Exposing Big Data: A Movie Person Explains Fancy Math

April 16, 2021

I am not “into” movies. Some people are. I knew a couple of Hollywood types, but I was dumbfounded by their thought processes. One of these professionals dreamed of crafting a motion picture about riding a boat powered by the wind. I think I understand because I skimmed one novel by Herman Melville, who grew up with servants in the house. Yep, in touch with the real world of fish and storms at sea.

However, perhaps an exception is necessary. A movie type offered some interesting ideas in the BBC “real” news story “Documentary Filmmaker Adam Curtis on the Myth of Big Data’s Predictive Power: It’s a Modern Ghost Story.” Note: This article is behind a paywall designed to compensate content innovators for their highly creative work. You have been warned.

Here are several statements I circled in bright True Blue marker ink:

  • “The best metaphor for it is that Amazon slogan, which is: ‘If you like that, then you’ll like this,'” [Adam] Curtis [the documentary film maker]
  • [Adam Curtis] pointed to the US National Security Agency’s failure to intercept a single terrorist attack, despite monitoring the communications of millions of Americans for the better part of two decades.
  • [Big data and online advertising] a bit like sending someone with a flyer advertising pizzas to
    the lobby of a pizza restaurant,” said Curtis. “You give each person one of those flyers as they come into the restaurant and they walk out with a pizza.  “It looks like it’s one of your flyers that’s done it. But it wasn’t – it’s a pizza restaurant.”

Maybe I should pay more attention to the filmic mind. These observations strike me as accurate.

Predictive analytics, fancy math, and smart software? Ghosts.

But what if ghosts are real?

Stephen E Arnold, April 16, 2021

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