The French writer, mathematician, and philosopher Rene Descartes said “To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.” Today, the underlying theme of the hottest technological advancements is geared towards two things: Understanding behavior and shaping behavior. The importance of this phenomena cannot be overlooked.
Information Security – Understanding and stopping unwanted user behavior
It used to be that information security would focus on protecting assets and data by building a wall around them. That was fine when everything was centrally managed and controlled. Today, cloud computing has shattered the notion of where critical data may be stored. Protecting the information is now much less about walling off resources. It’s about identifying someone and recognizing and understanding their behavior with data.
The emergence of security information and event management (SIEM) systems is helping change the focus. Coupled with big data, security experts can now track and understand what your normal behavior is for services access, categorize the level of risk associated, and make determinations for restricting in almost real-time.
In essence, security is evolving to track who you are, what your normal behavior is, and based on anomalous behavior make decisions about your access in real-time. This is the new model for managing user risk.
Gamification – Shaping behaviors
Over the last couple of years, there has been a push toward incentivizing the right kind of work behavior and engagement through the use of gamification. Here people can be rewarded for completing tasks, participating in collaboration, and developing new capabilities for the business they serve. Gamification is a reward system integrated in applications and online communities. Reward through recognition, assigning badges, collecting points to recognize people’s effort, etc.
The challenge is of course making sure you reward people and don’t create unintended consequences in the way of rewarding the wrong outcomes. Community management and tracking the data outcomes is essential to its success.
Social Media – Tracking social behavior, likes, and dislikes
When search engines emerged the thinking was to track what people are looking for and optimize the search experience to deliver more targeted search content. Today social media has dominated in many cases the use of traditional search engines. When reviewing website analytics you may find that more and more people are finding sites not from search engines but through social media sites.
Even if you do not share much in your social media spaces, who you are networked with will tell a lot about you because your friends and colleagues are sharing. Your social connections and your own contributions reveal a tremendous amount. When you flag content with likes, you are further providing important information about yourself.
So none of this is really new for anyone, but it is important to connect the fact that social media at its core is about user behavior.
Geospatial intelligence – Human impact to the earth
This is a relatively new space for me, but what it does, is track the interaction of people with the planet. Geospatial intelligence maybe one of the more interesting and revealing pieces of intelligence being gathered today. In many ways it’s a real-time anthropological insight into human behavior and understanding its impact to the earth.
Tracking natural and man-made changes to the earth provides tremendous data about our collective behavior. Clearly this is important for military intelligence, but it also serves environmental studies. Although the science of geo-spatial intelligence has been around for some time, there is still more development to be done in this space.
Big Data Analytics – Behavioral analysis
Big data, big data, big data…..What can be said here that isn’t on the top of every IT periodical. Correlating data from structured and unstructured sources can provide an infinite amount of insight. Analyzing human behavior has become exponentially more powerful thanks to modern data analysis. We will understand more and more about our behaviors and our interactions because of the power of analysis. Couple that capability with real-time information and the power and impact of this technology will not be insignificant. It has the potential to impact every part of our lives.
IoT – human and machine behavior
So much of what we have discussed has been about human to human behavior, or human to environment behavior. The Internet of Things will prove to expose every aspect of our behaviors and interactions. Sensor data gathered from machines will tell us about the machine for sure, but it will reveal even more about us. This may be the last hurdle for digitally collecting information about human behavior.
Future of Privacy, Human Understanding, and Maturity
The minute we digitized a single attribute about a person, was the beginning of a titanic shift in what we perceive to be privacy, behavioral understanding, and control. It may mark the end of innocence in one hand, but an introduction of understanding to a degree that we previously could have never imagined.
Edward Snowden was a revelation regarding how much information is being gathered by government. The outcome it seems, is a global debate about protecting our privacy. But when you look at these major technological themes and methods by which we are learning about human behavior, you have to start wondering if we should be pretending that we have any shot of protecting privacy. I’m not sure it’s the right question anymore.
For a moment suspend your belief that we own a concept of privacy at all. If we free ourselves of this concept, then the real goal is managing how this information is used and stop trying to roll back the clock to a time when this data wasn’t gathered. This may be a controversial view, but it may well represent the current state of affairs.
Now imagine a future where technology can reveal our thoughts and memories. If that should happen, we will be looking back fondly on a time when all we gathered were people’s behavior. However there may be benefits. We might be able to gain insight into the genius of certain minds or greater insights into certain disorders.
So what is the great lesson? Maybe there isn’t one. Technology has the benefit of the entire human history to advance itself. Knowing how it should be harnessed is an understanding that each person can only learn within one lifetime. The human challenge is that we have limited time to develop the maturity to manage advancement that are exponentially accelerating. Maybe instead of fighting for privacy, we should instead be fighting for emotional maturity, ethics, education, and judgment…