Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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One of the Numerati goes to work for Obama

March 9, 2012Hop Skip Go


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I remember talking to Rayid Ghani about "barnacles."
Those are the shoppers who go to extraordinary lengths to buy only things on sale. Ghani, a researcher at Accenture Labs, told me that stores could identify likely barnacles in their data, and then perhaps take measures to "fire" them, ie. send them shopping elsewhere. Barnacles, after all, cost money.

At the time, Ghani and his team were analyzing loads of supermarket data, and trying to figure out how to lead shoppers toward the items they'd most likely buy (and others the supermarket wanted to get rid of). This research would go into the "Shopper" chaper in The Numerati, in which Ghani was the lead character.

Now, as the NYTimes reports, Ghani is chief scientist for the Obama campaign. The mission is to unearth different tribes of voters from the analysis of data, and then figure out the best way to "optimize" them, as donors, organizers, or just plain voters. If Ghani had made this switch earlier, I could have featured him in the Voter chapter. But that's one of the hallmarks of the Numerati. Their skills enable them to switch from one field to the next.

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