A pod cast (or four) & the Fourth Estate

March 30, 2007

While I was in Singapore for the RAHS forum, Gary Klein and I agreed to speak at an evening session for the IKMS. The results were recorded as four podcasts and you can see them here. I should warn you that I was in a belligerent mood on the failures of Knowledge Management at the time. Either way it will give some more insight into the philosophy behind RAHS and hopefully over come some of the poor reporting. Another example of that came in on the goggle alert this morning. This time from The Register who picked up on the Wired story with the same stereotypical reaction, albeit slightly moderated. I used their web site to reply, the text of which I reproduce below. It would be nice if now and then a journalist could get beneath the surface of their desire for sensation and simplification and realise that our work is about human intelligence, augmented by software. Further that the purpose is not snooping, but to allow senior decision makers to see things from perspectives other than their own culture and interest. See my post on Holy Terror for the excellent quote from Terry Eagleton. If we succeed in RAHS we will create a capability for governments to see beyond the stereotypes, and see things from other perspectives; to avoid demonisation. I have hopes of achieving that, but I think getting some (not all) journalists to achieve balance is probably a harder task …..

My Response to The Register

“I have just been passed your article in The Register on Singapore’s RAHS project, which is slightly more balanced that the Wired article from which I assume you drew your material..

Just for the record, I agree with more or less everything you say about data mining in terms of its effectiveness when compared human beings with experience. The aspects of RAHS for which I was responsible assume that humans are the primary interpreters both at raw data, and large pattern level, but that technology can be used to augment their decision making capability. Its very easy to pick up on the original TIA project in the US (massive data mining) and forget there was a parallel project (Genoa II) which assumed data mining was not the solution. I worked on that project, and took the ideas across to Singapore RAHS.

Technology can augment, but not replace human decision makers. If you looked elsewhere on the blog you would have seen both a response to Wired, and also more recently a summary of the differences between computer and human cognitive processes.

It is to the great credit of the Singapore Government that they have taken an approach based on diversity. Yes they have data mining (but not TIA) capability from Pedersen and others. They also have systems (from ourselves and others) that take a very different approach. Our software is being used (to take one example) to create living oral histories with indigenous people, based on the ideas of emergence (from complexity theory) avoiding crude categorisation or the static nature of many an oral history. It allows people to see patterns, to determine (as I demonstrated in Singapore) nuanced aspects of government’s intent. So instead of saying “The Iranian Government says X, has Y intent and will do Z” you represent multiple fragments of public domain material about the Iranian Government as a fitness landscape, in which the firm unmovable aspects are visible, but the places where there is likely to be an opportunity for change, normally hidden by crude stereotyping become visible. Such material allows senior decision makers to go from the “big picture” to the “raw data” without disintermediation and to make better, more nuanced decisions in consequence. It also allows them to see the same landscape from different cultural perspectives. At no stage does it attempt to predict a terrorist outrage. That (as you say) is beyond technology in the main.

The knee jerk reaction of Poindexter-TIA-massive data mining-privacy etc may make for a better story, but it is far from reality.”

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