Book about big data, predictive behavior, and decision making

Kenneth Cukier was on NPR this morning talking about the new book he wrote with Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, "Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think." It sounds fascinating and relevant to research I'm doing at Institute for the Future on newfound applications of systems thinking in what we're calling the "coming age of networked matter." Here are some choice bits from the interview:
NewImageOn how Target identifies pregnant customers

"The example comes from Charles Duhigg, who's a reporter at The New York Times, and he's the one who uncovered the story. What Target was doing was they were trying to find out what customers were likely to be pregnant or not. So what they were able to do was to look at all the different things that couples were buying prior to the pregnancy — such as vitamins at one point, unscented lotion at another point, lots of hand towels at another point — and with that, make a prediction, score the likelihood that this person was pregnant, so that they could then send coupons to the people involved... there might be a coupon for a stroller or for diapers ...

On how Google tracks the flu

"Google stores all of its searches. What they were able to do was go through the database of previous searches to identify what was the likely predictor that there was going to be a flu outbreak in certain regions of America. Now, keep in mind, we pay for the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to look at the United States and find out where flu outbreaks are taking place for the seasonal flu. But the difference is that it takes the CDC about two weeks to report the data. Google does it in real time simply on search queries."

Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think" (Amazon)

The 'Big Data' Revolution: How Number Crunchers Can Predict Our Lives (NPR)


  1. Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit” is a good read. The Target example gets a chapter.

  2. I wouldn’t set much store in this. Every now and then Google decides I am an overweight Hispanic woman with a strong desire to travel to Little Rock. But maybe I just making the same mistake here that people who don’t understand the distinction between weather and climate make. I’d hate to be in any way similar to AGW deniers. 

  3. Target’s algorithms aren’t all that great.  They think my pre-schooler is still an infant.  I haven’t received a useful coupon in 2 years.

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