What if data from your phone, email, GPS, tweets and even movie downloads could be used to predict your every move? One author says they already can — and rather than fearing the predictive powers of big data, we should embrace them. Tech Tuesday explores both the potential and the consequences of mining data to change the way we live and work.


  • Patrick Tucker Author of "The Naked Future: What Happens In a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?" (Current, 2014); Technology Editor, Defense One; Editor At Large, The Futurist


  • 12:06:39

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's "Tech Tuesday." Imagine getting a call from the school nurse who says I'm sending your son home because he's going to get sick tomorrow. Or, imagine actually liking every movie Netflix recommends to you, or every book Amazon says you should try. Or, imagine getting a text from your phone that says, today, as you leave work, you're going to run into your old girlfriend who you dated 11 years ago. She's going to tell you that she's getting married. Act surprised.

  • 12:07:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThese scenarios all sound futuristic, but a new book says the exponential explosion of data about how we live is carrying us into a future where we can anticipate events with surprising accuracy. Today, "Tech Tuesday" explores the benefits and the dangers of a future where new tools to collect and analyze data give individuals the ability to forecast our own actions. Joining us in studio is Patrick Tucker, author of the book, "The Naked Future: What Happens In A World That Anticipates Your Every Move?" Technology Editor at Defense One, he's also Editor At Large at The Futurist. Patrick Tucker, good to see you.

  • 12:07:59

    MR. PATRICK TUCKERHey, thanks for having me.

  • 12:08:00

    NNAMDIYou too can join us with your comments or questions at 800-433-8850. Have you ever used data about yourself to anticipate how you'll act or where you'll be at a point in the future? 800-433-8850. But Patrick Tucker, first talk about the growth of big data, just by using our smart phones, sending email, shopping online, posting tweets. How much data are we creating and is there any way to stop it?

  • 12:08:26

    TUCKERWell, with email, video, music streaming, music streaming primarily, as well as posting and tweeting on Facebook, we create on the order of 1.8 million megabytes of data on a yearly basis. That works out to around 5,000 megabytes, or nine CD ROMs of data a day. Not all of it is stored permanently. In fact, only about 10 percent of it is stored permanently. And very little of it we interact with directly. But it's all information that we make through our transactions, through our little exchanges with the Metro system, where we swipe in our FID card to enter and then to exit.

  • 12:09:07

    TUCKERWhen we make credit card purchases, when we exit a website and go to a new one, when we keep a million tabs open on our browser, these are all little clues about where we're going and where we've been, and they speak to all of the data that we create all the time. And every time you turn on your phone, when you turn on your phone, what happens is it's contacted by a cell bay station. And that cell bay station's a big conversation with a whole bunch of other cell bay stations around it. There's absolutely no stopping it, is the main thing.

  • 12:09:38

    TUCKERWe're going to create exponentially more of this type of data in the years ahead. We're going to create -- here's a way to think about this that shows how terrifying and inevitable this is. We will be creating 44 times as much digital information in the year 2020 as we did in 2009. So...

  • 12:10:02

    NNAMDIThe other mind boggling thing to me is that 90 percent of all data that exists was created in just the last three years.

  • 12:10:10

    TUCKERYes. In just the last three years, because when you think about cell phone and smart phone, particularly penetration in the United States, and everything that we do with smart phones, which is stream music, increasingly stream movies, upload and download ever larger files, upload and download pictures, video footage of ourselves. You can see this enormous growth. And like I said, when we think of information, we don't think of this data. When we think of information, we think of stuff that goes in the Library of Congress.

  • 12:10:46

    TUCKERAnd all of this other stuff seems peripheral to the way we live. It's not though, not in the future. It becomes something that we actually use, in the same way we use regular content.

  • 12:10:56

    NNAMDIRight now, we often feel like companies control the data that we generate about ourselves from our emails and tweets to our phones, GPS location, the records of our online shopping. When will we see the crossover to a future where individuals can control and use our own data?

  • 12:11:12

    TUCKERWell, you know, there's a great quote, by William Gibson, which is that "the future's already here, it's just not evenly distributed." It's like my favorite -- I think it's every futurist's favorite quote of all time. Cause it's true. It's very much true. For a lot of people, that's something that is already here. This is something that they already deal with on a daily basis. For, I think, most of us, the cost and benefit analysis of really using your own data to make your life better -- it just doesn't work out for us yet. But that doesn't mean that it won't.

  • 12:11:43

    TUCKERIt just means that you have to really be into the idea of using your own data to be healthier, to know where you're going, to understand how to make your life more efficient, in order to start sort of tinkering around with that. And I think that those early adopters that are out there right now using things like Fitbit, that are using things like quantified self-biometric, self-monitoring systems -- they're going to be the pioneers that we'll all thank later when there's a whole slew of devices that let everybody get involved.

  • 12:12:15

    NNAMDIYou also talk about the inevitability of this future, because even someone who wants to guard his or her own privacy is still leaking data through friends. How so?

