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The Story of Data with Jeff Jarvis

by Team IA, February 26, 2021

Jeff Jarvis is a US based journalist, professor, and an investor for over five decades. On his blog, Buzzmachine.com, the NYC insider tracks new media developments. Author of the hugely relevant, eye opening, and thought-provoking book, ‘What Would Google Do?’, Jarvis in his last book, Gutenberg the Geek, debated if Johannes Gutenberg was actually ‘the world’s first technology entrepreneur’. Team Infinite Analytics got talking to Jarvis about AI, privacy and more. 

With data privacy gaining paramount importance in the age of AI, and Social Media channels, while others are busy tightening the ‘privacy’ parameters for users’ safety, you make a strikingly contrasting case for living a more public life on the internet. Could you elaborate on this unique perspective? 

Privacy is critically important as is its protection, and it has many protectors in the government, in media, and in civil society. I believe that publicness requires protection and advocacy. Much benefit comes from the sharing that social media and the internet enable; this is how we can connect with each and with voices previously not heard in mass media. As a journalist, I am concerned with protecting that which is public as public property; if a doctrine of presumed privacy in public became commonplace, it would have profound impact on journalists’ ability to report. Finally, personally, I have received much benefit from sharing publicly. For example, when I revealed my prostate cancer publicly, I received much benefit, with people sharing information and support. Hence, in my book titled ‘Public Parts’, I attempted to advocate for the benefits of publicness alongside privacy. 

Throughout your career you have had an extremely diverse and successful stint as a journalist, editor, columnist, publisher, and author among your other roles. How do you see the future of traditional journalism shaping up with the increasing use of AI in daily life? 

Traditional journalists are too often hidebound by their traditions. The field of journalism is not that old: the first newspaper was published in 1605; journalism as a mass medium did not spread its wings until the middle of the 19th century. It is critical that we step back and ask what society’s needs are to reimagine journalism with all the new tools we now have at hand, including AI. I work under a new definition of journalism: to convene communities into respectful, informed, and productive conversation. I see many needs in society: to help us listen and not just speak so we may enter into conversation, to help us understand each others’ circumstances so as to make strangers less strange to help us debate productively to reach solutions. AI can be helpful in listening to the public conversation across the internet to provide us with a more accurate mirror of society than what binary opinion polls or daily news can give us. AI can provide greater personalization and thus relevance to users, serving their own needs. AI is also making advertising more effective and efficient, helping to support journalism and media.   

What do you think are some of the challenges that AI faces in the creative aspect of its functioning, considering data sets rule the rhythm? 

The greatest challenge to AI could be the public perception of it and the moral panic around technology and the internet generally that is being fuelled by media lately. Two books — How History Gets Things Wrong by Alex Rosenberg and Everyday Chaos by David Weinberger — made me believe we could have a coming crisis of cognition, as machine learning will be able to better predict human behaviour but will not be able to explain it. There will be calls for more algorithmic transparency but this will be futile as the algorithms themselves are an indecipherable language and, again, because algorithms produce predictions, not explanations. So, companies and academics using AI will need to work hard to set standards for examining bias in data sets and results and for studying and sharing research on impact.  

What roadmap would you suggest to get reluctant marketers to be comfortable with AI?

Look at your competition. If you are selling ice cream on a street corner, your scale will not require AI. But if you are selling anything online to a national or international market, you will have to be as relevant, as effective, and as efficient as possible in reaching your customers. You can bet your competitors will be using every tool available to do that.  

How do you see IA changing the marketing landscape for brands? 

What excited me about IA from its founding (I am an early investor) is that it moves companies’ understanding of their customers past simple, one-dimensional demographics — in the old days, that translated to the rather sexist assumptions that men read sports and men bought tires so tire ads appeared in newspaper sports sections. Now marketers can work harder to develop more well-rounded pictures of their customers. Nothing — nothing — beats a direct relationship between a brand and its customers, one built on trust, transparency, and permission. The wise marketer will use IA’s data to make that possible.

What is the creativity that a company like Infinite Analytics brings on the table for it’s clients.  

Again, think IA can help marketers and brands build more well-rounded portraits of their customers. Artificial intelligence will not always explain why there are certain correlations but it can make marketers more curious about customers as people, augmenting IA’s insights by entering into direct conversation with them online.   

What do you think is the impact of data science on traditional marketing methods? 

Marketing was earlier for the masses, and the mindset was: ‘We have one product we must convince everyone is perfect for them and we will bludgeon people, whether they are likely customers or not, with a singular message via mass media.’ Thank goodness we are now past the era of mass media, mass marketing, and mass manufacture. Now wise companies can start their development process not with a product and not with a message but by listening to the public to be inspired by their needs and tap opportunities they had not seen before. 

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by Team IA

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