The Truth About Data Mining

I have been hesitant to write about this particular dystopian alternative for over a year, because in order for my fears of data mining to come true, our society will have to continue on our current trajectory of rampant consumption and growth at all costs.

This is particularly troubling because it should be common knowledge that with an increasing population, we will be forced off this trajectory by global climate change well before technology becomes ubiquitous and powerful enough to capture the data needed to really scare the pants off of me.

So, knowing that, take what I say with a grain of salt, and let’s keep our fingers crossed that solar doesn’t replace our fossil fuel hedonism, okay?

By the by, if I seem particularly pessimistic about Solar power, that’s intentional. I view our glorification of solar as a scapegoat for the true problems that fossil fuels have created within our global society.

Sorry, Mr. Sun. We’ll get back to you another time.

To put it more simply, solar power is like an eCig. Sure, eCigs are better, but the problem is not how you smoke it, it’s what you are smoking. In the case of fossil fuels and even solar, we are seriously smoking this mentality of unlimited growth and progress. There’s only one outcome if we keep believing in the “savior of solar”; a continuation of power consolidation, wealth disparity, and wage slave labor just to maintain the status quo.

If you’re wondering what my solution is, it’s a relatively simple but complex one, and that’s educating women. This quote from William Ryerson best demonstrates how this is going to solve the problem of fossil fuels, which at first seems unrelated.

While the obstacles before humanity are real, we should be careful not to overestimate the difficulty of following the path of the United Nations’ lowest population projections, which show a possible global stabilization as soon as the year 2050. Achieving this stabilization is a challenge, but it is far from an insurmountable one. The United Nations estimates that it would cost an additional $3.5 billion per year to provide contraceptive information and services to the more than 220 million women in the developing world who want to avoid a pregnancy but who are not using a modern method of contraception. (That’s less than 4 percent of what Americans spend on beer each year.) That’s a very small price to pay for a more sustainable world. Combine that investment with efforts through entertainment mass media and other means to change attitudes and behavior towards girls and women in the developing world, and we can stabilize world population at 8.3 billion and then begin a gradual reduction in the total number of humans on the planet as soon as 2050.

If we can hew to the United Nations’ low variant demographic projection, by 2100 global population would be back down to 6.7 billion—more than 4 billion fewer than can be expected in the business-as-usual, medium variant projection of the human population trajectory. Such numbers may seem incomprehensible but the reality is that these two possible futures—one of 6 billion versus 10 billion humans to feed, clothe, educate, and employ—is the difference between a world of scarcity and nightmarish suffering for much of humanity and a world in which it may be possible to balance the needs of people and nature. Put another way, a population difference of 4 billion—the result of either staying complacent or working hard to share family planning tools and information around the globe—is 46 percent more than the current combined populations of North America, Central America, South America, Oceania, Europe, and Africa (roughly 2.7 billion)!

I realize this is an unpopular opinion (thought it pains me that it is so), but what I’m about to say about Data Mining is likely even more bleak and unpalatable, so strap in.

What Is Data Mining?

If you’re familiar with the term only in name, I’d like to introduce the topic by giving the formal definition of Data Mining, and then move on to what it is in reality.

Generally, data mining is the process of analyzing data from different perspectives and summarizing it into useful information that can be used to increase revenue, cuts costs, or both. – UCLA Anderson School of Management 

So, I know that clinical definition seems relatively okay at first read-through. It’s the last few words that should really make an impression. The purpose is to take static data, devoid of meaning, and give it the banner of being information, and grow it from there into knowledge.

It’s just a passive thing, data, just ticks on a wall, no meaning or purpose yet, until we turn it into information through trend and pattern mapping, and at that point we are left with information.

Information is something we can collate, make sense of, like a raw lump of coal carved out of rock. Knowledge, however, is what happens when that coal is transformed by fire into heat, the rosetta stone of energy conversion.

Without this process, we wouldn’t be able to use the data for any specific purpose. Let’s take the example from the aforementioned article from UCLA.

“One Midwest grocery chain used data mining to analyze local buying patterns. They discovered that when men bought diapers on Thursdays and Saturdays, they also tended to buy beer. The retailer concluded that the men purchased the beer to have it available for the upcoming weekend. The grocery chain could use this newly discovered information in various ways to increase revenue. They could move the beer display closer to the diaper display, and they could make sure beer and diapers were sold at full price on Thursdays.”

Beer + Diapers
That was totally just an example and not reality. Yeah, sure.

We can already see how the applications of data mining come into play in our daily interactions. Targeted ads, product suggestions, merchandise availability are but a few ways that data mining allows companies to profit off of our habits. Make no mistake; this is not simple optimization, this is a specific and concerted effort to either cut costs or increase revenue. It is not here to help the consumer in any way, shape, or form. Any simplification it does afford in the market is just a byproduct.

Let’s take an imaginary walk into the future, my friend, to a world in which data mining, cameras, and the Internet have become even more ridiculously powerful and ubiquitous to what they are now, making 2016 look like 1996.

It may be hard to imagine how cameras could affect data mining when it comes to consumer purchases, but understand that facial recognition technology is already projected to be worth anywhere from 5 to 20 billion dollars in 10+ years.

Facial Recognition Technology Valuation
That’s Pillion with a P!

In a culture like this, where facial recognition technology is used by retailers (and the government) alike to mine our physical information without our consent, our bodies would be  seen as a commons or public space, up for grabs and use in commercialization.

This “data rape” would piggyback on the pre-exisitng rape culture already so prolific in America. In this (not too distant) world, it’s entirely plausible that women would be expected to purchase a dentata as well as tampons upon hitting puberty, because rape is the assumption. There are several futuristic fiction novels that weave this assumption into their worlds, and I personally see it as on the horizon if we continue on this dystopian path.

With data rape being an assumption, a new commodity will arise. That is, specifically, my ability to protect my own body from being used against myself. In this world of unregulated data mining, I am now forced to purchase my personal sanctity from a corporation.

Think this is too far-fetched to be possible? I’ll just leave this here for you to take a look at, then.

Ishu Scarf
Anti-Paparazzi Scarf for Sale by Ishu

Photo Credits: No Diamond by Markus Reinhardt
sun by Tyler Durdan
Beer and diapers. Just friends! by riccardo_disipio

If you like what you read, feel free to share. Basic Rules: Be civil. We are all people and deserve respect. That’s a hard and fast rule, by the way, it is not optional. Other than that, anything goes.

Interested in many things, but nothing captivates more than technology, entrepreneurship, futurism, and humanity's quest to problem-solve.