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The hidden dark side of today's hottest tech trends

Peter Wayner | June 14, 2013
New technologies and new IT strategies are here to solve all your problems — except the ones they create

The hidden dark side of big data
The new book from Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier makes a persuasive article that the huge mathematical engines churning through oceans of data don't need to be absolutely correct. The statistical combines only need to offer some insight into the problem to make it worth their time.

That's often correct, but the real job is separating the worthwhile insightfrom the chaff. The statistical analysis needs editing by a competent human to rule out the obvious ("Winter coats sell well in November and December"), the trivial ("Left and right gloves often sell as pairs"), and the expiring ("Coral pink with blue glitter sold well on the second Thursday of April.")

In other words, the algorithms may be able to spot correlations left and right, but the human must figure out whether there is any real causation to be exploited, not to mention how to exploit it. Unfortunately, much of the discussion around big data doesn't alight organizations to the amount of expertise or training that is necessary to make the most of the technology, let alone whether your organization really has enough data to be considered "big."

The hidden dark side of gamification
Can everything be made more enjoyable if it's turned into a game? Even taxes? The stern, civic-minded taskmasters would beg to differ. "It should be done joyfully," they might agree, before adding, "We all have a duty to contribute to the commonweal and ensure that the blessings of government flow ceaselessly. Funding this new park or sewer line isn't a game by any means."

OK, what about losing weight or petting your cat or cleaning your house? Perhaps, but like all games, the magic tends to wear off. How many times can you play Monopoly?

Then there's the trivialness of those little round GIFs taking up room on the Web page. How many awards can a grown man or woman stand? The badge trick works with 10-year-olds, but even the teenagers have seen through the facade of gold stars, smiley faces, and blue ribbons. I've personally battled several people for the mayorship for the local grocery store, but the magic wore off the second time I deposed them and liberated the people from their despotic rule.

If the companies try to up the ante and offer a real pot of gold, the whole endeavor becomes as serious as a job because that's what you call something that leads to a paycheck. Then there are those nasty anti-gambling laws that seem to get in the way when you mix fun and money.

And don't think "gamifying" your internal knowledge management system is going to raise the collective IQ of your organization. If anything, you'll probably have the employees you'd rather have playing Farmville all day crowned kings and queens of your company's business-development fiefdom.


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