Watch Sandy’s presentation on Sociometrics. Video credit: The MIT Insider

Professor Alex 'Sandy' Pentland is a pioneer in organizational engineering, mobile information systems, and computational social science. Pentland's research focus is on harnessing information flows and incentives within social networks, the big data revolution, and converting this technology into real-world ventures. His work provides organizations with better management tools and better ways to interact with their customers.

Pentland is founder and director of the Human Dynamics group, and the Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program. He advises the World Economic Forum, Nissan Motor Corporation, and a variety of start-up companies. He is among the most-cited computer scientists in the world, and in 1997 Newsweek magazine named him one of the 100 Americans likely to shape this century. His book, Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World was published in 2008 by the MIT Press. In 2011, he was chosen as one of the world's top data scientists by Tim O'Reilly in Forbes magazine.

INDIA Future of Change, InDialogues, Alex 'Sandy' Pentland

ALEX ‘SANDY’ PENTLAND’s opening remarks
InDialogues 2012. 26 Jan. Davos. Switzerland

I lived in India briefly, I set up a series of laboratories in India - with government cooperation, so I have  the scar tissue to prove it! I run an entrepreneurship program, so we have several ongoing companies in India at any one time in health in payments in areas like that so I know a little about India, enough to be dangerous. Let me start by coming in from outer space. I'm the big data guy from MIT. You've all heard about big data. A couple of examples of the sort of big data that are around, before I get into cities. In my labd I have the credit card records of 80 million people for a period of 6 years. I have the mobility records – so every place that people went – for 100 million people, for a period of several years. You get the idea. The research is all private, don't worry. But for the first time you can actually go in and say – what did the patterns of mobility have to do with creative output. What do the patterns of spending have to do with crime. And it's not just psychologists or sociologists looking at it. This is hard data. The computer can calculate the projected crime rate based on the patterns of movement and spending. And you can literally do this. And it's amazingly accurate. 

Human behavior – as much as we want to think of ourselves as intelligent and all that – has very deep roots. So for example if you look at credit card spending, it comes down to two things. The stuff you have to do everyday (and you're incredibly predictable about that – I can predict you from other people) – and then there's something that looks just like animal foraging behavior. Every once in a while you go on a spending spree. And the statistics – how much you spend and where you spend it – is just like squirrels looking for nuts. Same math. For all of our intelligence. However there are differences. If you have a neighborhood that's a vibrant neighborhood, the foraging behavior is different because it's a vibrant neighborhood. It's like squirrels foraging for nuts around a big oak tree vs. a neighborhood that's not doing so well where they're foraging on bare rock. So you can see how vibrant a neighborhood is by measuring the human behavior. Similarly with movement and mixing of people. You can see when a neighborhood has a strong cohesive social fabric by the pattern of movement within the neighborhood. People get around and talk to each other. It's that simple. And you can measure this statistically. You can also see creative neighborhoods because they both have that pattern, and they have a pattern of exploration with other neighborhoods. And you can see neighborhoods that are high crime, high everything else, because they have neither of those patterns. In fact in large cities you can predict the infant mortality rate from either the mobility, from your cell phones, or the car pattern. I can tell you how many babies die in each neighborhood without knowing anything about it except for how the people mix and talk to each other. So that's a pretty amazing thing. And the question is – what do you do with it?

I think we're at a point where were beginning to use this so that we can feed back into governance to make find the bad places and do something about it, and to design cities that have the right sort of mixing and the right sort of environment to promote creativity. So what are the main things? You have to have environments that promote a certain sort of mixing. That implies infrastructure. That's a sort of main thing. You have to have neighborhoods where there's high levels of trust and interaction and that can be infrastructure too. In India, when you sell a house, how much does the government think you sold it for vs. how much did it actually cost? And how did the other payments happen. First of all taxes and unfair things that happen. But also India, within living memory, had some very unfair and violent things happen when it became a country. There are traditions of trusting your data cos you never know when the bad guy is gonna come back. You see this in different countries, scars from the past. So a trusted cyber infrastructure, where you can give the truth and know it won' be abused, promotes a lot of efficiency in an organization. But it's not something that exists very much today. Things are controlled by the center, and the center can be corrupt. So we think about – how can you build infrastructure that's trusted, that protects your individual privacy,  so that when the minister or whoever wants to pick your pocket a little bit, he can't.



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