Article | February 10, 2020
We are a species invested in predicting the future as if our lives depended on it. Indeed, good predictions of where wolves might lurk were once a matter of survival. Even as civilization made us physically safer, prediction has remained a mainstay of culture, from the haruspices of ancient Rome inspecting animal entrails to business analysts dissecting a wealth of transactions to foretell future sales. With these caveats in mind, I predict that in 2020 (and the decade ahead) we will struggle if we unquestioningly adopt artificial intelligence (AI) in predictive analytics, founded on an unjustified overconfidence in the almost mythical power of AI's mathematical foundations. This is another form of the disease of technochauvinism I discussed in a previous article.
BIG DATA MANAGEMENT
Article | February 10, 2020
While digital transformation is proving to have many benefits for businesses, what is perhaps the most significant, is the vast amount of data there is available. And now, with an increasing number of businesses turning their focus to online, there is even more to be collected on competitors and markets than ever before.
Having all this information to hand may seem like any business owner’s dream, as they can now make insightful and informed commercial decisions based on what others are doing, what customers want and where markets are heading.
But according to Nate Burke, CEO of Diginius, a propriety software and solutions provider for ecommerce businesses, data should not be all a company relies upon when making important decisions.
Instead, there is a line to be drawn on where data is required and where human expertise and judgement can provide greater value.
Undeniably, the power of data is unmatched. With an abundance of data collection opportunities available online, and with an increasing number of businesses taking them, the potential and value of such information is richer than ever before.
And businesses are benefiting. Particularly where data concerns customer behaviour and market patterns. For instance, over the recent Christmas period, data was clearly suggesting a preference for ecommerce, with marketplaces such as Amazon leading the way due to greater convenience and price advantages.
Businesses that recognised and understood the trend could better prepare for the digital shopping season, placing greater emphasis on their online marketing tactics to encourage purchases and allocating resources to ensure product availability and on-time delivery.
While on the other hand, businesses who ignored, or simply did not utilise the information available to them, would have been left with overstocked shops and now, out of season items that would have to be heavily discounted or worse, disposed of.
Similarly, search and sales data can be used to understand changing consumer needs, and consequently, what items businesses should be ordering, manufacturing, marketing and selling for the best returns.
For instance, understandably, in 2020, DIY was at its peak, with increases in searches for “DIY facemasks”, “DIY decking” and “DIY garden ideas”. For those who had recognised the trend early on, they had the chance to shift their offerings and marketing in accordance, in turn really reaping the rewards.
So, paying attention to data certainly does pay off. And thanks to smarter and more sophisticated ways of collecting data online, such as cookies, and through AI and machine learning technologies, the value and use of such information is only likely to increase.
The future, therefore, looks bright. But even with all this potential at our fingertips, there are a number of issues businesses may face if their approach relies entirely on a data and insight-driven approach. Just like disregarding its power and potential can be damaging, so can using it as the sole basis upon which important decisions are based.
While the value of data for understanding the market and consumer patterns is undeniable, its value is only as rich as the quality of data being inputted. So, if businesses are collecting and analysing their data on their own activity, and then using this to draw meaningful insight, there should be strong focus on the data gathering phase, with attention given to what needs to be collected, why it should be collected, how it will be collected, and whether in fact this is an accurate representation of what it is you are trying to monitor or measure.
Human error can become an issue when this is done by individuals or teams who do not completely understand the numbers and patterns they are seeing. There is also an obstacle presented when there are various channels and platforms which are generating leads or sales for the business. In this case, any omission can skew results and provide an inaccurate picture. So, when used in decision making, there is the possibility of ineffective and unsuccessful changes.
But while data gathering becomes more and more autonomous, the possibility of human error is lessened. Although, this may add fuel to the next issue.
Drawing a line
The benefits of data and insights are clear, particularly as the tasks of collection and analysis become less of a burden for businesses and their people thanks to automation and AI advancements. But due to how effortless data collection and analysis is becoming, we can only expect more businesses to be doing it, meaning its ability to offer each individual company something unique is also being lessened.
So, businesses need to look elsewhere for their edge. And interestingly, this is where a line should be drawn and human judgement should be used in order to set them apart from the competition and differentiate from what everyone else is doing.
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Your business is unique for a number of reasons, but mainly because of the brand, its values, reputation and perceptions of the services you are upheld by. And it’s usually these aspects that encourage consumers to choose your business rather than a competitor.
But often, these intangible aspects are much more difficult to measure and monitor through data collection and analysis, especially in the autonomous, number-driven format that many platforms utilise.
Here then, there is a great case for businesses to use their own judgements, expertise and experiences to determine what works well and what does not. For instance, you can begin to determine consumer perceptions towards a change in your product or services, which quantitative data may not be able to pick up until much later when sales figures begin to rise or fall. And while the data will eventually pick it up, it might not necessarily be able to help you decide on what an appropriate alternative solution may be, should the latter occur.
Human judgement, however, can listen to and understand qualitative feedback and consumer sentiments which can often provide much more meaningful insights for businesses to base their decisions on.
So, when it comes to competitor analysis, using insights generated from figure-based data sets and performance metrics is key to ensuring you are doing the same as the competition.
But if you are looking to get ahead, you may want to consider taking a human approach too.
