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Big Data: Are we being played?

I reside in San Francisco and am surrounded by technical workers and innovation. Bearing that in mind, I'm also surrounded by anti-gun bias because San Francisco and Silicon Valley are normatively liberal. Most -- but not all -- liberals favor gun-control.

Tech workers in the SF Bay area may be apolitical or perhaps even somewhat conservative, but those views would tend to be suppressed in the course of life. Though they may not vocally support one policy or another, they certainly wouldn't chime in to disagree with liberal social policies. Because it doesn't pay to be a social outlier in a hyper-connected world.
 
One of the more interesting technical developments lately is the use and analysis of something called "Big Data." What is Big Data?
 
I was only vaguely aware of Big Data until I sat on a plane trip next to a very successful CEO of a company that has technology key to managing it. I won't mention his name because this post borders on the loony. Anyway, what he explained is that Big Data is all about processing inconceivably large data sets so that it can be efficiently stored and -- most importantly -- meaningfully retrieved. 
 
As I understood what he described, one method is to break apart data ("decoupling") contained in large sets so that it retains a capacity to reconstitute itself to its original form upon demand.
 
What is the big deal about Big Data?
 
"So what's the big deal about that?," you ask. My simplistic answer is to analogize data to all the stuff you own. 
 
You organize things all the time so you don't have extraordinary difficulty performing daily tasks. You probably have a room to sleep in, a room for toileting, a room for cooking and a room for relaxing or entertaining. You keep your underwear in one place, your winter coats in another, and your eating utensils someplace else. 
 
Now imagine that you got more and more and more of your stuff every second of every minute of every day. And even if you had a yard sale, the sale would perversely require you to store it anyway. In effect, you would never ever get rid of anything even as its quantity and duplications increased nearly exponentially. 
 
I'm betting you'd be kinda unhappy. 
 
But what if, amidst all the enormous piles of stuff, you started noticing that some parts of some things weren't merely similar in use or nature, but actually identical. For instance, you notice that X millions of coat sleeves, though attached to different sized coats with varying characteristics in total, were actually interchangeably the same. Identical in every way except for what they were attached to. 
 
Using the principal of diversity ("not every coat will be required to exist in total all at once at any given moment for X amount of time"), you realize that you really don't need 5.5 million identical coat sleeves. You only really need X number available simultaneously to reconstitute coats with that particular sleeve to meet the demand likely to exist for X period of time.
 
Suddenly, maybe you only need to preserve 500,000 of that particular coat sleeve instead of 5.5 million. And since you are piling up more of these particular coat sleeves all the time, you're pretty interested in this idea. 
 
And your pretty interested in being able to quickly retrieve that one kind of coat sleeve to reconstitute an entire coat at a moment's notice. Hopefully, it'll happen so fast the wearer will never even be able to tell that his reconstituted coat was, milliseconds before, dispersed into a zillion different parts. 
 
Now imagine how much data in the world is duplicative. Is this particular sentence -- this one, right here -- so profoundly unique that breaking it apart and matching each letter and pixel to an identical utterance electronically recorded by someone else is impossible? No, of course not. 
 
That's Big Data. But there's more. Depending on how macro the view, usage patterns are revealed statistically. Armed with this, you can suddenly assign more buckets of certain coat sleeves to be ready for reconstitution because that model coat is all the rage just now. 
 
And more still: suddenly you realize data is this big, lapping sea whose very tides have predictability. And then you start to notice that some ripples in the sea of data, happening time and again, forecast likely future events with considerable certainty. 
 
That's Big Data. And, yes, its fact and use will definitely impact us all.
 
How can Big Data be used?
 
A massive facility located in Nevada is being constructed by the NSA and nearing completion, scheduled to go live in 2013. The purpose of this facility is to warehouse all electronically-transmitted data. The entire Internet, cell phone and maybe land-line calls, emails: Everything (including this blog post and the fact that you're reading it).
 
As you can imagine, that is a lot of data -- Big Data. Although no one knows for certain, I suspect that the basic idea was to use Big Data to protect America from terrorist threats. Kind of a Manhattan Project -- for information. 
 
But there is a more sinister possibility. If you have access to large data sets and are able to substantially influence media coverage, it might be tempting to use the predictive power of Big Data for personal gain. As you consider the implications of the federal government having such power, you need to appreciate that Tech workers tend to think like engineers, Masterminds who can fix things by twisting that knob or pulling that lever. They might embrace the idea of "fixing" things in society by using this data. They would naturally want to help make things better.
 
