in Language Technology

What started as a trickle at the dawn of the new century had become a steady flow within five years, has now become quite a downpour; every second of every day, all over the world, people of every persuasion are logging on to the World Wide Web and every page they visit, blog they post, video they download, and social media comment they make adds to what is called “Big Data.” Companies are combing through that vast statistical sea, analyzing the information and extracting patterns that expand their customer intelligence allowing for much more informed business decision-making: they’re advertising in the most visited, visible places, making their marketing more targeted, as well as designing products based on what consumers genuinely want. This final area of impact is now determining not only what physical products are created but what kind of entertainment is being produced.


Take Netflix , for example, a North American video streaming company with over 44 million subscribers worldwide. When somebody sits down to enjoy a movie or television show using the service, Netflix’s servers track what they’re watching, when they’re watching it, their geographic location, and what sort of device they’re using to watch said show. They know when a user pauses, fast-forwards or rewinds, what they watch more than once and what they stop watching within the first five minutes. One of the signatures of Netflix’s service is a “Suggested” box filled with, as you might expect, film and television suggestions. Companies like Netflix are able to use Big data and the information collected to provide much more accurate “suggestions” than they could previously, but last year the media provider went even further; creating a show based on what data suggested users would enjoy.

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The company noticed that a large portion of its customers enjoyed watching Kevin Spacey (actor; American Beauty, Seven, The Usual Suspects). They also noticed that the same customers usually liked David Fincher(director; The Social Network, Fight Club, Alien3) and that those who rated the actor and director most highly also appreciated political thrillers. Thus was born the now insanely popular show House of Cards, a political thriller produced by David Fincher with Kevin Spacey as the main protagonist.

While many of the characteristics that contribute to a successful TV series or movie are determined by plot line and acting talent, having as much information on your viewers’ preferences certainly won’t harm the process. Saying that, when picturing a mainframe pouring over data in an effort to create the perfect scene in the perfect sitcom, meticulously matched to the target demographic’s data-derived desires; the image makes the creative process seem cold and devoid of humanity. Perhaps the world’s weavers felt much the same way when they first heard of the mechanized loom, but today we can look at the wealth of fabrics in any market and marvel at what the technology has brought us. Perhaps “Big Data” is bringing us to the cusp of a new cultural renaissance and an abundance of engaging, specially-tailored entertainment is just around the corner. Perhaps the mining of “Big Data” will help us dig deeper into our humanity and yield us gold.


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