Putting the Human Element Back in Play

In the distant future, I imagine some researcher from another planet coming upon a trove of information from our present day Age of Big Data and asking, “Where did all the people go?”

Looking through all of the so-called predictive analytics, our extraterrestrial friend would be hard-pressed to find much of what we’d call “the human element”. If he had a sense of irony, our friend would laugh ruefully: In our tireless quest to know ourselves, we somehow managed to round out and reduce the very complexities that made us human.

With the Age of Big Data, predictive analytics has become a game of brute force that has lost its human element. In seeking to make people better understood, the very complexities that make us human have been rounded out, over-simplified and reduced to a cold game of algorithms and correlations based purely on observing human behavior.

Granted, we’ve discovered some interesting and useful things. Revolutionary, even. But we’ve shed precious little light on our deeper drives or inner lives. In that, Big Data’s strength has proven to be its greatest shortcoming: Its optics are limited to the residual observed data generated.

Put another way, we’ve figured out how to use Big Data to provide powerful observational and probabilistic answers regarding what people do, but not to truly reveal the why behind those behaviors. The attitudes, motivations and intentions behind the decisions we make remain tantalizing suggestions. Even as people in all walks of life put Big Data to work to optimize their endeavors, they are already wrestling with this limitation.

Enter human psychology. Too often, data scientists dismiss the mind as an undecipherable black box. Yet a relative handful have gotten quite good at behavioral modeling, working from the premise that what is observable is often the result of variables that are not directly observable. The field of psychometrics has arisen precisely to uncover the underlying traits that define outward behaviors—in a way that’s measureable and quantifiable such that the results can be reliably used across a wide range of applications.

So what if we married the analytic power of modern psychometrics to the digitally connected world? What if we worked out the foundations for a new, human-centered analytics?

In the future, our extraterrestrial observer just might see the people return, living better and more meaningful lives than ever.

Terri Persico is the Founder and CEO of Veebit and is responsible for business development and platform vision.