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Data Fusion – The Sixth Sense

Patrick Collins

The concept of extra-sensory perception, or ESP, is often referred to as the sixth sense.  In grade school, most of us learn that the five main senses are sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell. The sixth sense is described by Wikipedia as involving “reception of information not gained through the recognized physical senses but sensed with the mind.” In the growing age of smart phones, distributed information services, and augmented reality, it can be argued that the ability to fuse data and provide predictive information to a user could be seen as a technological sixth sense.

Numerous developers are beginning to take the concept of providing predictive information to a consumer base. Smart phone app developers are seeing large investments in augmented reality-based technologies and many see it as the future of IT and internet consumption by the consumer. Google Glass is a recent prototype of a product that’s puts the power of the internet within your field of vision, allowing you to receive information via a computer while participating in your everyday activities. Google is not the first company to come up with this idea of a wearable eye piece to deliver computerized information to the end user. However their affinity for introducing new products successfully to a large market place is well known, and I can imagine that the sight of these glasses in the public sphere will only increase as users become more comfortable to the idea, eventually becoming as common place as the cell phone is today.

From a geospatial standpoint, this sixth sense is aimed at deriving information from multiple data sources and providing the end-user with information about a specific situation that they would not have otherwise. This concept has been pushed by various GIS companies that are developing real-time data content management and analysis systems that are hooked into thin front end clients such as web or mobile applications. Like ESP, GIS information awareness allows an end user to gain near real-time insight from data and analytics in way that is not possible using our normal senses. Data fusion allows information from very different data sources to be combined and analyzed in an effort to draw conclusions based on previously unknown correlations between those data types. To bring it one step further, the use of GeoRSS feeds allows users to be tipped off to an event or a series of factors occurring which could imply the potential occurrence of an event.  An example of this could be an environmental responder getting real time warnings of current rescue efforts, impending events such as weather or civil unrest, or fire status updates. From a defense standpoint, this could include providing soldiers with real-time enemy troop locations and movements in the field.

As companies begin to explore the immense advantages to be gain by quickly fusing data sources together to extract meaningful information, the marketplace will naturally come to expect a certain level of information to be available to them. While we were once completely happy to simply know the location of restaurant, we now expect to be able to locate the restaurant, check out their menu, know if they have a happy hour going on, and book a reservation…all within a matter of seconds. In the near future, we may have phones that assess how hungry we are and place the order for us as well, increasing our ‘efficiency’ when going out to eat. This will naturally raise the question “How far up the decision making chain should we allow computers to have full autonomy?” or more importantly…”Do we let the drone pull its own trigger?” There are portions of the Geneva Convention that speak to the automation of warfare, so I don’t see us having robot soldiers anytime soon, however we must decide what an acceptable amount of information analysis and decision making automation is acceptable by industry.

So what do you think…does data fusion and predictive analytics have a large role to play in the future of the consumer services industry? Are people ready to start having their ‘decisions’ made for them by computers?

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