing or storage regardless of

  • The word consilience [wikipedia.org] was apparently coined by William Whewell, in The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, 1840. In this synthesis Whewell explained that, "The Consilience of Inductions takes place when an Induction, obtained from one class of facts, coincides with an Induction obtained from another different class. Thus Consilience is a test of the truth of the Theory in which it occurs."

    Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge [wikipedia.org] is a 1998 book by biologist E. O. Wilson. In this book, Wilson discusses methods that have been used to unite the sciences and might in the future unite them with the humanities. Wilson prefers and uses the term consilience to describe the synthesis of knowledge from different specialized fields of human endeavor. ... . ... "Definition of consilience "Literally a 'jumping together' of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation.""

    Biologist E.O. Wilson Pens Fiction Science: FiSci on Wednesday April 14, @06:05AM mindbrane Submitted by mindbrane on Wednesday April 14, @06:05AM mindbrane writes "Wired is running a short interview with noted naturalist and biologist E.O. Wilson as he speaks to the publication of his first novel. "Anthill [wwnorton.com] tells the parallel stories of Raff Cody, a southern lawyer trying to preserve the wilderness of his youth, and the epic territorial wars among the ants that inhabit that land. Wilson has argued that our behavior is governed by genetics and evolutionary imperatives. In Anthill, he turns that conviction into a narrative technique, writing about human nature with the same detachment he uses when explaining how worker ants lick the secretions of their larvae for nourishment. But Wilson's novel is also an emotional plea to safeguard wild landscapes. Wilson talked to Wired about ants, evolution, and the creative aspects of the scientific process."

    "The mind is just the brain doing its job." is a quote from an American neuroscientist, S. Levy (i think). The brain is stupefyingly complex. It seems to be widely distributed in terms of nodes and massively parallel processed. For example, a well known experiment had subjects meet a potential significant other in two settings. In one setting the meeting took place in mundane surroundings. In another setting the meeting took place on a high suspension bridge. In the second instance the same potential signif

    • If you decided not to RTFA or say anything even remotely close to commenting on the subject, why the hell did you post?
      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by mindbrane (1548037)

        why the hell did you post?

        really, why the hell did you post? i'm not looking for any guidance from an asshole like you so why don't you just fuck off.

        • i really didn't know so many jerk off little moderators were paying so much attention to me. you can fuck off too or just go fuck yourselves collectively.
  • Huh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @08:00PM (#32059924)
    How about pretentious writing about the future. Is anyone tracking that?
  • "global superintelligence known as the cloud."

    • by dangitman (862676)

      "global superintelligence known as the cloud."

      What, you haven't joined SkyNet yet? Get with the times, man

  • One of the natural brakes on ridiculous cargo-cult self-help, diet, motivation, and other such fads is that nobody bothers to follow them too religiously. Now it'll be easier than ever to actually know for sure if you're following the latest pseudoscientific fad, because you'll have the data right there to validate! Hey, my friend John told me you should make sure your Baz data reading always stays under 7.2, except in the evenings it's okay if it goes up!

  • I just want to know when I will be getting the green diamond over my head.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Sunday May 02, 2010 @12:21AM (#32061318)

    From the quotation given, you might think TFA was about "the cloud" and sharing data in it. It's not, despite the fact that many posts in response seem to think it is.

    Basically, the article is about people who collect data about their own lives and then analyze it. Most of the anecdotes given in the article have nothing to do with online communities, media, etc. If you're a person who has tracked your finances, weight, exercise, etc., you know what this is. The anecdotes give some more extreme versions of this tendency to collect data and analyze things about one's own life.

    There is some reflection on how more people can do this now with greater ease because technology facilitates it -- both in data collection and in data representation/analysis. But the "sharing," mobile devices, "social media," "cloud," and such stuff mentioned in the summary quote are barely addressed elsewhere in the article... except as vehicles for personal (i.e., primarily private) data collection.

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."

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