  • 12:12:26

    TUCKERWell, we are all leaking data, pretty much all of the time. There's a couple of researchers that I interviewed for this book. One of them is named Adam Sadilek. He's -- was at the University of Rochester at the time, and now he's with Google. And he points out that the way social networking works, if you know somebody that geotags their tweets a lot, and you interact with them, and every so often they're tweeting about you, it doesn't matter whether or not you're someone who geotags your tweets. Using some pretty simple mathematical equations, I mean, it's a -- it's called an (word?) composition algorithm.

  • 12:13:09

    TUCKERIt's easy for anybody to figure out where you are on the basis of what your friend is saying about where they're going, how often they interact with people, how often they interact with you. So, we're going to enter into an environment where everyone's data says something about everyone else. And you can decide to be the outlier and just not participate in the data generation ecosystem of the present and the future, but that's going to be increasingly rare. And it's also going to be, just increasingly futile.

  • 12:13:37

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Patrick Tucker. He is author of the book, "The Naked Future: What Happens In A World That Anticipates Your Every Move." He's Technology Editor at Defense One and Editor At Large at The Futurist. We're taking your questions at 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. What do you think is the next place we should harness data to make more accurate predictions? You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation.

  • 12:14:05

    NNAMDII suspect that this point would be a good time to ask you about why you wrote this. Because some people might be feeling this sentiment right now. You write, if I can impart one piece of advice in reading this book, it is this. We will not win by shaking our fists in the air at technology. Please explain.

  • 12:14:23

    TUCKERWe will not. We will not. I mean, it sort of rests in that statistic from earlier. If you're going to hang your hat on anything, as a reason to do something, I think that that gives you just the most unequivocal argument for why. 44 times as much information in 2020 as we created in 2009. That just speaks to inevitability. Now, we can all decide, we can all get up right now, turn off our radios in our cars, leave our cars, take our smart phones and throw them into Prince George's County Woodland and that's gonna work for a week or so.

  • 12:14:59

    TUCKERBut the fact of the matter is, we like these things. They help us get around. How are we gonna find our way home without that thing? We're going to use these things more. We can all decide that we don't want to participate in this ecosystem, but that's just not a fix. We, instead, need to take this time that we have, right now, before all of these -- big data transformation really begins to shift the way we all live on a day to day basis, on a minute by minute basis. And create legislation, demand devices, demand services, demand protections that help us to just take advantage of the great potential that this offers and not constantly feel the way that we feel right now.

  • 12:15:45

    TUCKERBecause I think, you make an excellent point, today, we feel like we give away information to devices that are constantly talking about us in a language we can't hear to parties we can't see. But we're going to keep using them is the thing. We're just going to. So, what I say is the future's inevitable. Be happy about it.

  • 12:16:06

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. How do you feel about living in a world that uses data to anticipate our every move? 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. You have said, this is not just the story of big data, that in fact, we have left the big data era and we have now entered the telemetric age. What is telemetry? Or, yes, what is telemetry and how will it carry us into our so-called naked future?

  • 12:16:35

    TUCKERSo, telemetry is just the real time movement of information from one place to another. In hospitals, if you go to a hospital, and they hook up a bunch of sensors to you, an EKG, an EEG. A bunch of other -- you know, just different things on your body to measure your heart rate, your pulse, perhaps your brain waves. And all of that information is transferred in real time down a hall to a nurse's office, you've experienced the telemetric age. Now what shifts is that because of the growth in information technology, because of the growth in broadband, because of the growth of just our smart environment, instead of sending all of that information to a nurse down the hall.

  • 12:17:14

    TUCKERBecause you're sick and you came in to have some symptom diagnosed or some condition treated, you can collect it all the time, even when you're healthy. And that's a big difference. And you can send it at work, at home, at play to a place that can use it much more efficiently than just that nurse, who's only monitoring to make sure you don't have an episode. And that's the difference. That's what the telemetric age is. It's the presence of constant real time data monitoring. Not just little facts, not just little bits about you that, you know, belong in a biographic file. Telemetry is constant and real time monitoring of the aspects of your life.

  • 12:17:51

    TUCKERAnd that data moving to where it needs to be to create efficiencies, hopefully for you.

  • 12:17:56

    NNAMDISounds so spread throughout our environment, gathering information about everything and ultimately everyone.

  • 12:18:01

    TUCKERRight. Exactly. And this is one of the big -- when we talk about the internet of things, this is one of the big, sort of, philosophical points of argument when people talk about it. Does the fact that 70 to 80 percent of American population carry around a super sensing computer in their pocket count as the internet of things? Or is the internet of things the physical sensors that are indoors? Is it the radio frequency identification tags that are, you know, that you access by easy pass?

  • 12:18:32

    TUCKERIs it those things? Which one is really the hallmark of the internet of things? And I say both. I mean, we're carrying around sensors that interact with other sensors around us all of the time. And that information goes to cities, it goes to businesses, and increasingly, it's going to go to us. Because that's just the way technology moves.