Article | February 10, 2020
According to software vendors executing the big data projects, the answer is clear: More data means more options. Then add a bit of machine learning (ML) for good measure to get told what to do, and the revenue will thrive.This is not really feasible. Therefore, before starting a big data project, a checklist might come in handy.Make sure that the insights gained through machine learning are actionable. Gaining insights is always good, but it is even better if you can act on this new knowledge.A shopping basket analysis shows which products are sold together. What to do with that information?Companies could place the two products in opposite corners of the shop, so customers walk through all areas and will find other products to buy in addition. Or they could place both products next to each other so each boosts the sales of the other. Or how about discounting one product to gain more customers?As all actions have unknown side effects, companies have to decide for themselves which action makes sense to take in their case.
THEORY AND STRATEGIES
Article | February 10, 2020
We discursive creatures are construed within a meaningful, bounded communicative environment, namely context(s) and not in a vacuum.
Context(s) co-occur in different scenarios, that is, in mundane talk as well as in academic discourse where the goal of natural language communication is mutual intelligibility, hence the negotiation of meaning. Discursive research focuses on the context-sensitive use of the linguistic code and its social practice in particular settings, such as medical talk, courtroom interactions, financial/economic and political discourse which may restrict its validity when ascribing to a theoretical framework and its propositions regarding its application. This is also reflected in the case of artificial intelligence approaches to context(s) such as the development of context-sensitive parsers, context-sensitive translation machines and context-sensitive information systems where the validity of an argument and its propositions is at stake.
Context is at the heart of pragmatics or even better said context is the anchor of any pragmatic theory: sociopragmatics, discourse analysis and ethnomethodological conversation analysis. Academic disciplines, such as linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, psychology and literary theory have also studied various aspects of the context phenomena. Yet, the concept of context has remained fuzzy or is generally undefined. It seems that the denotation of the word [context] has become murkier as its uses have been extended in many directions.
Context or/ and contexts? Now in order to be “felicitous” integrated into the pragmatic construct, the definition of context needs some delimitations. Depending on the frame of research, context is delimitated to the global surroundings of the phenomenon to be investigated, for instance if its surrounding is of extra-linguistic nature it is called the socio-cultural context, if it comprises features of a speech situation, it is called the linguistic context and if it refers to the cognitive material, that is a mental representation, it is called the cognitive context. Context is a transcendental notion which plays a key role in interpretation.
Language is no longer considered as decontextualized sentences. Instead language is seen as embedded in larger activities, through which they become meaningful. In a dynamic outlook on communication, the acts of speaking (which generates a form discourse, for instance, conversational discourse, lecture or speech) and interpreting build contexts and at the same time constrain the building of such contexts. In Heritage’s terminology, “the production of talk is doubly contextual” (Heritage 1984: 242). An utterance relies upon the existing context for its production and interpretation, and it is, in its own right, an event that shapes a new context for the action that will follow. A linguistic context can be decontextualized at a local level, and it can be recontextualized at a global level. There is intra-discursive recontextualization anchored to local decontextualization, and there is interdiscursive recontextualization anchored to global recontextualization. “A given context not only 'legislates' the interpretation of indexical elements; indexical elements can also mold the background of the context” (Ochs, 1990). In the case of recontextualization, in a particular scenario, it is valid to ask what do you mean or how do you mean. Making a reference to context and a reference to meaning helps to clarify when there is a controversy about the communicative status and at the same time provides a frame for the recontextualization.
A linguistic context is intrinsically linked to a social context and a subcategory of the latter, the socio-cultural context. The social context can be considered as unmarked, hence a default context, whereas a socio-cultural context can be conceived as a marked type of context in which specific variables are interpreted in a particular mode. Culture provides us, the participants, with a filter mechanism which allows us to interpret a social context in accordance with particular socio-cultural context constraints and requirements. Besides, socially constitutive qualities of context are unavoidable since each interaction updates the existing context and prepares new ground for subsequent interaction.
Now, how these aforementioned conceptualizations and views are reflected in NLP? Most of the research work has focused in the linguistic context, that is, in the word level surroundings and the lexical meaning. An approach to producing sense embeddings for the lexical meanings within a lexical knowledge base which lie in a space that is comparable to that of contextualized word vectors.
Contextualized word embeddings have been used effectively across several tasks in Natural Language Processing, as they have proved to carry useful semantic information. The task of associating a word in context with the most suitable meaning from a predefined sense inventory is better known as Word Sense Disambiguation (Navigli, 2009). Linguistically speaking, “context encompasses the total linguistic and non-linguistic background of a text” (Crystal, 1991). Notice that the nature of context(s) is clearly crucial when reconstructing the meaning of a text. Therefore, “meaning-in-context should be regarded as a probabilistic weighting, of the list of potential meanings available to the user of the language.” The so-called disambiguating role of context should be taken with a pinch of salt.
The main reason for language models such as BERT (Devlin et al., 2019), RoBERTA (Liu et al., 2019) and SBERT (Reimers, 2019) proved to be beneficial in most NLP task is that contextualized embeddings of words encode the semantics defined by their input context. In the same vein, a novel method for contextualized sense representations has recently been employed: SensEmBERT (Scarlini et al., 2020) which computes sense representations that can be applied directly to disambiguation.
Still, there is a long way to go regarding context(s) research. The linguistic context is just one of the necessary conditions for sentence embeddedness in “a” context. For interpretation to take place, well-formed sentences and well-formed constructions, that is, linguistic strings which must be grammatical but may be constrained by cognitive sentence-processability and pragmatic relevance, particular linguistic-context and social-context configurations, which make their production and interpretation meaningful, will be needed.