Tech Trends

Scarlett Johansson explains the future of big data quite well

I watched the movie Her on-demand the other night. I didn’t expect to be impressed but actually thought it was really interesting. Not just because Scarlett Johansson did an amazing job conveying a human personality for a computer operating system (wow…go home Siri), but because it actually did a great job showing how the human-like quality of insight is so much more important than raw analytics, and how the future of human-computer interaction may be much simpler if we think about it the right way.

In the movie, the newly installed “operating system” exists to us as the voice of Ms. Johansson. She begins a dialogue with Joaquin Phoenix’s character (also great) who is newly separated from his wife and feeling alone and disorganized.

It goes like this:

Samantha: So how can I help you?
Theodore: Oh, it’s just more that everything feels disorganized, that’s all.
Samantha: You mind if I look through your hard drive?
Theodore: Um…okay.
Samantha: Okay, let’s start with your e-mails.
[Theodore’s desktop monitor shows his disorganized emails]
Samantha: You have a several thousand e-mails recording LA Weekly, but it looks like you haven’t worked there in many years.
Theodore: Oh, yeah. I think I was just saving those cause, well I thought maybe I wrote something funny in some of them. But…
[Samantha starts laughing]
Samantha: Yeah, there are some funny ones. I’d say that there are about eighty-six that we should save, we can delete the rest.
Theodore: Oh, okay.

It goes further but I don’t want to be a spoiler. Problem solved. She analyzed the data, then delivered the insight to connect on a human level to what needed to get done to achieve his goal. We need more insight in our lives from the systems around us. Insight can drive better utility “keep this, delete that and you’ll free up storage and avoid needing a new computer,” or improve marketing relationships “send a coupon to frequent customers for a free iced coffee when the temperature hits 90, and they will buy 20% more in the month.” They can hopefully also be life changing, “if you walk to work 3 times a week, you will lose 15 lbs in 6 months and live 16 years longer so you can walk your daughter down the aisle. If you don’t lose that weight you’ll likely die by the age of 58.” Now obviously there are many ways to deliver information based on your attitudes and history, but you get the point.

The value is driven by broad access to data, power to mine that data in the cloud, and systems that deliver a personalized human-like insight. All of these areas are being accelerated through technology at this moment. The dynamic of insight vs analysis is a key part of today’s data landscape and will help give us more products that act like informed human help rather than pretty gadgetry.

On the movie, well, insights can evolve pretty quickly even in non-humans so you’ll just have to see the movie to see how it ends. I think it’s worth it.