  • 12:18:51

    NNAMDISpeaking of the internet of things, that's what Joe in Damascus, Maryland would like to discuss. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:59

    JOEGood afternoon. I love this conversation. I've been working with IT for approximately 23 years, and I actually work for the company who's founding the internet of things. Cisco Systems. And it's interesting. Even though I laid the infrastructure, I've actually tried to avoid any bit of social media I can personally. They're always concerned about the -- the concern of privacy. I mean, internet of things is a wonderful thing and the use of it in, especially in education in the younger generation. My young daughter uses it for home schooling and different things. There are marvelous things about it, but I still think there's a lot of growth, and it'd be interesting to be around in 100 years to see where it went.

  • 12:19:46

    NNAMDIWell, Joe, hold for a second, because Patrick Tucker, why is it that we think, as Joe obviously thinks, and he knows much more about this than I do, that if we avoid social media, we avoid the spread of our data?

  • 12:19:59

    TUCKERWell, I think Joe knows. As he said, he works for Cisco. And a lot -- I quote so many figures from Cisco in my book. They really are the backbone of what we're talking about. They are the -- they're gonna profit tremendously from the spread of the internet of things. They're a big part of why we have this sort of, you know, capability to take out our phone and access the global positioning system and all of our emails all at once.

  • 12:20:22

    NNAMDII do all of that.

  • 12:20:24

    TUCKERRight. But then, you get into the question of well, how much of your data can you protect of these 1.8 million megabytes of data can you protect simply by not stating explicit things about yourself on social media?

  • 12:20:36


  • 12:20:37

    TUCKERRight. So, I think he has a point. Because, certainly, there's -- a lot of...

  • 12:20:43

    NNAMDII'm buying things from Amazon. I'm buying things from other places.

  • 12:20:46


  • 12:20:46

    NNAMDII'm giving information about myself when I do that, even though I'm not on social media.

  • 12:20:50

    TUCKERYeah. Yeah. Well, you are. You are. Social media posts actually count for a very small amount, just in terms of quantity of the data that you reveal about yourself, the data about yourself that can be useful. At the same time, from a research perspective, in terms of making real determinations about you right now, it's among the most valuable. So, yes, by staying off of social media, you're keeping some of your most intimate, personal details away from other humans. But you're not really protecting yourself from machines.

  • 12:21:23

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Joe. We have to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Patrick Tucker. But you can call in the meantime. 800-433-8850. It's a "Tech Tuesday" conversation on the "Naked Future." That's the name of Patrick Tucker's new book. "What Happens In a World That Anticipates Your Every Move." You can also send us email to kojo@wamu.org or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:49

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our "Tech Tuesday" guest is Patrick Tucker. He is author of the book, "The Naked Future: What Happens In a World That Anticipates Your Every Move." Patrick Tucker is Technology Editor at Defense One and Editor At Large at The Futurist. He joins us in studio. Patrick, how does the fact that humans are largely predictable in our daily routines make it increasingly easy to anticipate what's going to happen to us? What do our data trails demonstrate about what we're likely to do in the future?

  • 12:24:17

    TUCKERSo, the weird thing about the way the human brain works. We actually evolved the brain to think about the future all the time. And we're actually terrible at it. But the way we do it is we take lived experience that we've already had, we combine it with stuff we're going through right now, and then we make a guess about what's going to happen in the future. So, what data allows us to do is just increase the amount of lived experience memory that we have into infinity, essentially.

  • 12:24:46

    TUCKERSo, let me give you an example of this. If I were to ask you right now, where are you, Kojo Nnamdi, going to be exactly one year and a half from right now? It's 12:24 and it's Tuesday, but it's a year and a half from right now, so it might not be a Tuesday. If you know where you live, and you know where you work, which is here at WAMU, you can make a guess with two data points. And you're gonna get about 50 percent on that. So, two researchers, Adam Sadilek and John Krumm, again, Adam Sadilek from Rochester and John Krumm from Microsoft, went out to see what they could figure out about that based on peoples' data.

  • 12:25:23

    TUCKERSo they went around, they gave people GPS receivers, and they followed the GPS receivers around for six years. And it's no different from the GPS receiver you've got in your phone. And they found with this memory of six years worth of personal location data, they could predict where someone was going to be a year and a half into the future with 80 percent accuracy. That's really, really high. Because the patterns of our life are invisible to us on a moment by moment, or week by week basis. But when you stretch that out over a period of years, and you create a perfect memory of where you've been, then different patterns become visible.

  • 12:26:03

    TUCKERYour likelihood of catching a flat is not exactly random. If you're the sort of person who gets flats a lot, then that's something that can modeled in. There is really no such thing as true randomness. Everything, with enough data, can actually be modeled. That doesn't mean we can model everything right now, or we will be able to in the foreseeable future, but the amount of stuff we will be able to model compared to the stuff we couldn't just a few years ago, is gonna be amazing.

