Sunday, February 21, 2010

Math Geeks Will Rule the World

In the cover story in Business Week, Steven Baker addressed how math is becoming necessary in today's world. Because our world is now filled with oceans of data, math is being used more and more to 'mine', interpret, and use the data. The beginning of the article talked about how mathematical models can be used by companies to increase revenue:

"These studies crunched consumer data to measure the effectiveness of advertising in a host of media. The results came back in hard numbers. They indicated, for example, that Ford Motor Co. () could have sold an additional $625 million worth of trucks if it had lifted its online ad budget from 2.5% to 6% of the total."(3).

This kind of data is hugely valuable and could be potentially used on a federal level to calculate spending in the government. A lot of the article, however, talked about how math can be used with people, "The power of mathematicians to make sense of personal data and to model the behavior of individuals will inevitably continue to erode privacy." (2). Companies can use math to quantify and analyze their consumers and use that to create effective advertising.

I feel that, if taken too far, this could lead to a bad future. If we live in a world where every person is one of several million that fit a certain profile, that will be used for advertising, our society will continue to be controlled by media and consumerism. I once read a book call Fahrenheit 451, and this article reminded me of that book. In the book, books were banned, and nobody ever had independent thoughts or opinions. Everyone was stuffed full of information and data, but never taught to think about it or draw conclusions from it. Of course, this is a huge exaggeration of our world, but I feel that if the world moves more towards machines, and numbers, and data that generalize society into numerical patterns and equations, the opportunity for free thought and imagination will become less.

As for the part about how what we're leaning now is actually going to help us in the future, I think the importance of knowing high level math is overestimated. Really, we only need a few geniuses to write the computer programs and then the computers do all the math. I guess though, when math geeks and computers rule the world, those with calculus level math education have a better chance of survival.


  1. Great summary and great take away. It is clear that you not only read the article but also understood it. I think I would agree with the general directions of your opinions, however, I am having trouble understanding some of the finer points. First of all, you reference that if we do not change our present course, 'our society will continue to be controlled by media and consumerism.' What can we do to not be controlled by the media and consumerism? But beyond that, do you really feel like you are controlled by external forces hungering profit in today's world? As for me, I would like to think that nothing can truly compromise my free will.
    Also, in the future, do you think that the fact that because a company will be ADVERTISING to my targeted profile means that my intake of REALITY(via news sites, etc.) will be skewed?

  2. I wanted to give you an example of really interesting use of math and data: (warning: this website talks about sex, just so you know)

    Do you think this is a good use of data? Or is it leading us closer to what you are talking about? Or is it just in good fun?