Tartle Best Data Marketplace
Tartle Best Data Marketplace
Tartle Best Data Marketplace
Tartle Best Data Marketplace
Tartle Best Data Marketplace
Tartle Best Data Marketplace

Human nature and prediction models. We base our perspective of human nature on two-dimensional grids, molding our society and its systems towards these grids. Despite this being the norm, people aren’t so clear-cut as to simply be placed into broad labels.

So how then, do we categorize human behavior? Is there a better approach to what we have now? Perhaps one that encompasses everyone, while still taking into account the multifaceted nature of a person.

In this episode, join Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby as they tackle human creativity and the variances that make everyone unique.

Three-Dimensional People In Two-Dimensional Systems?

In the 1960s, a two by two grid was employed by Boston Consulting Group as a model they can show to their clients. Because of its simplicity, it can be easily understood by everyone. More importantly, it is a convenient way to present data.

With systems that involve predictable and binary data, using a grid makes sense. However, using a two by two grid is not the best approach when dealing with human behavior. We cannot simply force people into one of the four categories within the grid.

A person, whose thoughts and actions are infinitely complex, cannot be placed into a singular label. Everyone is three-dimensional, such as that emotions can’t be numerically described, and therefore cannot be placed into two-dimensional grids with a pen and paper.

With systems that require labels and measurements, using a grid is indeed the most efficient way to do so. For mapmakers, laying out squares to measure land is easy, because of its two-dimensional nature. For geneticists, the Punnett chart is a simple way to predict chromosomal traits and how they blend together. And so, dealing with predictable components using a grid is common sense.

An example of a two by two grid that attempts to categorize human beings is the New York Magazine Approval Matrix. The matrix gets released every week and is a literal grid that places current human events and happenings into one of four categories. They take these incredibly multifaceted aspects of our society and force them to fit within a single two by two grid.

The Infinite Variability of A Human Being

Humans come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. No matter how small, the tiniest difference in personality or thought processes can develop into entirely different people. Even a single variation in one’s environment can create a completely unique experience for a person.

With things like predictive traffic models, you can somewhat predict a group of people’s general behavior. During the pandemic, however,  a traffic model cannot explain the sudden reduction in traffic. Moreover, it cannot predict the outcome of a virus and how it affects traffic in the future.

Again, a two-dimensional grid cannot be used to describe a person’s thoughts and decisions for their future. For example, a person thinks about a past event. However, this thought relates to how they should act in the future. This causes a shift in ideas and perspective in how they think about themselves. This scenario cannot be described by simply using a two-dimensional system.

TARTLE has figured out the commonality between everyone, and that is their inherent uniqueness and creativity. Every person is an outlier compared to everyone else and should be treated as such.

Using a Unity Model for a Holistic Approach

With that being said, there is a type of system that attempts to approach human uniqueness in an all-encompassing manner. A unity model. An entity should then design systems and models that are for humans, rather than a target demographic. This eliminates the metaphorical walls that divide people into specific groups, without limiting the scope and growth of a given system. 

Creativity is an inherent trait that is both unique and ubiquitous to everyone. An expressive painter cannot be labeled as “weird” or “crazy” for being creative in their own way. Rather, it is who they are as an individual.

A person’s label should not be confined within the walls of a grid, but rather a gradient of creativity that cannot be simply described with a word or two. Going back to describing painters, no one should compare one artist’s expression with another artist, with each artist being unique on their own.

Instead of visualizing a system as a grid, we should instead view it as a spherical model. Imagine plotting a single point on a sphere. If this sphere was rotated, it would still be equal to any other point plotted on the sphere.

Closing Thoughts: The Norm of Two-Dimensional Systems

Each person should be treated as an absolute uniqueness; a gradient of colors that cannot be defined by binary systems. Everyone is inherently creative, and everyone has experiences and thoughts unique to themselves.

Despite our society’s norm of placing everyone into clear-cut definitions, we should instead strive to expand our perspective towards the infinite creativity of human nature. Just because everyone has adapted to this norm, does not mean that it is the correct way to describe people.