  • 12:26:28

    NNAMDIWhen I show up at that cricket test match in Jamaica 18 months from now, the ticket taker will say, hello Mr. Nnamdi, we've been expecting you.

  • 12:26:37


  • 12:26:38

    NNAMDIThat's amazing.

  • 12:26:39

    TUCKERAre you doing that? Are you gonna go…

  • 12:26:41

    NNAMDII mean, if they follow my patterns...

  • 12:26:43


  • 12:26:44

    NNAMDI...they would know that I go to cricket someplace a certain time of the year.

  • 12:26:47


  • 12:26:47

    NNAMDIIf they know that the West Indies will be playing cricket in a certain place at a certain time of the year, then they can anticipate that I'll be there.

  • 12:26:54

    TUCKERYou know, it sounds like you're a habitual cricket goer.

  • 12:26:56

    NNAMDIThis is true.

  • 12:26:58


  • 12:26:58

    NNAMDIIt will check that out. Let's look at some of the areas where data will help us anticipate the future. One example is health. In your book, you present a futuristic scenario where a boy gets called to a nurse's office at school because data on him, his friends and his routine, indicate he may be about to get sick. Explain how that might play out and what it means for keeping us healthy.

  • 12:27:20

    TUCKERWell, this was based a little bit on the research of two Johns Hopkins researchers, and they looked at sick tweets. So, basically, people who were going to Twitter and geo-tagging tweets that said that -- how they felt. And what Adam Sadilek again did is he combined that research with a mathematical formula, again, based on (unintelligible) composition, and he found, when he looked at a subset of sick tweeters in New York, that he could predict, person to person flu transmission, 18 percent of the time.

  • 12:27:56

    TUCKERAnd 18 percent of the person to person flu transmissions that occurred among this group in New York is actually really remarkable when you consider all of the crazy amount of variables that go into figuring out who's gonna give someone else the flu. So, there's a formula that's been around, again, at Johns Hopkins, since the 70s, that models how much time you can spend in close proximity to someone who is sick before you yourself get sick. And they were working on that for airplanes, so that was the place they were simulating.

  • 12:28:26

    TUCKERIs you in your airplane, that you can measure how much time you're gonna be on the airplane, you can measure proximity to the sick person and then you can figure out your likelihood of getting sick. And they didn't think they were gonna have any use for that in the outside real world because, I mean, what you can observe in a plane, a closed, controlled environment like that, is completely different from what you can observe in the rest of the world. And what happened, that no one anticipated, is that the world has become a controlled environment. And so now you can actually model how much time you're going to be spending in the near future with someone who's sick.

  • 12:28:57

    TUCKERAnd on the basis -- based on what you're tweeting, what they're tweeting, where you're going, where they're going -- tweets are just one example. If your calendar is just synched with theirs, you can model the likelihood of you getting that person's cold. So, in the book, yeah, I set up a scenario where a kid comes into the nurse's office because he's spent a certain amount of time with somebody that has a cold -- it's a bird. And they're really worried because they gotta genotype this flu and they think it's some weird avian flu.

  • 12:29:29

    TUCKERAnd they are worried that it's harmful, and it's not harmful, but it is avian. And they -- his chances of getting flu go up from 10 percent probability to like 100 percent, and this triggers like a big enormous reaction from the nurse's office and the parents and everything. And one of the reasons I wanna talk about this is because we don't actually know what to do when that happens. Like, we, as a society, this is a great thing. I mean, on the faces of it, we're like, oh my gosh, I so want to avoid getting sick. That's what I would do with the ability to know where I'm gonna be a year and a half in the future is avoid people I don't want to see.

  • 12:30:07

    TUCKERAnd maybe that's gonna be because they're sick. But when you look at it from the perspective of like a school administrator and you've got 20 kids coming in at 20 percent flu, what do you do? Are you calling that, like a day? Are you calling all of their parents? Because I'll bet the parents of all the kids that have no chance of coming in with a cold are like, keep all of those, you know, maybe sick kids away from my kid. These are -- so, it's a blessing, but it's a blessing with a lot of responsibilities attached, and we just haven't had any conversations about what to do with it.

  • 12:30:37

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. If you'd like to join this conversation, would you be willing to divulge more personal health data if it could help predict things like a flu outbreak, or whether you'd been exposed to a virus? 800-433-8850 or shoot us an email to kojo@wamu.org. Most people today guard their own health data very closely, but you've said eventually, we'll all become active participants in creating good health for ourselves and for others. How will we reach that point, and what will it all involve?

  • 12:31:09

    TUCKERWell, it's true. So, earlier, we were talking about sick tweeting and how just wonderfully valuable sick tweets are to public health researchers. Unfortunately, the tweeting population, when you're sick, you're less likely to tweet is a weird thing that they've observed. You just don't feel like doing it, even though it's really great for research. So, one of the things that we just need to have in place, in order for all of us to begin to feel much better about sharing our data much more widely, is legal protections that keep us from being discriminated against on the basis of data that we're sharing.

