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Math Privacy Science

The Data-Driven Life 96

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 ( 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 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.

  • 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 Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday May 01, 2010 @08:41PM (#32060112) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • 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 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")

  • 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.

  • Re:How retarded. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Saturday May 01, 2010 @09:21PM (#32060298)

    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 life, and someone will tell them what they're doing right/wrong, and what they should change.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 02, 2010 @02:57AM (#32062034)

    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.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong