Data Mining Book Review: The Numerati

numeratiWhether you are a shopper, a voter or a blogger, you will find a chapter in The Numerati that will be of interest to you. Stephen Baker has done an excellent job in explaining what companies can do with their data. For getting knowledge from these data, companies use mathematicians and computer scientists (what Baker calls the numerati).

Baker takes us in a journey divided in seven parts (chapters). Each of this parts explain the possible application of data mining in a specific area. The journey is passionate and thus very interesting to read. The main point of his book is the ability of companies to build our behavior by mining personal data in various domains. As he explains, this would be impractical manually:

This means that marketers must scope us out as individuals. One approach would be to deploy battalions of psychology […] That’s impractical.

The main question for companies that collect data about us is what do we do, that might predict what we will do next? The book gives answers with practical examples.

By the way, Baker makes a very good vulgarization of decision trees on page 88. The author also makes a good point about data mining by stating that the aim is not to be perfect, but to do better:

Truth is not a make-or-brake test for the Numerati. They triumph if they come up with better, quicker or cheaper answers than the status quo.

To conclude, this is a very good book that any data miner should read to get a tour of possible applications. Maybe Baker goes a bit too far on what data mining can do (spy you) and this may frighten people:

In the age we’re entering, our lives will be described, studied, and predicted, every day more, through this statistical analysis.


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