By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications
The way Michelle Zhou sees it, Big Data gets a bad rap.
All too often, it’s portrayed as a means for huge companies to use personal data strictly for profit; the realm of ravenous marketing where individuals feel a complete loss of control over their personal information.
Zhou, senior manager for the User Systems and Experience Research (USER) group at IBM Research – Almaden in California, approaches Big Data from the polar opposite perspective. She sees a fundamental power shift underway, where individuals wield control of their own data and can use it to not only empower themselves, but to change the world.
“Big Data is not just about business and marketing,” Zhou said. “It’s increasingly about individuals using it strategically for their own benefit, to improve their lives.”
Zhou’s research team is developing solutions that will analyze the digital footprints a person leaves online and through social media and build an enhanced digital portrait of the person. People can then use their digital portraits to better understand themselves, receive targeted, personalized services, build relationships, learn from others who are just like them, and much more.
“Our work really helps us discover ourselves and discover others so we can make the world better together,” Zhou said. “People no longer have to think of themselves as victims of marketers using their data. Increasingly they can say: ‘Here is my data telling who I am and what I am worth.’”
From profit-centric to people-centric
Zhou and her team are developing System U, which uses psycholinguistic analytics to extract a full spectrum of psychological, cognitive and social traits from the data a person generates. By analyzing social media posts such as tweets, text messages, online reviews and shopping patterns, System U can derive a detailed model of an individual’s Big 5 personality traits, values, fundamental needs and social genome (i.e., who they are close to and in what context).
A person can use his digital portrait to gain a deeper understanding of himself–as well as share it to connect with likeminded people, find matched mentors, role models and teams, and build an ecosystem of services.
For instance, one day soon individuals will be able to authorize companies to use their data to create intelligent advisors to receive hyper-personalized customer experiences. A person could offer his data to a bank in exchange for highly individualized banking services and financial advice. He could enlist a suite of intelligent advisors, based on the data he chooses to share, to receive individualized guidance on healthcare, education, insurance, career development, investing…you name it. Zhou’s team is already working with some companies to develop intelligent advisors for their customers.
All this points to a shift from a profit-centric to a people-centric economy, Zhou explains, where consumers can say, “I can give you my data, but I want something in return.” Businesses will increasingly serve customers as unique individuals rather than a vague demographic blot, according to Zhou. In doing so, they will benefit with much stronger customer relationships, loyalty and business outcomes.
World peace through big data
Zhou has great hopes and a grand vision for the power of Big Data that far outreaches the day-to-day big data conversation we’re all used to.
“I want this technology to change the world,” Zhou said. “Within a decade, I want to see every individual in this world truly be able to use their data to know ‘who I am and what I want’ and for companies to really serve me as me.”
Zhou’s ultimate hope is that by engendering greater self-knowledge and knowledge of others, big data and analytics can help people across the planet better understand and respect one another and lead to world peace.
“The more we know and share about ourselves and know about others, the more we can actually work together toward greater understanding and better communication and make the world a better place,” Zhou said. “I truly believe in this positive, transformative power of Big Data.”