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A Theory of Everyone


A Theory of Everyone
February 24, 2015, 7:00:00 PM EST   By Mike Russiello
Black hole and personality data

If the discovery of black holes in our universe produced a Theory of Everything, what will come of the informational black hole we call the Internet Cloud? Could one possible outcome of this new, Earth-bound black hole be the emergence of a Theory of Everyone? That is, a theory that predicts human behavior. Far fetched? Maybe. But when you consider the forces in motion today and what has already been accomplished, it might seem more possible than you thought.

A few nights ago, I watched Eddie Redmayne win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his fantastic performance in The Theory of Everything. Having always been fascinated by astronomy, I started thinking about black holes. As you will recall, a black hole uses gravity to suck in all matter within its reach, including planets, stars and anything else that comes too close. 

It occurred to me that people are to the Internet as matter is to a black hole. Certainly, the Internet sucks us in (and sometimes consumes us) as soon as we fall within its grasp. If you disagree, take a moment and reflect on what your life would be like without the Internet. Scary, right? 

It’s a cute analogy, but what if we go one step further, and think about our personal data. Consider all the data about you that is captured somewhere out there in the Internet cloud. We’re talking about no small bucket of bits. It includes the web sites you visit, who you talk to, what you say, what you buy, what you considered buying, what you like, who you like, what you did last night, where you shop, where you dine, who you trust for news, advice, weather, etc. As wearable devices become ubiquitous, we can add your vital statistics, health, activity level, and who knows what else. It’s an Internet black hole. 

Once matter enters the event horizon of a real black hole, it cannot escape. The same goes for data about you on the Internet, and we are generally powerless to do anything about it. Where would you even go to remove your data from the Cloud? Haha! Good luck trying to do that. 

I’m sure people will debate whether an Internet black hole for your personal information is a good or bad thing for decades to come. There are pluses and minuses. 

Let’s focus on the positive for now. We know that Stephen Hawking’s understanding of black holes clarified our understanding of the evolution of the universe after the Big Bang. So, perhaps the Internet black hole will lead to a new understanding about people. In other words, perhaps it could produce a Theory of Everyone

How will the Cloud lead to a theory of everyone? The answer starts with data - our data. Just as a galactic black hole collects all the matter it consumes (well, sort of, for you science types) an Internet black hole will compile everything about us - certainly more than we can even imagine. Next, tomorrow’s data science will use this mega-data to unearth new patterns and relationships. These newly evident patterns will then wait for the next Stephen Hawking to connect the dots and create a theory about how people really think. 

So, it’s big data and data science, and it will lead to a theory of everyone.

I can hear the snickers. Most of us, including me, doubt we’ll ever truly understand the human mind. However, I’ve been truly amazed at some of the early successes of big data and data science. My two favorite at the moment are Siri and self-driving cars. Both of these marvels have been made possible by big data and data science. If they can do that ...

Of course, there are other milestones, less challenging than a theory about people, that remain unvanquished. Consider the weather. We have a lot of weather data and ever-more sophisticated computer models, but the weather report still seems about as accurate to me as it was 50 years ago. Or what about predicting earthquakes?

So when will this new theory of everyone emerge? I don’t know, and I hope it’s a long time away. But it may not be. Many employment testing companies are already using terminology like “Behavioral DNA” and “Data-Driven Inferences” in their sales and marketing literature. Other companies claim to be able to evaluate your Facebook profile and predict your future job performance. These companies may promise more than they can deliver at the moment, and their methods may be crude, but it’s clear the Internet Black Hole is already having an effect on people’s careers. Where is it all heading? Well, we’ll need to wait for Mr. Hawking’s successor for that one.

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