Sep 23–26, 2019
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Executive Briefing: Understanding the cult of prediction

Farrah Bostic (The Difference Engine)
2:55pm3:35pm Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Location: 1E 10/11
Secondary topics:  Ethics
Average rating: ****.
(4.75, 4 ratings)

Who is this presentation for?

  • Researchers, analytics people, brand managers, product managers, and strategists




We’re living in a cultural moment is obsessed with making predictions. In politics and in business, we’re constantly coming up with ways to collect more data for a singular purpose: to predict what will happen next.

This overwhelming desire for prescience shapes the way we design, measure, and understand everything from products and marketing to politics and movements. Good predictions demand both precision and accuracy. Farrah Bostic walks you through how, in the quest to get more and more granular about how people will behave in the future, in the hopes that we can anticipate or manipulate that behavior, businesses are often tempted to rely on emerging or untested technologies—and sometimes pseudoscience—to get the “data” that fuels those predictions.

While this moment seems to be particularly defined by prediction, the practice goes back to (at least) the first lie detectors and has come to encompass practices like hypnosis, technology like medical imaging, and encoded anthropological approaches like microexpressions. But the implications are worse than wasting money and time. Businesses and brands are sacrificing the opportunity to understand things deeply and are simultaneously creating social negative externalities, like normalizing surveillance and misinformation, undermining public trust and values, and dehumanizing the very people whose behavior we want to predict.

Prerequisite knowledge

  • Familiarity with the purpose of typical data collection methods, including basic analytics, surveys and polls, and user interviews

What you'll learn

  • Discover how data addiction leads to more faulty data collection methods; how data collection practices normalize surveillance, mistrust, and manipulation; and how (and when) to "get inside people's heads" without violating their privacy or bodily autonomy
Photo of Farrah Bostic

Farrah Bostic

The Difference Engine

Farrah Bostic is the founder of the Difference Engine, which she created based on her belief that deep understanding of customer needs is essential to growing businesses through great products and services. Farrah has honed her customer-centric insights as an advisor to some of the world’s most respected brands, including Apple, Microsoft, Disney, Samsung, and UPS. Previously, she began her career as a creative and then went on to be a strategist at leading agencies, including Wieden+Kennedy, TBWA\Chiat\Day, Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and Digitas, where she was group planning director and mobile strategy lead; she also ran innovation as a partner at Hall & Partners and developed digital tools for online qualitative research as SVP of consumer immersion at OTX.

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