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Leveraging Patterns – VII

In a city there are many ways to go from A to B and different people will choose different ways. This creates patterns, both for the single individual and for a cluster of individuals. Reading into those patters and the way they change can provide interesting insights on people’s perception of the ambient and of people’s values. Image credit: Brelson.com – 2010

As noticed in previous posts sensors embedded in the ambient, in our homes, in appliances, in power meters and of course in wearable (I would say that our smartphone has become a wearable, we never leave home without it…) harvest data that can be used to identify patterns of the way we use “things”. These patterns can also represent what we do, how we live our life and ultimately provide a glimpse into what we like and what we don’t, into what are our perceptions and feelings, into what we consider valuable to us. Cluster these patterns from individuals in a community and you get a feeling of that community behaviour and values.

This is nothing new. Patterns are at the core of behavioural science (interesting that something as fuzzy as human behaviour can be considered a “science”), I read recently an “old” post from 2010 on peoples’ behaviour in choosing transportation and routes in the London underground. You may want to take a look at it. It describes the very many little patterns that can be extracted by observing people commuting.

What is new is the easiness we have today in harvesting data that can be leveraged to extract behavioural patterns of individuals and communities (or clusters of individuals that most of the times do not know each other).

Indeed, behavioural science can now benefit from a huge amount of data -and by doing that it can become more science than ever before…

The Digital Transformation by shifting many physical world processes involving humans and human interactions to the cyberspace is creating an amazing data space that mirrors human behaviour and values (the motivation of such behaviour). This mirror is not ready to be grasped, it requires analyses, it requires the extraction of patterns.

This is a double edged sword. On the one hand the cyberspace can be used to create an understanding of a single person set of values and needs so that services can be customised and delivered more efficiently to that person’s benefit (and likewise for communities and clusters) but on the other hand this uncovers aspects that can be considered, and rightly so, as very personal leading to an intrusion in the private life that was never before possible.

It goes beyond that. The digital footprint that we create every day through our interactions with the cyberspace AND through living in a physical space that is connected to the cyberspace is so broad that it goes beyond our perception to the point that the cyberspace knows more about me than myself!

Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists  would start to use a person digital footprint to enter into her psyche.

Notice that this is not science fiction. Netflix, Amazon and the likes are using their visibility on our digital footprints to develop patters of our behaviour and extract meaning connecting that behaviour to our perception of values and customise their offering to us based on that. It is the ideal market of one where the provider can read into our soul.

There is a whole new science evolution that will be leveraging on digital footprints and behavioural patterns. Politicians are looking into voters’ patters to customise their message. There is a lot of concern about potential manipulation of a national election by a foreign Country (it goes well beyond the quarrels between US and Russia) and there seems, surprisingly to me, very little concern on the manipulation of voters that every politician is actually doing every single day!

Obviously, it is nothing new. Electoral promises go back to the very idea of democracy and election process, what is new is the depth and breath of understanding of single individuals feeling, of clusters of individuals (they are actually becoming more important than communities) AND the possibility of simulating the impact of a message to change patterns (and therefore an election outcome).

More and more politics is about math and pattern science rather than ideals. Sad but true. 

The Digital Transformation is just accelerating this shift to sentiment analyses and makes it more precise and effective. Are we beyond the McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” and into “the data analytics is (creates) the message”?  I let Derrick de Kerckhove answer to this.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.