Collectivism, Individualism, and the Environment.

Are we a collective or atomized individuals? This is one of the central dividing lines for all human worldviews. In the past, the collectivist mindset held sway. Tribes, kingdoms, races were seen as a whole, with people merely being parts of the collective that could be sacrificed or punished to serve the whole. At the extreme end if members of one tribe killed one member of another, it could very easily lead to vengeance being taken on the entire tribe. Outside of one’s tribe, personal responsibility did not exist, the responsibility was collective. The same mindset is carried into today in the form of communism in which all the citizens of a given country are treated as nearly indistinguishable parts of the whole.  

In more recent history, with the rise of republican and democratic governments, following in the wake of the Reformation, a more individualist philosophy has arisen, which at its extreme advocates for complete selfishness and acting without any sense of obligation to anything or anyone else. 

What does any of this have to do with the environment? Both outlooks create bad outcomes for people and for the environment in which we live. Most people will readily agree that the individualist mindset hasn’t been great for the world. It’s hard to swing a keyboard without hitting pictures of animals swimming in oil or of massive landfills bursting at the seams with plastic. It’s easy to see how one can draw a line from that through consumerism and to the short term thinking that results from the idea that I’m an individual and I can do what I want. People in the future can figure out how to deal with future problems. But what about collectivism? How is that bad for the environment?

That has to be addressed since there is a fresh drive back to that mindset. Given the weaknesses and excesses of extreme individualism, it might make sense to go back to collectivism. After all, all the pollution didn’t start until individualism came along. Right? Wrong. Fact is, when you take on a collectivist mindset, the tendency is to push responsibility for things onto others. Whether you just assume someone else will pick up that trash, or you count on the government to do what needs to be done, the point is, you aren’t doing anything yourself. If things go poorly, it’s almost inevitable that people will just shrug because it’s all out of their control anyway. And in a socialist society, it is. If you want proof, look at pictures of the environmental devastation that was revealed in Eastern Europe when the Iron Curtain fell. 

So, what is the answer? What if I told you the answer lies where Aristotle always said virtue was, in the middle? In realizing that we are part of a collective in the sense we are all living on the same blue green jewel hurtling through the void we realize that we are connected, that there is a greater whole. In recognizing each other and ourselves as individuals within that collective we take on responsibility for our own actions. We realize that for the collective to be healthy, we have to individually make good choices for ourselves because our choices can affect many others. Instead of shrugging at the litter, you deal with it. Instead of waiting for the government or some organization to do something about the plastic in the ocean, you buy in bulk and so use less plastic. 

It almost seems too simple doesn’t it? The thing is, people tend to be drawn to one extreme or the other, to go all in until the damage is done. Then the pendulum swings back and the cycle continues. Over and over and over.

One thing you can do in addition to the simple little everyday things like just using less junk is contributing your individual data through TARTLE. That allows organizations to analyze it and determine consumption habits and what sort of products, policies, and services people are looking for as well as get suggestions on how those organizations can themselves do better to help protect the world we are all a part of. 

What’s your data worth?

When the Data is False

The internet, cloud computing, data and all the rest of it can be amazing when it is used appropriately. Used correctly, these tools can be a massive benefit, helping us to understand the world we live in and to be better able to solve whatever problems come our way. Unfortunately, these tools can be abused all too easily. 

It’s like that with all tools. You can use the tool of fire to keep yourself warm, provide light, and cook a meal. An arsonist will take that perfectly neutral tool and use it to burn down a building. A gun can be used to stop a crime or shoot up a school. Digital tools are the same, and just as with those other tools, there is perhaps no more terrifying abuser of digital tools than the government. Just like Nero burning Rome, the KGB using guns and other tools to terrorize their fellow citizens, governments can use the tools of the digital age against their own people.

