A story in today’s Wall Street Journal about “Why the Virtual Reality Hype is About to Come Crashing Down” makes the simple point that computers haven’t caught up to all the permutations of real life to make a “virtual reality” headset experience resemble a genuine experience.
A short demo is one thing, but life goes on after the short demo is finished.
“The dirty little secret about [virtual reality] is that the hardware has run ahead of the content,” says the Journal.
My view is that catching up to real life is something that it is hard to see computers doing anytime soon, a point made in my recently published book, The Art of Fact Investigation: Creative Thinking in the Age of Information Overload.
The book makes the case that figuring out problems related to human behavior requires guesswork and the flexibility to change course when one series of guesses appears to be the wrong way forward. Computers are wonderfully flexible and free of emotional bias, but are completely unimaginative.
While computers can sort easily through data people enter onto their hard drives, they have a much harder time saying, “Here is something you should expect to find but do not.” Example: risk management programs failed to note the suspicious fact that Bernard Madoff’s alleged billions under management were audited by a tiny accounting firm in a suburban shopping mall. The computers did not say (because they were not programmed ahead of time to say), “I should be seeing a Big-Four auditor here but I don’t see it.”
But what about all the hype about “Big Data” and our ability to predict things based on billions or individual cases only a computer can keep track of?
The problem is that in some kinds of investigations (who is this particular person? What is the probable reaction of this particular company to litigation?) we don’t demand an answer about what other people or companies have done in the past.
Big data aggregates lots of individual results, but sometimes when the stakes are high, we want to disaggregate and find out what this particular person did at work eight years ago to prompt a departure left off a resume, or what this particular company’s board is like when faced with a lawsuit.
You won’t find those answers in any magical database. If you are lucky and smart, you will find some clues that will help you put together a probable story.
If that sounds less than the neat and tidy solution you were hoping for, who said real life was neat and tidy?