What’s the point of all that data, anyway? It’s to make decisions.

23. January 2014

Date: 22-01-2014
Source: Technology Review
Subject: The Power to Decide

WHY IT MATTERS: The ability to automate decision making will determine winners and losers in many industries.

Back in 1956, an engineer and a mathematician, William Fair and Earl Isaac, pooled $800 to start a company. Their idea: a score to handicap whether a borrower would repay a loan.

It was all done with pen and paper. Income, gender, and occupation produced numbers that amounted to a prediction about a person’s behavior. By the 1980s the three-digit scores were calculated on computers and instead took account of a person’s actual credit history. Today, Fair Isaac Corp., or FICO, generates about 10 billion credit scores annually, calculating 50 times a year for many Americans.

This machinery hums in the background of our financial lives, so it’s easy to forget that the choice of whether to lend used to be made by a bank manager who knew a man by his handshake. Fair and Isaac understood that all this could change, and that their company didn’t merely sell numbers. “We sell a radically different way of making decisions that flies in the face of tradition,” Fair once said. Read the rest of this entry »