There is a free, country-wide early earthquake warning system in Japan using the accelerometers in networked laptops throughout the country. Using this system, trains and factories in Japan were stopped one minute before last year’s earthquake. There are city blocks in New York city that generate so many criminals that the state spends a million dollars a year on each block to deal with the criminals that came from it. What if $1,000,000 was spent on those neighborhoods before they created criminals instead of after the criminal acts?
These are two cases of big data in action: the collection and analysis of vast quantities of information. These topics are addressed in Rick Smolan’s video summary of The Human Face of Big Data (HFOBD) project, which is ongoing this year. Earlier this week his company, Against All Odds Productions, released a smartphone app to collect data from 10,000,000 people (hopefully). With that large anonymous contribution of “data exhaust”, this project may learn some interesting things. I downloaded the app on Friday to participate.
The app was minimally functional for me on Friday. It installed and I was able to answer its questions. But the Facebook login did not work. I elected to allow it to track my movements throughout the day. Unfortunately the location services on my Samsung Galaxy Note draw significant power. My phone’s battery was dead by the late afternoon. I could not figure out how to turn off the app’s use of location services so I uninstalled it that afternoon.
Today my girlfriend and I installed the app and went through the questions together over a beer. With instantaneous feedback from other users, I saw a few trends worth sharing.
First, a brief demographic observation. About 40% each of married and single people.
I once read that a generation ago only 10% of couples had a single child. Apparently that percentage has doubled since then. As a product of that generation, I fall into that 10%. The HOFBD app suggests most respondents are also children of my mother’s generation.
Life has been good to me, as it has to 83% of the app’s respondents. I would be fascinated to sit with a sample of the 17% that feel life has been unfair to them. Surely some people start in bad situations. Does 17% reflect this? Or is it biased by pessimists?
38% of respondents would rescue electronics from their burning homes. (Anyone could have predicted this among the Android and iPhone users running this app.) 10% would rescue money, which I keep in banks instead of under my mattress. And 2% of respondents would grab their gun. Should there be a fire in your neighborhood keep the guys with guns away from those carrying their life savings!
Recall that I took this survey twice, the second time sitting next to my girlfriend. I have to admit that the second time I answered differently the question, “what is the one thing you would change about your partner?” And I made a couple other minor modifications, too. That’s why I was surprised to see my data doppelgänger was me!
Despite its bugs, this app provided a fun diversion for a few minutes this afternoon. I hope you all will download it and participate in the project. For more on the project see Rick Smolan’s video below.