The Fallacy of Data vs. Intuition

In a Wall Street Journal interview, Hilary Mason of Fast Forward Labs illuminates the relationship between data and intuition:

“One of the common fallacies is that data is opposed to intuition. Data is a tool for enhancing intuition. When I worked at the social-media company, one day the CMO of a frozen-breakfast-sausage brand came into our office. The guy said, ‘I want to know what may customers do on the social web.’ And I said, ‘Great. So first we’ll figure out who your customers are.’ He said, ‘I know who my customers are. They’re moms in the Midwest.’ I said, ‘How do you know?’ He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, ‘They’re my customers. I’ve been doing this for years.'”

“He was not wrong. He had many customers. We didn’t know if they were moms, but they were looking at mom-type things. They were in the Midwest. But he missed a cluster of customers in Texas, and they were into motorcycles and man things. He missed a cluster in the Northwest who were anti food additives [who liked his product because it] did not have these additives. We were able to show that his intuition was in no way wrong. But he was missing things that were too small to come up on his human radar.”

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Strat-O-Matic Reinvents Itself Using Big Data

A board game from the 1960s has been updated with “digital” cards using algorithms and big data, reports The New York Times. In the past, Strat-O-Matic, a “baseball simulation game,” was “played using cards for each player based on statistics from the previous season.” In its latest iteration, called Baseball Daily, the cards are “updated daily,” allowing players “to play games in the present,” says Adam Richman, son of the game’s founder, Hal Richman.

“Every year, we try to push forward digitally,” Adam says. “We need to rethink how we are doing everything.” He adds: “This is a natural evolution that will allow more engagement for our fans and expand our purview.” The hope is that Baseball Daily will “scoop up some daily gamers who have been flocking to the fantasy sports sites FanDuel and DraftKings, although Baseball Daily does not involve cash prizes and is structured differently.”

Strat-O-Matic is also developing apps. Traditionalists will, of course, be able to continue play Strat-O-Matic the old-fashioned way, using last year’s data.

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Like Amazon for Your Diet

“Research increasingly suggests that each of us is unique in the way we absorb and metabolize nutrients,” reports The New York Times. “This dawning realization has scientists and entrepreneurs scrambling to provide more effective nutritional advice based on such distinguishing factors as genetic makeup, gut bacteria, body type and chemical exposures.”

Dr. Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel “found a startling variation in the glucose responses of 800 subjects fed the same foods … By combining data gleaned from subjects’ glucose responses with information about their gut bacteria, medications, family histories and lifestyles, the scientists devised an algorithm that accurately predicted blood sugar responses to foods the participants hadn’t yet eaten in the study.”

“The algorithm is similar to what Amazon uses to tell you which books you want to read,” says Eran Segal, also of Weizmann and a co-author of the study. “We just do it with food.”

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How Netflix Beats Amazon

The difference between the way Netflix and Amazon use big data is the difference between a hit and an also ran, reports The Observer. Data scientist Sebastian Wernicke, in a TED Talk, “explained how two shows, which were strategically made with data analysis methods creators thought would ensure Breaking Bad caliber success, were created, and how they faired in the ratings. One, Netflix’s House of Cards, worked—the show went on to score a 9.1 on the rating curve. The other, Amazon’s Alpha House, however, fell short and landed at 7.5 on the curving, marking it as a completely average show.”

“When Amazon set out to make a data-driven show, the company held a competition. They evaluated a bunch of show ideas, selected eight of them and then created a pilot episode for each and made them available online for free. Millions watched the free episodes, and the company used data (such as how many people watched each show, how long they watched and what parts they skipped) to create a show they hoped would be destined for greatness. After crunching millions of data points, the results said they should create a sitcom about four Republican U.S. senators. Alpha House was born.”

“Around the same time, Netflix was brewing up something similar. But instead of using a competition, the company looked at the data they already had about viewing on their platform (ratings, viewing history, etc). They used that data to discover small bits and pieces about what viewers like and took a leap of faith … Amazon’s show wasn’t a booming success because it used data all the way. Netflix, however, looked at what users like and used that insight to think up a concept for what they believed would be a hit show, and it clearly worked.”

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Discovery Weekly: The Spotify Experience

“Automated music recommendations are hardly new, but Spotify seems to have identified the ingredients of a personalized playlist that feel fresh and familiar at the same time,” reports Quartz. “That’s potentially a big advantage over competitors like Pandora, Google, and Apple, which largely have the same bottomless catalog of music but take very different approaches to picking the best songs for each user.”

“We now have more technology than ever before to ensure that if you’re the smallest, strangest musician in the world, doing something that only 20 people in the world will dig, we can now find those 20 people and connect the dots between the artist and listeners,” Matthew Ogle, who oversees the service at Spotify (said) recently. “Discovery Weekly is just a really compelling new way to do that at a scale that’s never been done before.”

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Under Armour’s Healthbox

Wired: “Under Armour was founded on a simple idea: Make athletes better. To do that, it’s turning human performance into a big data problem. The company is betting on the notion that the right hardware, the biggest dataset, a lot of machine learning, and powerful motivational tools can make everyone better, faster, and stronger. It’s betting that technology doesn’t exist solely to make us lazy, to bring everything to our door with the push of a button.

The centerpiece of that bet is a $400 kit, announced today, called Healthbox, that provides a scale, an activity tracker wearable, and a chest strap for measuring heart rate. The company also is updating Record, its mobile app, making it a 24/7 real-time barometer of your fitness and health. These tools, combined with three apps Under Armour has purchased in recent years, provide the most comprehensive ecosystem of fitness products yet made.”

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