Tag Archives: pundit

Big Data Versus Talking Heads

With the election in the United States now decided, the dissection of the result is well underway. And, perhaps the biggest winner of all is the science of big data. Yes, mathematical analysis of vast quantities of demographic and polling data won over the voodoo proclamations and gut felt predictions of the punditocracy. Now, that’s a result truly worth celebrating.

[div class=attrib]From ReadWriteWeb:[end-div]

Political pundits, mostly Republican, went into a frenzy when Nate Silver, a New York Times pollster and stats blogger, predicted that Barack Obama would win reelection.

But Silver was right and the pundits were wrong – and the impact of this goes way beyond politics.

Silver won because, um, science. As ReadWrite’s own Dan Rowinski noted,  Silver’s methodology is all based on data. He “takes deep data sets and applies logical analytical methods” to them. It’s all just numbers.

Silver runs a blog called FiveThirtyEight, which is licensed by the Times. In 2008 he called the presidential election with incredible accuracy, getting 49 out of 50 states right. But this year he rolled a perfect score, 50 out of 50, even nailing the margins in many cases. His uncanny accuracy on this year’s election represents what Rowinski calls a victory of “logic over punditry.”

In fact it’s bigger than that. Bear in mind that before turning his attention to politics in 2007 and 2008, Silver was using computer models to make predictions about baseball. What does it mean when some punk kid baseball nerd can just wade into politics and start kicking butt on all these long-time “experts” who have spent their entire lives covering politics?

It means something big is happening.

Man Versus Machine

This is about the triumph of machines and software over gut instinct.

The age of voodoo is over. The era of talking about something as a “dark art” is done. In a world with big computers and big data, there are no dark arts.

And thank God for that. One by one, computers and the people who know how to use them are knocking off these crazy notions about gut instinct and intuition that humans like to cling to. For far too long we’ve applied this kind of fuzzy thinking to everything, from silly stuff like sports to important stuff like medicine.

Someday, and I hope it’s soon, we will enter the age of intelligent machines, when true artificial intellgence becomes a reality, and when we look back on the late 20th and early 21st century it will seem medieval in its simplicity and reliance on superstition.

What most amazes me is the backlash and freak-out that occurs every time some “dark art” gets knocked over in a particular domain. Watch Moneyball (or read the book) and you’ll see the old guard (in that case, baseball scouts) grow furious as they realize that computers can do their job better than they can. (Of course it’s not computers; it’s people who know how to use computers.)

We saw the same thing when IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997. We saw it when Watson beat humans at Jeopardy.

It’s happening in advertising, which used to be a dark art but is increasingly a computer-driven numbers game. It’s also happening in my business, the news media, prompting the same kind of furor as happened with the baseball scouts in Moneyball.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article following the jump.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Political pundits, Left to right: Mark Halperin, David Brooks, Jon Stewart, Tim Russert, Matt Drudge, John Harris & Jim VandeHei, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Chris Matthews, Karl Rove. Courtesy of Telegraph.[end-div]