We’ve talked about this before. China uses the internet to control, rather than foster the flow of information and we recently discussed how New York City uses facial recognition software to profile people. The latest abuse comes out of Morocco where a human rights advocate is currently being held based on falsified charges according to Amnesty International. Apparently, the government does not like Maati Monjib advocating for freedom of expression and is using false data to accuse him of embezzlement. This is frankly terrifying. When the government itself is willing to lie and falsify information to attack its own citizens, there is little any one person can do against that. That’s true no matter where you are or which government is doing the abusing. 

What lessons can we take from this situation? One, it is more important than ever to protect your data. There are simply too many bad actors out there who are willing to steal or falsify data for their own ends. Whether the intent is to steal a credit card number and run up the balance or extort a hospital with some ransomware, the need to be careful about privacy is greater than ever. Yet, how does protecting your data from theft prevent anyone from just making stuff up? After all, can’t they just access a given server and insert whatever information they want? Yes and no.

To make that work, the falsified data has to be at least somewhat believable in most cases. Which means they need to have some legitimate data to work with. If your real information is protected, it at least makes that task a lot more difficult. Yet, let’s assume this is possible or that the prosecuting body just doesn’t care. This is why blockchain is important for data. If all data or at least all of your data has a blockchain attached to it, it becomes much harder to falsify. If it doesn’t have the appropriate chain that leads back to you then it isn’t your data. Even if someone figures out how to fake that, it still won’t work because it won’t be duplicated in all the other nodes in the system. A defense, even in a show trial becomes much, much easier. 

Of course, a reasonable person will ask how you keep bad actors from using blockchain. Well, you do the best you can. TARTLE screens for known bad actors like actual terrorists. However, there isn’t any way to stop every bad actor before they do something they shouldn’t. Even if you engaged in all the profiling and regulating you can imagine, there would be those who would slip through the cracks, while restricting the freedoms of many more innocents. 

TARTLE believes that the free flow of data is paramount. As such we take an innocent until proven guilty approach. Better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man is punished.

What’s your data worth?

China, Censorship, and ‘the Common Good’

Recently, we mentioned in this space that we want to do a better job of highlighting the good things being done in the world. And we want to do that. Really. Unfortunately, you sometimes come across something so out of the left field, so demonstrably bad that you have no choice but to throw the flag. 

What is it that is so egregious? Chinese state media recently put out some information on how great they did with their COVID response. How the data shows how much better they did than their Western counterparts. There are a few significant points to make here. Let’s begin with the fact that the government is a communist dictatorship that does not allow dissent and tightly controls the flow of information. The Chinese government doesn’t allow Twitter past the Great Firewall and only allows Google and Facebook because those companies willingly comply with the government’s oppressive censorship requirements. They’ve also been caught pulling a few shenanigans regarding their COVID response as well, such as where it came from, how long it had been active, whether or not human to human transmission was possible, the list goes on. In short, getting trustworthy information out of China is difficult at best. 

What is just as concerning is the tendency of some outside of China to take their word for it and even admire their actions. Even if the claims China makes about its economy are true, they do it by grossly exploiting and abusing their own populations. The same is true of their much lauded COVID response. Even if they really did knock the case and fatality numbers down so swiftly, they did so by doing things like literally welding people inside their homes to prevent them from leaving. No, that isn’t made up. Or if they didn’t weld your door shut, they might come and physically drag you to a hospital. People unable to access healthcare jumped from balconies, a child with special needs died because his father was forcefully taken into quarantine. The human rights abuses that were going on boggle the mind. And the worst part is even outside of China, even in an article somewhat critical of China’s human rights record, the first words reference China’s economy. Again, even if it’s as great as they say, why should that be the first thing someone talks about? It seems misguided to say the least. 

It’s especially misguided in light of China just sweeping away such concerns, saying they were necessary “for the greater good” because after all, the case and fatality numbers reported went down. At least that’s what the Chinese government reported. Regardless, anytime people start glorifying the suffering of others in the name of some greater good, people should get nervous. This is particularly true given that the people talking about the greater good are never the ones doing the suffering. In fact, one way to be sure that you are dealing with the actual human rights abuses is that the policies put forth are done so with no concern as to how others will suffer while the people enacting them are not even remotely touched by their own policies. 

