A Bit of Humanity in Data

Date01 January 2016
Published date01 January 2016
© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com).
DOI 10.1002/jcaf.22126
A Bit of Humanity in Data
Tim Chartier
“The contradictions
are what make human
behavior so maddening
and yet so fascinating,
all at the same time.
Joan D. Vinge,
American fiction writer
Data is straightforward.
Eachbit is a 1 or a 0.
Each byte consists of
8bits. From there we get kilo-
bytes, megabytes, gigabytes,
terabytes and the once unfath-
omable petabytes. Data can
encode comments posted on
Twitter or the movement of
an athlete on a field. The pos-
sibilities can seem endless.
Atthe same time, data grows
at unprecedented rates. Beyond
simply the volume and velocity,
data can be frustrating to mine
for another reason—it often
encodes human behavior.
Over this academic year, I’m
working as a chief researcher
for the big data company
Tresata. The company has a
bold vision—enrich life—and it
does so by enabling businesses
to monetize their customer
data provided such monetiza-
tion improves the lives of their
customers (easy, convenient,
affordable, and healthy). It
offers automated solutions in
the areas of marketing, risk, and
fraud. While my primary role is
to apply the company’s power-
ful tools in the space of sports
analytics, I’m also advising on
their existing projects, which
involves a lot of listening.
Recently, a Tresata data
engineer introduced me to
a retail project: automating
grocery lists. From your shop-
ping data, they figure out how
you’ve shopped in the past
and then predict when you’ll
need items and even what
dealswould be important to
you in the future.
Quickly, I thought of my
trips to the grocery store. I
shop on one particular day. In
fact, my routine is so consistent
that the employees at the deli
will stop and check the calen-
dar if I come on another day
of the week! I buy a handful
ofproducts every week and
other products periodically.
There are a number of items
Ialways stock up on when they
are on sale.
I noted these tendencies to
the data engineer. He smiled
and responded, “You do. But
how consistent are you? Do
you ever get milk, for instance,
somewhere else? Remember,
there are only 52 weeks in a
year, so even some variance
can look significant if we
aren’t careful.” The point was
well timed. That very morn-
ing, Ihad zipped down to the
local pharmacy to buy milk.
The shopping trip secured
cereal asa quick breakfast
for my family as I left for my
early morning commute to the
downtown office.
Take a moment and think
of your own shopping. How
consistent are you? Do even
your most consistent purchases
have inconsistencies? My gro-
cery list, for instance, changes
significantly any time my chil-
dren are on vacation, whether
it be Thanksgiving or summer
Our world has significant
amounts of data, and much of
it records human experience.
While we, as people, have rou-
tines and tendencies, we also
have the ability, in a moment,
to make a different decision
based on our perceived con-
text in situations. Given our

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