  • 12:31:47

    TUCKERSo, I think that the big difference between a great naked future where everyone's realizing all of the benefits of, you know, the broad data ecosystem, and one where those benefits are much less evenly distributed is the existence of laws, of actual laws that protect you when you share your data. So, an example of that, of some of the type of legislation that we should push for, is the 2008 Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act. And this is a really wonderful piece of very foresighted legislation, and it basically says, insurers can't discriminate against you on the basis of your genetic data.

  • 12:32:28

    TUCKERAnd we need to have that for all of the data that we create. This is -- that entails, on many parts, in many ways, moving away from the idea of legislation just to protect data. We need to protect sharing.

  • 12:32:46

    NNAMDIOn, therefore, to Chuck in Arlington, VA. Chuck, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:32:52

    CHUCKHello sir. Glad to be on your show. I have more of a comment. To me, I find it very offensive that some of these stores have gone to a customer card, and instead of saying good morning, you walk in and they say, do you have our card? You know, if you want to get our best prices, you have to have our card, so we can learn all about you. And so I actually go out of my way to avoid many names like Safeway and whatnot by buying food at Shoppers Food Warehouse. And same thing with drug stores.

  • 12:33:19

    CHUCKJust because I find it offensive, but nobody else seems to. It seems to be just me. Does your guest have any comment on that?

  • 12:33:27

    NNAMDII suspect other people want the lower prices that those cards make available to them. But here's Patrick Tucker.

  • 12:33:32

    TUCKERI actually hate that, too. I do. It's an upsell. It's like, I came in for a specific transaction, and you're trying to sell me on another transaction, and I just don't like the way that it works. You're totally not alone in that, sir. I completely agree with you. The weird thing about those cards, those customer loyalty programs, is that people wind up -- this is a great example of the big data present -- that you actually have every reason to be, sort of, upset about. People who have those loyalty customer programs with grocery stores, who participate in them, rather, they wind up spending more on a yearly basis at those stores than people who don't have them.

  • 12:34:06

    TUCKERThey pay less for individual products, but they pay more on a yearly basis. It kind of works out better for them than for you. Now, here's what you gotta ask for. Here's how the naked future works. Instead of you show up and they push this customer loyalty program on you, what if you showed up and you said, hey listen, here's what I want from you. I want my own customer loyalty program where you tell me all of the stuff that I bought here when and why. And then, we'll talk about what discounts you're gonna give me on my next purchase. That's what I want from you.

  • 12:34:42

    TUCKERSo, you know, it sounds -- all that has to happen is a whole bunch of consumers at a specific store have to get together and say that.

  • 12:34:48

    NNAMDIThat's harnessing your own data.

  • 12:34:50

    TUCKERYeah, exactly. Exactly, and there's a lot of different apps. This is an example of something that I'm really optimistic about, because there's apps that let you do that. There are apps, like the wekeo app that let you interact with stores on the basis of how sustainable their products are. And you all of a sudden know that on the basis of, you know, the products that they're selling and how you buy those products. And you see what your purchase global footprint looks like with that store. And that's gonna help you renegotiate that relationship a little bit.

  • 12:35:20

    TUCKERAnd I think this is one of the things that we're gonna see. You're gonna -- instead of getting you to download, or participate in a program where you have to get a card, instead, you're gonna want to download their app that takes some of your data and uses it, because you're gonna know how that data's used. You're gonna understand how that relationship, that data exchange benefits your personally. And you're gonna feel much more control. And absent of that, it's gonna continue to be annoying.

  • 12:35:47

    NNAMDIChuck, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Jay in North Potomac, Maryland. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:35:55

    JAYYeah, hi Patrick. I'm just curious if you have come across some of the early pioneers before actually Microsoft's incorporation and so forth, such as Jacob L. Moreno. And I assume you haven't, but let me just tell you that this gentleman founded sociometrics, did exactly what we're doing now, and actually applied it during World War 2 in order to create more effective hiding combat units. And as a result of his war effort, he was given St. Elizabeth's Hospital as a psychodramatic reward, so to speak. But if you read his work, such "Who Shall Survive," et cetera, he's a contemporary of Freud.

  • 12:36:47

    JAYHe's very -- he was very old -- he's a PhD mathematician from Switzerland, but his insights and his execution of exactly how to use sociometric and human data, in terms of better lives and choices, and more effectiveness in corporate and military situations, is exactly what we're doing now. And I simply would like to see some of these early pioneers, there's a bunch of others, get the credit that they're due.

  • 12:37:14

    NNAMDIOkay. Patrick.

  • 12:37:16

    TUCKERThat's awesome. No, I didn't know about Moreno and socio -- his work in sociometrics. That's really cool.

  • 12:37:23

    NNAMDIThank you. Go ahead. Thank you very much for your call, Jay. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Have you ever used data about yourself to anticipate how you'll act or where you'll be at a point in the future? How do you feel about living in a world that uses data to anticipate your -- our every move? 800-433-8850. Patrick, another area where large quantities of data can help with is forecasting the weather. How does a company called the Climate Corporation sell insurance policies to farmers and then send them checks when it detects that water, heat, or other conditions are about to deal a blow to their crops?

