What will the Numerati learn about us as they run us into dizzying combinations of numbers? First they need to find us.
Say you're a potential SUV shopper in the northern suburbs of New York, or a churchgoing, antiabortion Democrat in Alburquerque. Maybe you're a Java programmer ready to relocate to Hyderabad, or a jazz-loving, Chianti-sipping Sagittarius looking for walks in the country and snuggles by the fireplace in Stockholm, or—heaven help us—maybe you're eager to strap bombs to your waist and climb onto a bus.
Whatever you are—and each of us is a lot of things—companies and governments want to identify and locate you. The Numerati also want to alter our behavior. If we're shopping, they want us to buy more. At the workplace, they're out to boost our productivity.
When we're patients, they want us healthier and cheaper. As companies like IBM and Amazon roll out early models of us, they can predict our behavior and experiment with us. They can simulate changes in a store or an office and see how we would likely react. And they can attempt to calculate mathematically how to boost our performance. How would shoppers like me respond to a $100 rebate on top-of-the-line Nikon cameras?
How much more productive would you be at the office if you had a $600 course on spreadsheets? How would our colleagues cope if the company eliminated our positions, or folded them into operations in Bangalore? We don't have to participate, or even know that our mathematical ghosts are laboring night and day as lab rats. We'll receive the results of these studies—the optimum course—as helpful suggestions, prescriptions, or marching orders.