How to beef up your brain and process big data

At the recent global meeting in Las Vegas for members of our agency network, Worldwide Partners, we had the chance to view a number of excellent presentations from experts on a range of topics relevant to the world of Branding, Marketing and Advertising.

One of these on innovation, titled “Augmenting Advertising and Marketing Intelligence: Exponential Tools for Leveling the Playing Field“, was delivered by Neil Jacobstein, Co-Chair AI and Robotics – Singularity University; Distinguished Visiting Scholar – Media X Program at Stanford University.

He described today’s information economy as a third industrial revolution – A world of opportunity for enterprising folks to make money at the intersections of knowledge.  This implies that the way forward is best served not by a multi-disciplinary, but rather  an inter-disciplinary approach by applying data science across many industries and markets.

With so much emphasis being placed on analytics, metrics, KPI’s (key performance indicators) and ROI (return on investment), many of us are feeling the pressure to become veritable Einsteins overnight on the topic of measurement and analysis.  How do we keep ahead of this ‘Race Against the Machine’?

Fear not – there’s a solution for folks like me who understand the value, yet don’t have the bandwidth to take on a new discipline.

Besides showcasing an exhausting array of emerging technology and trends, Neil’s talk gave some tips on how to take advantage of ‘Big Data’ without having to be an Uber-geek yourself.

The key is leverage.

Neil highlighted a bunch of resources: Apps, Online communities, APIs (chunks of licensable software code), Training and Experts among them.


Here’s a few I found interesting:

Solve local problems with help from the wide world
Kaggle hosts a site which hosts competitions to solve data and analytics problems, tapping into the power of a community of Data Scientists in a competitive environment.  I found one competition very relevant to our work hereHeroX is similar to Kaggle, with a slightly different approach.  The Simply Music Piano Challenge caught my eye as I have a young daughter currently using their method with great results.

Get thoughtful, educated advice, from your computer
Lean on ‘Big Blue’.  IBM has some amazing cognitive tech called Watson, named after one of their founders (not the Sherlock Holmes sidekick).  Besides the Jaw-dropping performance on Jeopardy!, Watson is just kinda crazy in its ability to interpret natural human language and reference massive amounts of data to give very accurate responses based upon ‘confidence level’.  They are licensing the API to select developers to bring awareness to some good uses of Artificial Intelligence.  If you have seen the Spike Jonze film, ‘Her’, you can also imagine some of the creepier uses of this Tech, but I am hoping we are all too clever for that.

Educate thyself!
Kind of a no-brainer, but requiring the use of your brain. Some places to start include UDacity,, Khan Academy and some more crazy tech based upon a system developed by a famous former neighbor of mine, Paul Ekman – Affdex is based upon codifying peoples facial expressions, useful in doing user testing and research.  The principles of Affdex are the basis of the popular TV show, ‘Lie to Me’ with Tim Roth.

See it all together
Lastly is my own addition, although Neil referenced Data Visualization.  I am a big fan of Dashboards.  I am a visual learner and like to see things in order to synthesize information.  Obviously Microsoft Excel, Apple’s Numbers and Google Apps have this built in, but sometimes it’s nice to get a layout of a bunch of visualized data all in one place.  Zoho and Klipfolio offer inexpensive web-based tools to build very sexy looking dashboards that can get data piped-in directly from a variety of sources, or via good ol’ CSV import.


The take-aways from Mr. Jacobstein’s presentation are:

  • There are more and more ways and sources to generate data
  • The amount of data is overtaking our ability to process it on our own. It’s simply overwhelming.
  • Taking advantage of the right tools, people and resources can give anyone the ability to understand and interpret this data if it’s packaged properly.
  • Keeping in mind the adage of ‘garbage in – garbage out’, it will be key to identify the goals and performance metrics that actually matter, filter out the crap, and as another data point: factor in your ‘gut feeling’.

Though we may be entering the second phase of the machine age, people are still the same animals they always have been.  We can be smart about how we use our intelligence, taking advantage of the resources available to augment the greatest data processing tool we have at our disposal, our minds.



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