  • 12:38:02

    TUCKERRight. This is fascinating. Climate Corp. was actually recently purchased by Monsanto. So, I'm not sure what all feeling you have about that, but what they would do -- it was started by a couple of guys that were working at Google. And they had access to great big weather simulation data sets. And they realized that with enough data crunched the right way, you could predict not exactly the weather, per se, but how much weather was going to cost an individual farmer really far into the future. And do so in a really granular way. So, on like a two acre by two acre plot, how much money, based on all of the weather patterns that they were looking at, that farmer was going to lose in two years on, like, his acreage.

  • 12:38:56

    TUCKERSo, it's a bit different than predicting exactly when that killer storm's going to strike, like in November of next year. But in terms of the actual value of the insight, it's much more valuable than just knowing that. And so they use that to issue checks to farmers, you know, on the basis of future crop loss, and do it like really fast. And it's an expensive product. And in many ways, as insurance, you know, they continue to see more crop failures and things like this as a result of climate change, then they may have to renegotiate with their reinsurer.

  • 12:39:39

    TUCKERBut right now, it works out great, because A, everybody in the, you know, independent farming community knows these guys send you a check before you even ask for it, before you even knew it. They know how much you're gonna lose, and so you buy their expensive insurance product, but it comes back to you immediately, in terms of them reimbursing you for future crop loss. It's sort of amazing. But it's not just looking at the weather. It's also looking at what weather means to an individual. And that's what I find sort of remarkable about it.

  • 12:40:09

    NNAMDINow, you mentioned Monsanto. Now that Monsanto has now bought Climate Corporation, I guess people wonder if they're going to have the same kind of protective approach to climate data that they have taken to their seeds.

  • 12:40:23

    TUCKERSo, yeah, this is the thing. Climate, I think it's kind of a good thing and a bad thing. There's -- I think that Monsanto gets a bad rap for a lot of things, and I also think they get some criticism that they definitely deserve. I'm not as worried about their effects on genetically engineered crops. I think that it's cool if they can use this information in the process of designing seeds that are going to be much more weather resistant, which is what they say they're going to do. They're taking the world's premium source of weather data, and they're going to use it in research and to genetically engineering seeds and crops that are going to be much more weather resistant.

  • 12:40:56

    TUCKERThat's great. The problem is the way they actually deal with individual farmers and the idea of suing farmers for holding seeds and stuff like this. Some of these practices are sort of garbage. So if I'm an individual farmer, and I need this insurance, I don't know how great I'd feel about going to a corporation that's really anxious to sue farmers for seeds. But in terms of using this to design the crops of the future, in theory, I think that's fantastic.

  • 12:41:21

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this Tech Tuesday conversation with Patrick Tucker about his new book "The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?" You can give us a call at 800-433-8850. Would you be willing to divulge more personal health data if it could help predict things like a flu outbreak or whether you've been exposed to a virus? You can also shoot us an email to kojo@wamu.org or a tweet, @kojoshow, using the #TechTuesday. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:43:41

    NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday. We're talking with Patrick Tucker. He is author of the book "The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?" He's technology editor at Defense One and editor at large of The Futurist. Patrick, we got a tweet from Raymond who says, "If humans are so predictable, given enough data, what are your thoughts on people developing technology to disrupt human predictability?"

  • 12:44:04

    TUCKERI'm not sure how you disrupt predictability. In my research, I found a bunch of people that were developing these sort of novel solutions to avoid detection by, like, closed circuit cameras and satellites and things like that, like LED hats and even underwear with radio transmitters in them to kind of disrupt the sensors that are sort of all around us, that are counting our presence in things like this. But in terms of disrupting how predictable you are, I'm not sure how you'd do it, which is to say I already saw it coming.

  • 12:44:42

    TUCKERYou, you know, if -- at the same time, there's tremendous value in the data point that is the I reject this data point.

  • 12:44:50


  • 12:44:50

    TUCKERThe people that say the way this works right now, this transfer, is not something I'm interested in participating in. So I'm going to undertake a higher personal cost in terms of time and convenience to work around that. I don't think that that's invisible. But the same time, that's just, to me, actually much more valuable than all of the people that go along with regimes of greater data collection, even if they have mixed feelings about it. So I would say, if you are someone who's developing that, then you should totally go for it because you may not realize it, but the data that you're contributing to this whole process is among the most valuable.

  • 12:45:31

    NNAMDIIn the world of entertainment, using data to predict what viewers will pay to watch his big business, how did Netflix use data to create its hit television series "House of Cards"?

  • 12:45:40

    TUCKERGreat. So this is a great example of the difference between big data collection and the telemetric age, right? So big data collection a long time ago was, like, focus groups and people hanging outside of theaters when people left theaters, and asking, so what'd you think of this movie with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz? And do you give it X stars and whatnot?

