You say correlation; I say causation


“Too long, didn’t read”. Microsoft’s Chief Envisioning Officer Dave Coplin swept into our offices this month to remind us that behind every bit of tech there’s a human being.


He described the symptoms of the Digital Deluge on the average human, one of which is that you can’t manage to concentrate on anything lengthy.  It is yet to happen to my emails but apparently TLDR is now the dismissive response you can expect to any email longer than a sentence or two (including your sign off with best wishes).


We’re the first generation that has really had to cope with DD (Digital Deluge) and we aren’t all coping with it very well according to Dave.  We don’t concentrate, we skim everything, we can’t put our smartphone away even when with our loved ones, and we’re incapable of effective multi-tasking EVEN if we’re women. (Personally I love to multi-task however this might be because I am not so great at only doing one thing at a time.  I believe one bit of activity enriches and enhances another.  Dave has research though that proves me wrong so there we go.)


Dave provides a solution to the DD.  The systematic use of data.  He talks about a paradigm shift from the world of causation to the world of correlation. There will be lots of data, lots of patterns and rather proving causation in it we can rely on patterns of correlation.  I agree with a good deal of the spirit of what Dave says.  I cannot agree with this.


I’m sure I don’t need to remind you : “Post hoc ergo propter hoc”.  The Latin saying which translates as “after this therefore because of this” is a well known fallacy which assumes that since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.


Well quite often it isn’t.  There are a number of famous examples of this.  One from ancient less digital times is that despite the fact that the cock crows each morning before sunrise, the cock crowing does not cause the sun to rise.  From the first decade of this century this graph shows correlation between per capita consumption of mozzarella and the rise in number of civil engineering graduates.


You need rigour as far as interpreting data is concerned, and perspective.  And a good algorithm.


There is much to be valued in the Dave Coplin view of the world.  He also talked about a “Copernican Shift” which is on its way.  At the moment we gravitate around technology.  As I sit here blogging I have three phones and two screens. And an impulse to check all of them.  Dave speaks of a new era soon to arrive where technology revolves around us instead and will act as our perfect executive assistant, personal coach and valet.


No more TLDR.  Technology will read it for us and decide what to do.  What could possibly go wrong with that?







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