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The Fox News Deck and You

Shepp revealed it. You gawked. You laughed. Buzz Feed roasted it.

“It” of course, is the Fox News Desk. An Apple store on steroids filled with either large iPads or tiny people that feels like a Saturday Night Live spoof. Laugh now but I’ve got a Fox News Alert for you. Your future workplace will look alot like the Fox News Deck.

Increasingly, “knowledge workers” spend their time sifting through multiple streams of information in order to arrive at decisions or solve problems.  If you are reading this at work, you likely have your phone on the desk receiving text messages,  Outlook open on your desktop for emails and scheduling, Twitter open in your browser and at least one productivity application like excel or word (you know, to do “real work”).

Your desk is essentially a mini war room where you run command and control of your working life.  An everyday triage of real time information demanding real time response that defines the modern workplace.  A workplace that really is not so different from a busy news desk.

Laugh at the 56 inch touch screens but remember, critics said the iPad was “just a big iPhone” when it launched.  As it turned out of course, the larger iPad provided a superior browsing and work experience to the iPhone. Today, touch is the prefered user interface technology from iPhones to airplane controls.

In an environment where information is being flung at us rapid fire it only makes sense that we should be able to field these bursts of information with both hands.  Once fielded, why should we have to tediously click, drag, attach, copy and paste files? Isn’t it just easier to fling documents across our screen and onto a co-worker’s screen or onto a large screen that can be seen by everyone?

But why so large a screen? The same reason so many workers now prefer to use multiple monitors for their desktop computers. Allowing the eye to survey as much area as possible is simply the quickest way to scan large amounts of information. More screen space allows for the display of more information and therefore eliminates inefficient scrolling and switching between applications.

Sitting at a desk, squinting and hunched over a laptop is a profoundly unnatural and uncomfortable way to work.  The easel arrangement puts our hands and body in an ergonomically friendly position.  This is the same reason we prefer to use our IPads not flat on the table but canted upward slightly in our direction.

Unfortunately, the ability of technology to deliver real time information has greatly exceeded our brain’s ability to process and prioritize.  The Fox News Deck looks comical to us because it is the epitome of our information overload ad absurdum. The tweets, videos and wire stories flood the Fox News Deck at a rate that makes the young “Information Specialists” (See yellow arrow in picture) look like Lucy on the assembly line.

Luckily, the next big thing in workplace technology will be the integration of voice, gesture and artificial intelligence into our everyday activities (think the computer in StarTrek).  In the next five years, your devices will filter and prioritize incoming data for you by automatically learning from your workplace behaviors (check out Google Now).

Gmail will sift through your emails to determine what needs your attention now, what can wait and draft a suggested response.  Excel will respond to natural language commands to “find the average of Column D” or  “Tell me what accounts are the best performing?” Your phone will read your heart rate and body temperature to determine your stress level and text your spouse a heads up that you’ve had a tough day.

This leaves us with one big question. When does the real work get done?

If the work flow paradigm de jur is information triage then when do we do “surgery?”  Amid all this modern bustle, how does the careful, detailed and important work actually get done?

The answer, very likely, is  the same way we get “real work” done today. At home late at a night, red-eyed and hunched over a laptop on our kitchen table.

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The Moneyball of You

This month’s issue of ESPN The Magazine features a flattering yet realistic description of the challenges faced by the Jacksonville Jaguars analytics team and its leader, Tony Khan.

The comparisons of my beloved Jags and the Oakland Athletics of Moneyball fame are many. Small market teams struggling to compete seek a competitive edge using an “unproven” method that contradicts the “gut” of old school types.

Yet, from a data science perspective, football is far different from baseball. The ESPN article says this:

“At the heart of baseball is a one-on-one battle — pitcher vs. batter — that allows for easy collection of clean, accurate, predictive data. In football, though, there are 22 moving parts on each play, along with an infinite number of variables, including score, field position and down and distance.”

In football it is difficult to collect data on all the possible variables that could be influencing the outcomes we are attempting to forecast. From a data perspective, football is messy, inconsistent and blurry but not unpredictable. Football is like life.

Football, like life, is about to change.

The football field of 2018 will look a lot the same…except for the sensors. Every player will have helmets that monitor impacts and brainwave activity. Shoulder pads will record body temperature and heart rate. Every player’s exact position and speed on the field will be recorded by GPS, and Google Glass-like recordings will be made on every play by every player on the field.

When the data becomes as dynamic as the game, a strange thing happens.

The Tony Khan’s of the world will no longer reside in the windowless bowels of NFL stadiums but will run game day war rooms alongside coordinators…the real-time data pouring in and being processed instantly. Khan will use this data to score potential plays and personnel packages based on their probability of success and deliver a menu of “best chance” plays to Jaguar coaches.

Think that sounds like science fiction? To see how ubiquitous sensors have become in our daily lives, I want you to do an experiment for me. Take your phone out of your pocket and try to count all its sensors:

Camera, spectrometer (light sensor), GPS, accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope, clock, WiFi.

All these sensors turn the seemingly random and chaotic activities of our lives into neat, structured data.

Authors Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier call this trend of measuring our live “datatization.” Datatization means that you will have access to incredibly detailed information and analytics about you. Want to know what evening habits lead to your best nights of sleep? Want to know at what temperatures you are most likely to feel happy? Want to predict your likelihood of divorce? Its already possible and this is only the start.

The next generation of wearable computers will increase the amount of datatization a thousand-fold. Today’s sensors measure our outside world, and tomorrow’s will datatize our inner world.

Google Glass can see what you see. Biometric bracelets will report heart rate and body temperature. Our physiological and mental condition will be datatized and mashed up with data about our driving, web browsing, eating and shopping habits to reveal hidden insights into our lives.

It’s the Moneyball of you and you will be the Tony Khan of your own life.

*Awesome Data Cat cartoon from ESPN.com (http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2013/0819/mag_jags-illo01jr_400.jpg)