  • 12:46:02

    TUCKERAnd based on that survey method, you can get some reactions off of people. And based on box office numbers, you get a sense of what a movie's going to do. And based on a bunch of, you know, old quaint notions about how different things are supposed to perform, you can invest a bunch of money in a movie, and it's going to work out, or it won't. And you'll make money, or you'll lose money.

  • 12:46:23

    TUCKERWhat Netflix did was they endeavored -- they created a big experiment where they just took data that they already had, which is how you watch stuff on Netflix, how often you just cram a bunch of episodes together to watch them in a binge. Even stuff like where you stop and where you start is stuff that they have. When you watch a movie, you skip over boring parts of dialogue. And all of that, in addition to the movies you select on basis of character and the types of plot you select. And they've been struggling with this for a really long time.

  • 12:47:00

    TUCKERThey -- in the 2000s, they spent, like, they offered up a prize of, like, $2 million to see who could create a algorithm that would predict what people would want to watch better than what they were working with already. And it didn't quite work. But on the basis -- 'cause there's no single algorithm that does that. They wound up giving away the prize to, like, a composite team. But the information that you give away, what that allowed them to eventually do is create content that's directly relevant to what they observe millions of users doing with Netflix. We know -- they knew that, for instance, people seem to really like gritty plot-driven dramas.

  • 12:47:43

    TUCKERThey also seem to kind of like Kevin Spacey. And they like to watch episodes all at once. So on the basis of all that information, they created "House of Cards," which is really the first data-driven drama. And it's wildly popular not just in D.C., but all over because it's a direct reflection of the way people were watching Netflix in real time. And you're going to see much more that. When you watch a movie on the type of device, whether you watch it in five-minute snippets while you're exiting or leaving the Metro, or you sit down with popcorn, and you just go nuts for 42 hours, and you miss work. This is all -- don't do that, but we've all done it.

  • 12:48:24


  • 12:48:25

    TUCKERThis is all information that they can use in thinking about what type of content to make. It's responsive to the way people actually watch movies. And it's different from the idea of the movie. I mean, we created the movie during the Industrial Revolution when hordes of people crammed into urban centers, and they needed something to do when they weren't on the factory floors to amuse themselves. So they went into dark rooms and sat around with strangers for increments of two hours, and they watched pictures.

  • 12:48:53

    TUCKERAnd we still think that this is going to -- I mean, this is just not the way we absorb entertainment anymore. We like the idea of stars, and we like great big stories. But we watch them in 30-minute snippets. We watch them in five-minute snippets, or we watch them in two-day snippets. And the two-hour period is just not what we're working with anymore. And that's an example of how data's just changing the entire idea of entertainment.

  • 12:49:15

    NNAMDIYou take issue, however, with the way Netflix recommends movies that it thinks we'll like, saying it's stuck in the big data present. What futuristic data tools could Netflix use to pick movies that are a better fit for each of us personally?

  • 12:49:28

    TUCKERRight. So I really think that Netflix is pioneering efforts on using your telemetric data to create content is really cool. But if you're like me, you've been to Netflix, and you've been really frustrated by the result. And the main thing that frustrates me is the high level comping. And what that means is the attempt by this Netflix system to take your preferences, to take your desires, what you like in a piece of art, and cram it into a completely artificial and contrived genre that they've developed for themselves, like, oh, I don't know, romantic comedies set in the south Pacific with Jennifer Aniston.

  • 12:50:15

    TUCKERThat's high level comping. It's nonsense. No one does that. No one goes home and says, I really want to watch a Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy set in the south Pacific. You like a movie because of the way it's executed, because of the way it's written, because of pacing and art and quality and sound writing. And this is not something that's...

  • 12:50:36

    NNAMDIYou don't want to watch the same movie over and over again.

  • 12:50:38

    TUCKERYeah, exactly. Certainly not if it's going to be poorly executed. And it's not something that is, today, existent in those sub-genres that you encounter when you go to Netflix, but that's going to change.

  • 12:50:50

    NNAMDINow that we've got a movie picked out that we finally decided we want to watch, we want someone to watch it with. Talk about how dating sites, like OKCupid, use data to find customers a match. What do they look at and how well does it work?

  • 12:51:05

    TUCKERSo dating sites are a great example of, in many ways, the big data present that's quickly leaking into the telemetric future. Right now, the vast majority of them look at just one of the three important factors in finding you a good match and that's how well your biography matches up with someone else's. And OKCupid does a great job of figuring out and filling in those little open boxes that are your biography.

  • 12:51:35

    TUCKERIt's not just your education level and where you went to school and your hopes and dreams. It's also how you answer really intimate, personal questions. But what the future of that is, is not just you give your dating site information about you personally by filling out a form or even answering questions on your phone while you're waiting for the bus or something.

  • 12:51:55

    TUCKERThe dating site of the future also takes advantage of information about how you talk, when you listen, when you're quiet and it uses that to form a much fuller profile of how you actually interact with people because that's every bit as important as your biography in matching you with someone. So that's the sort of data that was invisible. You are much more than who you are when you fill out a form.