Of course, this is hardly an issue unique to China. Too many people in governments around the world and in major corporations take similar approaches, deciding what information you get to see, what sort of things you should sacrifice for the common good as they define it, while sacrificing nothing themselves. It may not be to the same extent as locking people in their homes, but all too often the difference is not one of kind but of degree. 

Rather than censoring data, it needs to be shared, far and wide. TARTLE currently is not banned in China so we provide an avenue for people there to be able to share data and connect with the wider world in that way. Perhaps, as more people become more aware of good, truthful data, things can begin to change there, because for once, it will be the government that doesn’t have a choice. 

What’s your data worth?

Scanners!

Facial recognition software is becoming more and more common. There are lots of uses for it. One is as a way to unlock your phone. Another is for stores to be able to recognize incoming customers, enabling them to provide personal offers. However, the biggest and most controversial use of facial recognition software is in law enforcement. From federal agencies down to some smaller municipalities it is becoming common to see cameras mounted on street posts and the sides of buildings. There are different law enforcement applications of this software, from catching speeders in the act to recording crimes in progress. The main area of concern though is how this software is often used to search for suspects.

How can that be bad, you ask? Surely, tracking down suspected criminals can’t be a bad thing? Can it? It depends on how you go about it. If you have a good description of the suspect or even a photograph then you are in good shape. The software will find him and then he can be quickly and easily apprehended. However, what happens when you don’t have a good description of a suspect. What if you have a very generic description, skin color, hair color, height, just a few basics that don’t do much to narrow down the people your scanner is looking for?

In that case, you’re unfairly profiling people based on merely superficial characteristics. That leads to a few things. One, it leads to police resources getting wasted running down false suspects. Two, those false suspects are actually innocent people who are now getting harassed, innocent people who may develop resentment towards the police after such treatment. All because you didn’t have a better description to go off of than “tall black man, athletic build, wearing blue jeans”. True, sometimes that’s all there is to go on. However, a real person can spot all the little behavioral cues that separate a real suspect from just a face in the crowd. An algorithm in the facial recognition software that is going over the images collected by hundreds of cameras around a city has a much more difficult time. Unfortunately, all the real people are getting used up tracking false positives generated by the software. 

There is also the sad fact that facial recognition software currently is not great at recognizing the differences in faces amongst different ethnic groups. Most famously, Apple’s software for unlocking their phones was pretty bad at being able to tell Asian faces apart, at least when it was first released. Others have a more difficult time identifying differences in African faces. Why is that? Is the software racist? Of course not, its code, it only acts on the data that’s fed into it and can only do so based on how it is designed.

All right, are the coders racist then? Probably not. So, how does that happen? A simple explanation is that the coders are simply coding based on their experience and the fact is, Silicon Valley is mostly full of white people. So they code for those facial characteristics. Even when training the software and refining the code to pick out finer differences, the faces you are scanning for the purpose are probably white. Why? Because they are the faces most readily available. If the software were being developed in Shanghai, there is a good chance it would do great at picking out Asian faces and not be as good at picking out white ones. 

As an example, back in school, I had a friend whose parents were missionaries in Africa. He said when he first came back to the US, everyone in class looked the same to him. He was used to the differences in the black faces he’d spent the last year or so with and as such the white people he was now in contact with were bland copies, while to me each was incredibly different. Frame of reference matters and very often people don’t realize how much their natural environment affects things they do on a daily basis.

So, how do we deal with this? We can’t just accept the unfair profiling of people through poorly trained facial recognition software. The opportunity for abuse and rights violations is just too high. The clear answer is that the coders need to do a better job of training their software to recognize different ethnic groups. Get out there and do the effort to get some unfamiliar faces fed into the algorithm. Yes, we know there are deadlines. But what if we told you that you could do it without leaving your desk? What if someone – like TARTLE – had a whole marketplace of people who might be willing to share images of their face to help you with that? In that way, you can get better software and innocent people won’t be getting harassed by police whose time would be better spent tracking down actual criminals. 

What’s your data worth?