Lumosity: The Last Piece Of Information Big Data Didn't Have About You
I read the TMF Post of the Day today - here it is, thanks to Arlene123 - and it got me thinking about a topic I've been meaning to post about for some time.
Lumosity.com is a newish website where you can play 'brain games' for free. The idea, long since debunked in cognitive science circles, is that your brain is a muscle and you should exercise it to keep it working. (This idea has long since been debunked; the brain is not a muscle, you can't exercise it, there are practice effects on these kinds of cognitive tests that simply affects the tests' ability to measure Spearman's g, and the prophecy is self-fulfilling, as only the people having declining cognition do poorly - the rest do not do poorly. But that's not what I came to write about.)
Now if you've spent any time on Lumosity, you realize this sort of eerie fact: their 'brain games' are IQ tests. Plain and simple, that's what's happening: your IQ is being measured.
Why would someone launch a website to measure your IQ? Who are these people? Well, they're brain scientists, right? Sure they are - take a look at Lumosity's "Our Team" webpage. And that's fine. But wait, there are a couple other types in there. The CEO is a venture capital guy, no brain science background at all. And here's a guy from Goldman Sachs. And the "Data Analysis" guy - he has other interests: "He also uses the Lumosity database to uncover interesting relationships between cognitive performance and other environmental factors".
Right. The Goldman guy thinks that's important. The venture cap guy thinks that's important.
Why? It's because of this: Up til now, IQ hasn't been in the credit databases that the banking industry keeps on every man jack, woman and child in the world. Yet, IQ - that simple number - is a very good predictor of employment success, overall happiness, net worth, income, creditworthiness - apart happiness, all the things that credit companies care about.
Can you sign up to play a Lumosity game without giving your credit card number, which is your social security number, which is linked to every fact and data point known about you in the universe of data? Try it. They don't want you to buy anything; but they want your identity. And they want to sell it to the finance industry.
If you were trying to slam people into your 'premier' banking program, as Arlene123 complains about; who would you want? The IQ 120 person like Miss Arlene - 90th percentile, a bit above average - who sees how she's been screwed, and sues over it, and wins a settlement? Or the IQ 85 person - 32nd percentile, let's say - who's never going to be quite "with the program" enough to figure it out?
Everyone wants that low-IQ money. There are now "prize-based investing" incentives in Michigan, and a bill is pending in US Congress. Putting money in a savings account is now like buying a lottery ticket - you have a chance to win money. The idea is that instead of playing the lottery, people will save money, which is good for the banking system - and ostensibly good for the best interests of those people too.
There's no moral to this story. The winners exploit the losers, which is the story of humanity all through its history. Pretty soon, Big Data will be able to tell my IQ just from looking at what they already know about me, even if I don't sign up on a website and do work in order to hand-deliver it to them.