MIT Technology Review – Data and Decision Making

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on January 22, 2014

“In this business reportMIT Technology Review explores a big question: how are data and the analytical tools to manipulate it changing decision making today? On Nasdaq, trading bots exchange a billion shares a day. Online, advertisers bid on hundreds of thousands of keywords a minute, in deals greased by heuristic solutions and optimization models rather than two-martini lunches. The number of variables and the speed and volume of transactions are just too much for human decision makers.  When there’s a person in the loop, technology takes a softer approach (see “Software That Augments Human Thinking”). Think of recommendation engines on the Web that suggest products to buy or friends to catch up with. This works because Internet companies maintain statistical models of each of us, our likes and habits, and use them to decide what we see. In this report, we check in with LinkedIn, which maintains the world’s largest database of résumés—more than 200 million of them. One of its newest offerings is University Pages, which crunches résumé data to offer students predictions about where they’ll end up working depending on what college they go to (see “LinkedIn Offers College Choices by the Numbers”). These smart systems, and their impact, are prosaic next to what’s planned. Take IBM. The company is pouring $1 billion into its Watson computer system, the one that answered questions correctly on the game show Jeopardy! IBM now imagines computers that can carry on intelligent phone calls with customers, or provide expert recommendations after digesting doctors’ notes. IBM wants to provide “cognitive services”—computers that think, or seem to (see “Facing Doubters, IBM Expands Plans for Watson”). Andrew Jennings, chief analytics officer for FICO, says automating human decisions is only half the story. Credit scores had another major impact. They gave lenders a new way to measure the state of their portfolios—and to adjust them by balancing riskier loan recipients with safer ones. Now, as other industries get exposed to predictive data, their approach to business strategy is changing, too. In this report, we look at one technique that’s spreading on the Web, called A/B testing. It’s a simple tactic—put up two versions of a Web page and see which one performs better (see “Seeking Edge, Websites Turn to Experiments” and “Startups Embrace a Way to Fail Fast”)…”

 

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