Even people who are not motivated by compensation can fall prey to behavioral controls based on big data. Modern society has entered a period where technology is already running much of your life; and it will get worse. A very long article with quite disturbing implications was recently published on the topic.
What floats your boat, what drives your life, what influences your actions ... all those unique personal motivations can be identified, predicted and manipulated on an individual basis by sophisticated refined analyses of enough data about your habits and preferences. Human nature reveals itself through the choices we make, and modern technology is just beginning to collect that information for clues about each of us. Big data offers answers about how to influence each of us.
Back in The Day, a lot of time-consuming laborious work was required to discover what is now knowable in seconds about individual people. Final candidate assessments required questionnaires, tests, in-depth interviews, employment reference checks, academic record reviews and other intrusive investigations. It took many days of effort, study and a certain artistic touch to write a well documented narrative report summarizing a job applicant's credentials, skills, interests, potentials and probable future behaviors. No more. Those difficult "manual" research procedures and the interpersonal communications techniques of Richard Fear's The Evaluation Interview have been rendered obsolete by technology.
We leave electronic bread crumbs behind us wherever we go. Discrete innocent factoids can be combined via "deep learning algorithms" in search engines for chilling insights. Past choices reveal mental and emotional patterns that predict your future choices.
Some software platforms are moving towards "persuasive computing." In the future, using sophisticated manipulation technologies, these platforms will be able to steer us through entire courses of action, be it for the execution of complex work processes or to generate free content for Internet platforms, from which corporations earn billions. The trend goes from programming computers to programming people.
Those who know your decision tree can easily shape compelling arguments that press your hot buttons. Even without any conscious thought, those persuasive messages can trigger carefully tailored preselected choices. Maybe such "big nudging" has already been done to you.
Access to manipulative methods can change the way that people make decisions. The results could include "digital scepters" wielded by politicians, criminal abuse, corporate exploitation, cyber warfare, product pricing trickery or social choice suppression, just to mention a few. Some would argue that all those possible outcomes are pretty much the same thing. All are based on restricting self-determined access to information. If we are the products of what we know, controlling data inputs or (even worse) crafting them to cleverly trigger personal biases could lead to a form of mind control.
When enough big data is sufficiently analyzed, we may find that motivation has moved from being a mere human resources concern to being a vital computerized top management tool. I'm not in a rush, though. I can wait. But now I'm a little worried about how I came to that decision ... and exactly why I made most of my last important choices.
E. James (Jim) Brennan, former Compensation Editor of the Personnel Journal and Senior Associate of pay surveyor ERI, recently returned to consulting. Author of the Performance Management Workbook and frequent expert witness in executive compensation trials, Jim also serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review.
"Big Data Analytics Framework" image by Jim Kaskade, courtesy of Creative Commons (click on it to enlarge)