And if everyone around the engineers working on Big Data agrees that fixing society's ills is a "greater good" and they share ideals on how to correct them; and if the popular media also shares those same concerns and agrees with the same solutions; and if engineers' careers are advanced as they contribute to this matrix: mix that all together and it is a powerful, awesome force. 
 
If you had access to this Big Data and became an elegant user of it and had the means to mine it; if you found yourself able to predict public behavior and future events with remarkable certainty, you might start to think that you know better than anyone else. You might come to think of yourself as a Mastermind. In today's world, information is King, and you just might be the kingmaker. Heady stuff.
 
When visiting The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco's beautiful Presidio recently, I realized that Walt Disney was, in fact, a Mastermind. So much so that he created entire worlds of such tooth-aching perfection that his creations in later life burst the bounds of Tomorrowland and started influencing real-life city planners.
 
It dawned on me as I observed Disney's life's work that the world is lucky he was a benevolent man, lucky that he was not inclined to be a Hitler.
 
Anyway, for Masterminds, all problems are soluble if you just come up with a clever enough solution. And, like good acting, it's best if no one notices what you're up to.
 
The advent of Big Data must be tantalizing to Masterminds, suggesting predictive possibilities that are almost God-like. And perhaps they are.
 
Are guns one of society's "ills" to be "corrected"?
 
It is well-known that the prevailing presidential campaign this last season consulted intensively with behavioral psychologists. Conjoining behavioral psychology with technology and Big Data seems to have given the Obama campaign unnatural confidence in addressing the public and guiding their response to dynamically-evolving events. As I watch the President even now play the Long Game (which is to destroy the Republican Party -- and he's succeeding), the Psycho-Techno-Big-Data efforts seem to continue today.
 
In other words, fresh off an astonishing victory, the Masterminds are confident and are getting more daring. They should be: they're getting better at it.
 
It is well worth noting that Masterminds are not necessarily "liberal" in the commonly-accepted modern sense. What they are is aligned with the State. Because of the natural ratcheting effect of government, it serves the interests of Masterminds to co-opt the influence of The Law.
 
In short, Masterminds are not so much "liberal" as they are statists.
 
Guns are inconvenient for Masterminds because the people being influenced by data manipulation and unaware of it might discover that it is so. They might get upset over that and then choose to do something about it.
 
So one could hypothesize that the normative anti-gun philosophy in which the Masterminds are steeped is substantively reinforced by innate fear of those they imagine, hope -- and now seemingly have confirmed -- they can control.
 
When some event occurs such as Sandy Hook (perhaps even predicted to occur, if not in the specific), it can be leveraged by Masterminds. I am in no way suggesting that anyone "engineered" the massacre at Sandy Hook. It was just an event, a horrific event, committed by one deranged man, enabled by the mother he killed.
 
Nonetheless, it is worth reflecting on the fact that murderer Adam Lanza had an email account, played violent online video games, apparently applied to purchase a gun, and therefore was known to the federal NICS system. His activities electronically became part of Big Data. We cannot know if he was electronically profiled -- or rather: fit an electronic profile and was therefore flagged, and therefore known.
 
But it is obvious that Sandy Hook is being used by Masterminds to defeat the one thing that is inconvenient to their aims: Guns. Because people can use guns to say "No."
 
And wouldn't it be ironic, maybe even deliciously so, if the very gun so revered by those pro-gun rubes is what caused its own destruction?
 
But that's all just crazy talk, isn't it?
 

Comments  

 
0 # J Russell Kliegel 2012-12-22 17:57
See: CBS series Person of Interest. Except that the protagonists, of course, use the data to stop murders instead of pursuing some other agenda.
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0 # Kirk Kelsen 2012-12-22 18:44
Linkage, please.
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0 # Kirk Kelsen 2012-12-22 20:28
Never mind -- found it: http://www.cbs.com/shows/person_of_interest/about/

From the site:

PERSON OF INTEREST stars Jim Caviezel, Emmy Award winner Michael Emerson and Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson in a crime thriller about a presumed dead former-CIA agent, Reese, who teams up with a mysterious billionaire, Finch, to prevent violent crimes by using their own brand of vigilante justice. Reese's special training in covert operations appeals to Finch, a software genius who invented a program that uses pattern recognition to identify people about to be involved in violent crimes. Using state-of-the-ar t surveillance technology, the two work outside of the law, using Reese's adept skills and Finch's unlimited wealth to unravel the mystery of the "person of interest" and stop the crime before it happens. Reese's actions draw the attention of the NYPD, including homicide detective Carter, and Fusco, a cop whom Reese uses to his advantage. With infinite crimes to investigate, Reese and Finch find that the right person, with the right information, at the right time, can change everything.
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Category: Politics