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Business BD vs. Science BD

jaron lanier, 2013

jaron lanier, 2013

I’m a Jaron Lanier fan — may as well get that stated up front. As a thinker, innovator, and trenchant inside commentator upon technology, the culture, and the web, he uniquely blends a scientist’s depth, a nerd’s enthusiasm, and a philosopher’s searching grasp of the Zeitgeist. His influential earlier book laid out the landscape concerning Lanier’s view of inadvertant financial and livelihood fallout brought on by certain structural biases built in to the Web. His latest offering looks at the power gap between those “close to the server” and the rest of the hoi-polloi in a world of technologically centralized opportunity for mischief, profit, and control.

jaron lanier, 2011

jaron lanier, 2011

My interest here is to go back to a video talk given in 2008, in which Lanier is doing some early speculating on the differences between Big Data as applied to scientific endeavors and Big Data within commerce.

Some fascinating concepts arise during the talk. For example, the loss of localization as a seller’s benefit, which favors Amazon with it’s higher vantage point. Or websites nearly devoid of any valuable content, simply seeking to game the system and achieve ad count advantage. Lanier applies the brakes to premature declared BD victories in the sciences (which he claims is usually due to more peripheral people like tech journalists or business types), saying that once a fruitful data or statistical result surfaces is exactly when the hard work must begin leading eventually to deeper understanding. This work involves feedback, devising tests, and collaboration with adversaries — all of which is generally absent in the commercial sphere.
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“One of the things is that when you gather data from people they don’t sit there passively, as natural data does, waiting to be measured. They’re not like the atmosphere or the genomes, sitting there. When you measure people in a business context, a significant percentage of them turn into scammers who are fighting back and trying to change the way they’re measured for their own advantage. You’re engaged in a world of game theory instead of measurement… Google has a huge problem with people gaming their system to get high rank on valueless websites simply because there’s a profit motive.”
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Lanier ends with a brilliant bit inspired by Keynesian economics, in which he equates BD commerce efforts with setting up a kind of business Turing machine that artificially seeks to remove the risk and intuition from business decisions. Carried to extremes, he says this would make the market dysfunctional.
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“The people who are saying there can’t be any stimulus, there can only be austerity and this is the only path to optimizing the world sound very similar to the people who are saying we must not monetize information, there can’t be any restrictions, there can only be free flow of information, and that’s the path to perfect democracy, and expression, and culture. These people sound almost identical, even though traditionally they probably would cluster with conservative and liberal values. But they’re really the same. They’re both forms of exactly the same mathematical naiveté.”
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When viewing, bear in mind that this taping took place nearly five years ago already. Thus, though some of the examples might appear slightly dated, one also sees the prescience of much of the thinking and ideas contained within it. Here’s the video:


         • 2008 Edge Talk, Jaron Lanier, Business BD vs. Science BD

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~RS

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