Predictive Analytics Goes from the Minority to the Majority

Predictive Analytics Goes from the Minority to the Majority

Predictive Analytics Goes from the Minority to the Majority

Steven Spielberg’s 2002 thriller, Minority Report, centers an entire universe of speculation around fate and predestination. Tom Cruise plays police chief John Anderton, who oversees a department called PreCrime, which uses gifted humans called precogs to predict — with chilling accuracy — who will commit crimes before they actually happen. Everything changes for Anderton when he receives a report that he will murder someone: Cracks in the precog system appear as Anderton goes rogue and tracks down an alternative prediction that he won’t kill anyone at all.

We’re now living in Anderton’s dystopian moment. Today corporations in every sector, from finance to education, are using a set of technologies called predictive analytics: Machine learning, big data and related forms of data analysis have given us the power to know more about the future — or, more precisely, the probability of certain future outcomes — than ever before. But the story doesn’t end there. As recently reported, Los Angeles County launched a pilot program “analyzing data about a child’s family, arrests, drug use, academic success, and abuse history” to determine which children were more likely to commit crimes. Although the program ended in 2014, PreCrime chief Anderton would be impressed.

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Questions have already arisen about the legal use of predictive analytics. Especially in a justice system dependent on presumed innocence, no one can be arrested before they are guilty. But whatever else they suggest — and perhaps even because they are so important to the changing world in which we all live — these developments mean smart investors ought to watch the companies that make and use predictive analytics of any kind.

There are many entries here: the platforms that gather personal data, the storage companies that house such data, the start-ups and established players that provide analysis and related services like visualization and sentiment analysis, and their clients (those who hope to earn a competitive edge from its use).

In the first category — let’s call them the gatherers — we find just about every app for mobile, every consumer touchpoint that can be equipped with a computer or a sensor. The most obtrusive examples are Facebook, whose $5 billion–plus fourth-quarter earnings made news inside and outside of tech, and Twitter, though the latter company has been reported to stumble this year. Gatherers profit from the sale of data to marketing research firms and insurers — or from the secondary sale of those data as advertising space perfectly targeted based on location, demographic, political sentiment and so on.

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