|Tim McElligott Blog|
LeWeb's 'Faster Than Real Time' Triggers BS Detector
I get it. Big data and the spooky wonders of analytics have techies going gaga, small "g." But anyone going around claiming they're delivering meaningful customer interactions in "faster than real time" doesn't care what kind of clown someone might think they are. It's all about the promotion. It's about getting people inside the tent. And it works. Take LeWeb, for example.
LeWeb is one the Internet's trendiest and hippest conference extravaganzas. It took place in Europe this week. It's hot. But it's tagline this year, as mentioned above, is "faster than real time." And I'm just not buying it. In fact, I think it is irresponsible.
It is hard to argue with success, and LeWeb is successful. Not only does the event take place in Central Hall Westminster in London, but thanks to its tireless promoter and co-founder, Loic Le Meur, and his Silicon Valley connections, it attracts speakers such as Eric Schmidt, executive chairman at Google; Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Square; Chad Hurley, co-founder and CEO of YouTube Inc; and even Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, the most fetching keynoter ever. (If she told me that "faster than real time" was true, I just might believe her. Alas, I haven't scored that interview yet and probably won't until they lift the restraining order.)
But Le Meur and some of his supporters are setting off all kinds of BS-detectors. I know they're setting off mine. Here are a few examples from a CNN article titled, "Should We Fear Mind-Reading Future Tech" by Andrew Keen, who, thankfully let his skeptic flag fly a little. I think he could have waved it a little higher, but tell me what you think. They call it predictive tech; some call it psychic tech. The idea is that with the amount of customer and network data that application and service providers have at their disposal and with super-powered analytics, they will be able to anticipate a user's next move before they have decided to make it. Uh-huh.
Here is Robert Scoble, speaker at LeWeb: Faster than real time is "when the server brings you a beer before you ask for it because she already knows what you drink!"
Le Meur said in the CNN article that online apps are getting to know us so intimately that we can know things before they happen.
Wait, wait, it gets better.
Paul Davison, CEO of Highlight, maker of social-media apps, said "faster than real time" is revolutionizing not only the Internet but the very nature of life itself in the digital 21st century.
OK, ask someone with a terminal illness or someone who has just looked into his or her newborn baby's eyes for the first time, or walked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon how much influence their mobile device has on the "very nature of life itself."
They say the data from social apps will be able to predict the future. The actual future.
And here I thought Jeff Pulver was a real promoter when he was producing his VON conferences in the 2000s. Jeff was a true showman, but unlike Le Meur and company, Pulver's promotional tactics were rooted at some level in technical, social and market realities.
Nick Halstead, founder of Datasift, told Keen that in the pre-social era, companies based their business decisions on backward-looking data; purchases that have been made, and orders that have been fulfilled. "In the social era, the social-stream of the world is telling us what's happening now, or will happen." And Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight, thinks he can get services so personalized and context-aware that he can book a room to your liking before you even know you want a hotel.
Datasift's idea makes sense on the macro level where immediate trends will point companies in a certain direction much sooner that before, but the hucksters at LeWeb are talking as if this can be done on an individual basis. And if this were a golf tournament, Sam Shank would have the most appropriate moniker ever.
Technically, there is probably nothing mankind can't do given enough time, money and demand. But I have seen too many promises go unfulfilled and too many geeks get too far out in front of themselves to think this is going anywhere but the same route as artificial intelligence. I admit, even if these entrepreneurs fall far, far short of these promises, they will no doubt deliver some pretty amazing technology. And I guess that's all that matters. No one will remember all the empty promises; users will just be happy with what they have. But in the meantime, the folks worried about Big Brother will probably get all agitated and generate a whole lot of discussion about privacy.
And if "faster than real time" lives up to these guys' wildest dreams, there is more trouble ahead. I think they make the mistake of believing the human race can't help itself when it comes to sharing social information, their consumption habits and all manner of preferences. I think there is a reckoning coming. And I think the moment we sense – and hopefully before – that the data-crunching machines have learned too much or taken too much control, we simply pull the plug and go back to being people.
Thankfully, some of the wisest minds in analytics are trying to build their solutions with the best interest of the public in mind and incorporating privacy into their development plans. Always a trendsetter for both analytics and privacy, IBMer Jeff Jonas' blog from this week shows how cooler heads may prevail.
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