Will We Use Big Data to Solve Big Problems? Why Emerging Technology is at a Crossroads

Will We Use Big Data to Solve Big Problems? Why Emerging Technology is at a Crossroads

A question like, “does caffeine increase appetite” will boost the number of hits that link caffeine and hunger. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning have now given ordinary citizens (i.e. those who aren’t necessarily rich or powerful) a disproportionate ability to influence people’s hearts and minds on a major scale. A Spectrum of Opportunity These are the early days of data science and machine learning. As both individuals and organizations start to experiment with emerging technologies, there’s a full spectrum of applications. Many people see this as a misuse of increasingly powerful technologies. Companies are learning how to use data and machine learning for capitalistic gains. I lead the HubSpot team that’s building GrowthBot — a chatbot for marketing and sales. At the same time, we’re building this technology to help people regain their focus. Search with open-ended questions. Learn what you can and watch what’s happening in politics, business, and in your own sphere of influence.

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A couple days ago, my girlfriend and I had a debate (let’s call it a discussion) about caffeine.

I read that it decreases your appetite. She disagreed, saying that caffeine actually increases our urge to raid the fridge.

Who’s right?

It depends not only who you ask, but how.

This will sound obvious, but the way you phrase a Google search directly affects your results.

A question like, “does caffeine increase appetite” will boost the number of hits that link caffeine and hunger. The opposite is true if you include words like “decrease” or “suppress.”

Typing “how does caffeine affect appetite” or “caffeine and appetite” is your best shot at uncovering the truth — or at least what most researchers now understand to be true.

Our conversation highlights the fact that search engines aren’t objective. They’re tools designed for human use, and people are always influenced by their own beliefs, biases and experiences.

It’s easy to see how our worldview can sway familiar tools, like search engines, but the connection gets trickier — and more important — when we look at emerging technologies.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning have now given ordinary citizens (i.e. those who aren’t necessarily rich or powerful) a disproportionate ability to influence people’s hearts and minds on a major scale.

We’re at a critical point in history, where we can collectively choose to use this technology for good, or to exploit people’s biases and belief systems.

A Spectrum of Opportunity

These are the early days of data science and machine learning. As both individuals and organizations start to experiment with emerging technologies, there’s a full spectrum of applications.

Atone end of the spectrum (let’s call it the far right), there’s the 2016 U.S. election. Almost two years later, we’re still learning how the Trump campaign used psychographic profiles to motivate voters.

Analyzing massive data sets enabled Trump’s team to create targeted Facebook ads, which reinforced some voters’ political and cultural beliefs. Many people see this as a misuse of increasingly powerful technologies.

Groups like DataKind live at the other end of the continuum. This data science community works with social change organizations to tackle challenges across education, poverty, health, human rights, cities, and the environment.

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Most applications land right in the middle. Companies are learning how to use data and machine learning for capitalistic gains.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, most companies are incentivized to make as much money as possible to serve their employees, stakeholder, and/or founders.
Data-enabled capitalism feels darker when companies use social platforms to pursue vulnerable people; to spread unhappiness.

We’ve always had advertising, but the niche targeting and sheer volume of data we encounter online is killing our attention spans. It’s also fuelling the need for instant gratification.

I lead the HubSpot team that’s building GrowthBot — a chatbot for marketing and sales. As you may know, a bot is an automated computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users.

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It uses AI (a computer system that can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence) to process data. GrowthBot integrates with over a dozen systems and APIs to help people accomplish more with less distraction.

Are we using GrowthBot to make money? Yes….

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