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WHY INTENTIONS & MOTIVATIONS IN TECH MATTER

Tech in the right hands can do some great good. One of the best examples of this is Dr Patrick Meier. I first met Patrick around 2012 when he was giving a lecture at Imperial College on the work he was doing to improve the response time of humanitarian aid. One of the cases he shared was looking at trends in social media usage in Indonesia. If a disaster hits and the pattern of usage is lower than usual, they could infer there was no power, and hence, the area badly hit and requires urgent assistance. His book Digital Humanitarians, takes you through an amazing story of a dedicated global network of new humanitarians are using mobile technologies, computer applications, and vast quantities of data to make a huge difference.

SENTIMENT ANALYSIS

It was through Patrick that I connected the dots on how the same technology could be used to pick up sentiment, and where I realised it’s the character, thinking and intention of the people behind the technology that are the real game changers. Welcome to the world of sentiment analysis.

Sentiment analysis, also known as opinion mining, uses new technologies and algorithms to collect and analyse opinions about a product, service, or even an entire brand. It’s not just opinions, though—it’s also all the attitudes and emotions expressed with each mention online. In short, sentiment analysis seeks to highlight what people mean, not just what they say. Politicians have used sentiment analysis to gauge public opinion to policy announcements and campaign messages.

It’s the character, thinking and intention of the people behind the technology that are the real game changers.

To understand the power of this, imagine two conversations with two different people. You feel one of them gets you, really understands what you’re saying and what you mean, even who you truly are. The other comes across as cold, distant, uninterested, metallic. Which one will you gravitate to? The bets are on the former. But here’s the snag – humans do this very well, only they’re in two camps: the empaths – the highly intuitive individuals with heightened listening skills; and the manipulators and sociopaths – brilliant at telling you what you want to hear. The difference is the intention – the empaths have your interests at heart, the manipulators will tell you anything you want to hear but for their gain. What people don’t realise is most of us have interacted with a sociopath without realising it. It would likely have been a positive interaction, and they are not recognised as a sociopath or manipulator until they’re caught.

So why am I telling you all this? Technologists out there have realised we have been posting our thoughts in the ether. In some cases, they have used it to sell us more stuff, in other instances to swing elections. I have come across applications that give you the specific phrases to use with someone you want to win over, language patterns that could only have been extracted from the messaging facility of a given platform. Other applications help position you as an influencer in your domain by feeding you what you should say, what you should post. There is a fine line between influence and manipulation. If these applications are anything to go by, we’ve crossed it. Of course, technology also puts tools in people’s hands, to gain access to information. But people aren’t using it enough! Whether that’s an online search to do some fact-finding on people or picking up the phone to verify someone’s claims, we have plenty of tools at our disposal not to get duped. I would like:

  • To see more people using technology wisely and develop greater discernment
  • For investors to stop backing stuff that has the power to harm humanity
  • For entrepreneurs, innovators and everyone else in the ecosystem to temper greed

Photo credit © Can Stock Photo / rolffimages

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