"Despite our best intentions, the system is sufficiently dysfunctional that intelligence failure is guaranteed." From The Coming Intelligence Failure, Defense Intelligence Agency analysis
Middle East politics and online marketing are two of my passions. Whenever I get a chance to combine the two in one article, I gladly take the opportunity.
Unless you have been living in a cave, you know that there are major uprising going on in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Iran. With the exception of Iran where Western support for protesters involves financial subsidies, none of these organic protests were predicted.
Israel's vaunted Game Theory and the overwhelming data mining techniques of the CIA have failed MISERABLY to predict the most massive events in modern Middle East history. Nassim Taleb would label these uprisings "Black Swan" events – occurrences that deviate beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that are extremely difficult to predict.
A simple question to ask is; "If our predictive modeling methodologies cannot foretell major, cataclysmic events, what value do these tools really have?"
The simple answer is not much.
Think of the US government's investment in Mubarak. This is not a hypothetical because we invested in him for 30 years, as we did the Shah of Iran from 1953 to 1979. Mubarak and the Shah paid off huge dividends while they reigned. Much like the huge dividends we have reaped through our support of the Bahraini, Saudi and Kuwaiti monarchies.
But these investments turn potentially toxic when we continue to pour money into them because we cannot predict the Black Swan. In essence, the Middle East is experiencing a political market crash. This analogy rings true in light of recent experience that proved data methodologies incapable of predicting, let alone preventing, a global stock meltdown.
And this is the point that behavioral targeters and those supporting this pseudo science refuse to acknowledge. These models invariably – and cataclysmically – fail when you need them most! The CIA has computers capable of doing 10 trillion calculations per second that use the SAME DATA MINING AND PREDICTIVE METHODOLOGIES favored by stock-market mathematicians. The CIA uses the SAME DATA MINING AND PREDITIVE METHODOLOGIES touted by online behavioral-targeting marketers.
If you want to make a fool fail, give him information. --Nassim Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes
Marketers with significant skin in the media investment game should heed this warning: the more you "bet" on these failed methodologies, the more you are at risk when the Black Swan rears its predictably unpredictable head. If you continue to measure more and more about less and less, and rely on algorithmic reduction to predict human behavior, the only certainty is that you will fail. And you won't realize it until it happens.
Jaffer Ali is the CEO of the video snack network, Vidsense and e-commerce company PulseTV.com. He can be reached easily the old fashioned way, give him a call at 708-478-4500.
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MediaBizBloggers is an open-thought leadership blog platform for media, marketing and advertising professionals, companies and organizations. To contribute, contact Jack@mediadvisorygroup.com. The opinions expressed in MediaBizBloggers.com are not those of Media Advisory Group, its employees or other MediaBizBloggers.com contributors. Media Advisory Group accepts no responsibility for the views of MediaBizBloggers authors.