Discover more from Datadoodle by Ted Cuzzillo
How some data analysts may outrun AI
A scenario for analysts who dream
A writer known for noir fiction tried his hand at data analysis — and he fumbled. His skills proved inadequate for the demands of data.
What’s a writer to do with an eye on data and a mind that looks into the dark? Does he retreat quietly? Or shake off the fumble and persist? Or does he adapt his lively and useful imagination to give the data world what it needs — that is, a look way past the data and into what could become?
Nick Kolakowski, senior editor at Dice and author of noir thrillers isn’t yet a first rate data analyst.
He pondered recent tech layoffs — and his analysis fell apart under an expert’s gaze. Dave Wells, well known within the data business and to Datadoodle readers as a deeply skilled data analyst, wrote, “Anyone who works in data analysis, and anyone who has reasonable critical thinking skills should see the flaws in this article — numbers out of context, no metadata, little or no analysis, and leaps to conclusions that aren’t supported by data or analysis.”
Kolakowski can improve his data skills. So can so many other data analysts as this craft comes abreast of typing as a skill in the business world — unless artificial intelligence leaps ahead to displace even this.
But I suspect that AI will have a much harder time combining a wide variety of non-rational factors to create credible scenarios for the future.
That would require three skills. One is at least a basic and growing skill in data analysis for setting a starting point and understanding scientific forecasts of physical conditions. Second, a power of empathy that’s good enough to imagine change within small groups. Third, a native’s feel for evolution of culture and history to imagine change among whole populations.
With these skills, why shouldn’t Nick Kolakowski — and the few others like him — set out to try something that uses them all and is not likely to be overtaken by a machine? It’s scenario creation.
The rich imagination it took Kolakowski to write his thrillers, along with his existing data skills, suggests one other skill — one that might be more useful than data analysis in the long run.
A rich imagination, a flair for narrative, strong and varied empathy and an interest in data all in one mind suggests a more interesting skill than data analysis — one that’s likely to find more demand in the future: scenarios.
Scenario planning is a centuries old planning tool for military that has become a mainstream tool for business planning. Military leaders couldn’t afford to rely on predictions. They had to prepare for any conceivable attack: the enemy could come over that hill, across that bay, both, or do nothing at all.
I consider scenarios a genre of data stories. Available data provides a starting point for extrapolation into the future. Current trends based on data are extrapolated — typically by a diverse group but conceivably by one talented person — into sets of fleshy scenarios. They’re just fact-based fantasies that are credible enough on which to base ready-to-go plans.
A scenario is not a prediction. Nor is it a simplistic blob that only scares people. Scenarios are useful and provide enough detail to plan with.
This is where a writer with imagination and data skills can contribute. Nick, and others like him, should behold this scenario.