  • 12:52:20

    TUCKERBut it's data that's becoming visible because we're carrying around a computer in our pocket that can actually collect that information. So in many ways, OKCupid is trying to take advantage of this. There's -- another site is Tender and it's just that sort of geo-location feature that lets you connect with someone whose biography you now are familiar with, but you can connect with them in a real world setting almost immediately.

  • 12:52:45

    TUCKERAnd I think that Tender, in many ways, is more innovative because they put, frankly, they put women more in control than men and that's turned out to be just really important because, you know, a lot of the way dating works is women have to feel more comfortable with it, with, like, online dating sites for anything to go anywhere. The men are always outrageously comfortable leaving everything that they've got on the table.

  • 12:53:10

    TUCKERI mean, this is the problem with men. We're obvious and predictable creatures and I'm not -- I'm still mystified by how a woman puts up with this. So but the future of the information that you create when you talk to people, when you listen, when you interact, that says more about who your best match is and that's stuff that we're going to be able to collect very quickly.

  • 12:53:30

    NNAMDIWhat are some of the dangers of this new predictive future? Will all decision making eventually be data driven? And if so, won't we lose our ability for spontaneity?

  • 12:53:40

    TUCKERYeah, I don't think so. I have yet to encounter, historically, a technology that limited our ability to exercise free will. Sometime -- more information is better. You can always make the decision to discard the recommendations that your phone is giving you and if they're bad, you will. You're going to do it a lot and you're going to do it very quickly.

  • 12:54:11

    TUCKERIf they're good, you'll find value in them. We have the opportunity to access probability distribution about our life. It's just much more rich. But spontaneity, by definition, can't be extinguished. It's just the ability to do whatever you please. The ability to know the consequences of decisions is something that lies ahead of us and I just think that the better we have that information, the more of it we have.

  • 12:54:37

    TUCKERWe have an opportunity to make more good decisions.

  • 12:54:42

    NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Michael. "What are big data implications for Wall Street? Have algorithms gotten it wrong?"

  • 12:54:50

    TUCKEROh, god. Algorithms get it wrong all the time. It's the thing. But they move so fast that you don't even notice in the stream of things. So the question that's -- we're dealing with a zero sum game so it's not how often they get it wrong. It's what's the cost of getting it wrong and how often do they do it. And this is the thing that they're beginning to understand.

  • 12:55:07

    TUCKERThat's the entire basis of high frequency trading, is getting it right more often than you get it wrong, losing less when you get it wrong and just moving faster. So it's not like these -- I mean, there's a bunch of different algorithms that huge trading companies now use in the context of, like, buying and selling things. I think that we're -- and they kind of fall into two different families.

  • 12:55:35

    TUCKERThere's the ones that are, like I said, just constantly playing that day trading game where you're trying to hit the trade and the little microtrade faster that everybody else to execute buy and sell a little bit quicker than the, you know, the machine next door. And that game now looks like, you know, these trading houses that are actually trying to get closer and closer to, like, the exchange just because the transfer time of the electrons, like the metal, needs to be closer to the metal so you cut down the millisecond fractions of trade time even more, which is ridiculous.

  • 12:56:13

    TUCKEROr you have attempts to diagnose what the future of the stock market's going to be in five, ten years, based on completely different factors. But this is a huge random participatory system with so much chaos involved so I would say, yeah, buy and hold isn't dead.

  • 12:56:33

    NNAMDIHow will knowing more about the future or at least knowing it with greater probability than ever before change the way we live?

  • 12:56:41

    TUCKERWell, this is -- you know what the sort of big irony is? I'm not entirely sure. What I do know is this. This is a fundamental shift for all people. We developed our brains millions of years ago, before we were even human, we developed the part of our brain that thinks about the future, the neocortex. This is a -- it's even prima million.

  • 12:57:03

    TUCKERAnd what that does, like I said, is it takes experiences we've had, stuff we're experiencing now and makes a projection. And we've always done it and we've always been terrible at it. We've always been able to see where the ball was going to fly in the air and catch it and we've never been good at anticipating the outcome of huge human endeavors because it's not within our realm to experience in terms of senses, in terms of our daily experience.

  • 12:57:27

    TUCKERWe spend 70 percent of our time thinking about the future and we've gotten really used to being wrong most of the time and still surviving and thriving anyway. And that's what's going to change, is we're going to start being right much more often than we're used to. And I don't know exactly how that changes everything, except I think that the opportunity, like I said, to make better decisions, to experience life, you know, as though we had superpowers is most likely.

  • 12:57:53

    NNAMDIHopefully, it will have a beneficial effect on Washington's politicians. Patrick Tucker is author of "The Naked Future: What Happens In A World That Anticipates Your Every Move." He's technology editor at Defense One and editor at large of The Futurist. Patrick, thank you so much for your thoughtful conversation.

  • 12:58:09

    TUCKERHey, thanks for having me.

  • 12:58:11

    NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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