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The Numerati Paperback – September 9, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this captivating exploration of digital nosiness, business reporter Baker spotlights a new breed of entrepreneurial mathematicians (the numerati) engaged in harnessing the avalanche of private data individuals provide when they use a credit card, donate to a cause, surf the Internet—or even make a phone call. According to the author, these crumbs of personal information—buying habits or preferences—are being culled by the numerati to radically transform, and customize, everyday experiences; supermarket smart carts will soon greet shoppers by name, guide them to their favorite foods, tempting them with discounts only on items they like; candidates will be able to tailor their messages to specific voters; sensors in homes or even implanted in bodies themselves will report early warnings of medical problems (have you noticed Grandpa has been walking slower?), predict an increased risk of disease in the future or adjust a drug for a single individual. An intriguing but disquieting look at a not too distant future when our thoughts will remain private, but computers will disclose our tastes, opinions, habits and quirks to curious parties, not all of whom have our best interests at heart. (Sept. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
*Starred Review* Every click we make, every cell phone call, every credit-card purchase enlarges our “digital dossiers,” business journalist Baker explains in this bracing behind-the-screen investigation into the booming world of data mining and analysis. Our digital echoes collect in a vast ocean of data that marketers and government agencies alike are eager to trawl, if only it were charted. Enter the top-notch mathematicians Baker dubs the Numerati. Baker gamely visits eerily high-tech companies and speaks with algorithm wizards intent on quantifying everything we do in all arenas of life in order to mathematically model humanity and manipulate our behavior. Baker’s report on microtargeted marketing, the use of workplace data to “optimize” employees, the scrutiny of online social networks, and the robotic reading of millions of blogs supports his warning that we’re “in danger of becoming data serfs—slaves to the information we produce.” This is a fascinating outing of the hidden yet exploding world of digital surveillance and stealthy intrusions into our decision-making processes as we buy food, make a date, or vote for president. Yet, as Baker assures us, we are not helpless. For one thing, machines still can’t process sarcasm. Read and resist. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Then this book is (most probably) a piece of relief for you, as it has been for myself. For several years I am part of different bodies and institutions that try to draw conclusion from their customer historical track records. After several years of working in this trade we all come to stage, where you do not have enough source of inspiration from peers (because you left them far behind) in your industry or you already have tried most of what makes just a bit of the sense.
Stephen Baker took the time to collect the best practice and inspiration from wide array of industries and environments on how data can be systematically turned into more business or power within your battlefield. Even though some of the concepts are not easily transfarable into my industry, I still was amazed and inspired by way they were approaching their data hurdles. It is very thought provoking how far we already reach in datamining - and top of that - utilizing the results of it. I launched several projects within my company to tranfer the principles discussed in this book.
If you still are unsure about buying this book, then invest few dollars of its price at least into understanding how much digital traces and hints you leave around and how much more privacy invading is just around the corner for next years.
Baker takes us in a journey divided in seven parts (chapters). Each of this parts explain the possible application of data mining in a specific area. The journey is passionate and thus very interesting to read. The main point of his book is the ability of companies to build our behavior by mining personal data in various domains. As he explains, this would be impractical manually:
"This means that marketers must scope us out as individuals. One approach would be to deploy battalions of psychology [...] That's impractical."
The main question for companies that collect data about us is what do we do, that might predict what we will do next? The book gives answers with practical examples.
By the way, Baker makes a very good vulgarization of decision trees on page 88. The author also makes a good point about data mining by stating that the aim is not to be perfect, but to do better:
"Truth is not a make-or-brake test for the Numerati. They triumph if they come up with better, quicker or cheaper answers than the status quo."
To conclude, this is a very good book that any data miner should read to get a tour of possible applications. Maybe Baker goes a bit too far on what data mining can do (spy you) and this may frighten people:
"In the age we're entering, our lives will be described, studied, and predicted, every day more, through this statistical analysis."
I was originally attracted to the book after reading an Article on How consultants where being gauged for performance and overall business value by creating software that would include many factors of each individual consultant and giving them a specific ranking or value. Being a consultant myself and having worked for Big Four Consulting Firm in its Planning Management Office assisting in the placement of resources on multiples projects this was a subject very appealing to me.
I was captivated by all the new emerging technologies that are being created to improve our lifestyle and to enhance existing technologies. I think it is a great gift for any client who wants to stay up to date on what technologies are appearing regardless of industry.