Dealing With the Massive Bits of Information

Article By: Professor Ron Weber

As Chris Anderson illustrated with his interview with NPR, Google can process a Petabyte of information every 72 minutes and within 3 years it may be down to 30 minutes. Prior to Google’s massive data processors scholars had to rely mostly on their human mental abilities to grasp the totality of all relevant data.  This took decades of personal experiences, reading, and testing just to enter the data. To gather some kind of usefulness from all this information we developed theories-which is a predictable outcome based on similar variables. Some theories had lasting power and some theories died out quickly.

Chris says theories don’t explain things anymore and that the large sums of data that is being processed will become better predictors.  From the large sums of data the computer uses algorithms and correlations to predict human behavior.  Working in theme parks for years we used multiple regression analysis to predict the number of attendance for the up-coming week.  We needed this estimate to accurately schedule the right amount of people and food inventory. Based on weighted averages the theme park was able to come within 3% of the actual attendance every day.

But let’s have fun with this a little bit.  Data mining through 7/Eleven point of purchase receipts found a strong correlation between consumers buying diapers and a six pack of beer together. And that this observation was even stronger during the hours of 4:30 and 6:30 in the evenings. Why?  While Google’s processors are very powerful and fast, I challenge their computers to explain “why” this statistic occurs.  In this case, it still takes a human to explain the phenomenon.

In Orlando, WalMart cash register receipts found an unusual correlation between consumers purchasing orange juice and toilet paper in the same visit.  This observation occurs more during the summer months. Why? This had managers perplexed for years until somebody came up with a theory.  Their theory was based on their own experience. A manager in Kissimmee, Florida noticed when they have relatives come visit them during the summer months they buy more orange juice and obviously more toilet paper. Since then, a better theory has not come up. I guess the manager was using axiology – the nature of the value.

Before humans had a common written language, learning occurred by listening to mentors. The best way in those years was to present the material in a story form. Picture a group of people sitting around a fire, having their evening meal and someone tells a story.  It’s been a part of our culture for thousands of years.  How many nursery rhymes do you still recall from your youth? (Jack and Jill, Three Little Pigs, and Three Blind Mice). Still today, we love movies that have a good story. We love songs that tell a story.  Even as young as 2 or 3 we love someone telling us a story. We remember the story better than the facts. Communicators that effectively tell a story via the Internet will be the businesses that rise to the top.

Question # 1.  What Internet Social Media sites are the most popular and why? How can NPR, for example, get millions of listeners to their audio recordings? Is it the companies tell have a story?

Question # 2.  Computing a petabyte of information per hour is good, very good.  Will Google’s algorithms become a better predictor of human behavior than another human?




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