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The new Calvinists

By Dave Snowden  ·  March 22, 2013  ·  Polemic, Reflections

I don't think I ever repeat a presentation, but over time certain elements stay constant, then new ideas are tried and refined.  The best time for this is when I get a series of presentations within days of each other to very different audiences.  Telling and retelling over short time scales refines ideas and often creates them.

In Hong Kong this week I had three presentations within the week, two of which are now posted with yesterday's date and one of which awaits us sorting out the load issues on large files.   One of the key messages is that the whole big data idea is being over hyped.  Its a variation of the nonsense I remember from DARPA days just after 911.  At that time we were a solitary research team arguing the need for human networks and human sensor data, although I didn't use that language then.  Arrayed against us were multiple teams offering to create an algorithm that would tell them what Al Qaeda would do next.  Each failure resulted in another request for more money with the same promises.  

In parallel with that our work was ignored in IBM in favour of Fountain Park which made similar promises before it finally dissipated.   Large investments with large promises seemed to be flavour of the day, small investments with larger potential that used novel, science based approaches were less favoured.   Techno-fetishism rules OK was the slogan on the T-Shirts.  Then in Atlanta only a few years ago the modelling community (who are similarly obsessed) argued that with enough investment they could produce a model that would determine the future.  Calvinism is very much alive and living in the there is no such thing as free will academic modelling community.

At least the modelling community are proactive, too many of the big data guys are just assuming that information will come to them from the misty mountains of the internet that they can process without human engagement to reveal all that is needed.  The simple act of putting human sensors into the system escapes them.  Solutions for nerds, by nerds that will dumb us all down to the intelligence of nerds.  I said in yesterday's post as well so its probably time to stop!

The trouble is that Calvinism is superficially attractive, it removes responsibility from the individual as the elect are already on their way to heaven.  The same is true of techno-fetishists, they really don't want any messy human intelligence in the process.  Maybe its a reminder of what they could have been?