Dr. Noam Lemelschtrich-Latar on Lisacast (transcription)

I transcribed this interview which was a bit hard to hear at points with my guest from Israel, but it’s a very worthwhile discussion and fascinating I think to hear the respected guest talk about his experiences over the course of 30+ years in media and communications, blogging, war, social networks and the good and bad of data mining and social DNA.

LP: Good Sunday morning. A special thanks to John Sweet [of BlogTalkRadio] for helping me this morning with patching in our guest who is Dr. Noam Lemelshtrich Latar, did I pronounce that right?

NL: Yes, perfectly. Good morning to you.

LP: Good morning to you too or good evening as it were, is it Sunday evening there?

NL: It’s Sunday evening, yeah.

LP: And I will start out with that, which city are you in doctor?

NL: I am in the city named Caesarea in Israel. Caesarea is a very ancient city built by King Herod 2000 years ago and that’s where I live.

LP: Wonderful. So just a little bit of the background, I saw you give a wonderful presentation at the Innovation Journalism Conference in Palo Alto at Stanford University, which is also where you did your Masters work, is that right?

NL: That’s correct. It was about more than 30 years ago.

LP: More than 30 years ago. And then you went on to MIT, is that right?

NL: Right, that is right MIT or — also about in 1974, well you are talking to an old guy.

LP: Experienced, I would say.

NL: But I wrote about interactive television in 1974 from perhaps Stanford, I just don’t know the day.

LP: Interactive television?

NL: I am sorry.

LP: Is that what you said “interactive television”?

NL: Yes I did, you know that’s correct, on interactive television, and when we did that from the notions of the studies you know like what is happening today when people sit at home and interact with the content on television. And we have done that about 30 years ago, it’s probably how the feedback for audience was accepted, the dynamics of the discussion inside television studios.

LP: Fascinating. And well I brought you on the show today to talk a little bit about what you have been doing in most recent years, specifically this notion of Social DNA. And everybody is very interested in social networks and sharing information that way, this is not a new theory, but maybe you can talk a little bit about what specifically you mean by Social DNA?

NL: Well in recent years, I have been studying and doing research on what we called data mining, which really takes artificial intelligence and software algorithms and applyies it to huge databases, to look for hidden connections between different parameters, as they say, because what I feel is happening that a lot companies, when we browse over the Internet, they build up information about us, they collect information and then create a personal profile to each person on earth and this talks in like you know I am not going, I am not really opening a notary book and then they recommended books. And then Microsoft is now declaring that they can develop this within 10 minutes. When you stop browsing in the new sites, they can develop a profile for what kind of content suits your personality and also of companies that they had develop games that allow to analyze, documenting profile of individuals. And what I am concerned about is that all these different developments which happened are happening separately. Some say they had to develop a profile, which I call Social DNA for each person on earth, this profile allows to predict the social behavior as per the profile of the customer. So we are entering into an era, where at least data mining is indulged within Internet. In data mining, we would allow a particular behavior and that’s quite dangerous, because of other social implications and government implications and it sounds good, but a lot of uncertainty.

LP: Okay, so Social DNA meaning this overall pattern that you are tracking for every individual person, so let’s talk about maybe some of the positive implications of having that much information. So you are talking about predicting behavior, you can talk more about that?

NL: Well you see, for example there is a company question that you are not going to strengthen your community, where a big concession is made and you would assess a correct society and in assessment, you really justify this and this company can predict, I mean what kind of accidents there will be when driving for example. When you do a traditional shopping in the Internet, they collect information about you and then they can predict that from the product they should offer you at end of the month. You did not buy but based on the profile, they will able to offer you product, you would say you know wait a minute how do you know I like this product and you will buy it. Like I mentioned on Amazon, Amazon offer new notebooks that, they wanted to send over books, I buy from Amazon, books that they pushed towards me that I didn’t even know exist but they recommended those from my previous purchases. So what was happening if you talk about quality and this efficiency, it allows me to get product that I want, I didn’t even know exist. It allows the company to give better service to consumers and companies can for example run new kinds of data mining. In big companies having a lot of customer relations management, it’s all been yet in minutes of calls, text messages to date, a feedback from the consumer and data mining allowed to analyze all this text meaning of these messages by the logging of a lot of names, it gives the company a good feedback of what the customers want, so from an efficiency point of view, it works well.

LP: Right, and another point that I read in something that you had written was that because there are multiple touch points to media for more individuals, now that there is a greater opportunity to capture those consumer desires.

NL: Yes because, you can very quickly analyze feedback messages and create and decide what are the products? Product selection to the consumer profile, for example one of the biggest goals of this big digital age is all the latest information to go and bombard, there is so much information on Internet, so many products and services and information. And this we did on a great scale, helped us figure out automatically with what kind of services better suit our personality and reduce the risk of information wobbling. We developed that positive side of this social DNA, it can help automatically fill up the information of the product that I am interested in and filter out or delete all the information that is irrelevant to you. So this is with the information overload, this is one other advantage, a big advantage of data mining.

LP: That is a great advantage and information overload is something definitely to avoid. Another thing I would add to that doctor is that, another benefit would be having, well, you said DNA so it makes me think of science and health and the conversations that we are hearing these days about shared medical records and everything digitized and that type of thing, and I would think that that information combined with your own ancestry and genetic makeup might help us more intelligently make decisions about our health and our lifestyle.

NL: Well very widely, because, genetic analysis of data mining in diseases can definitely help these people that you have – and there are the illness indemnities and the non-medical, so it definitely makes medical research much more efficient. What I did mention in my papers, I referenced it here, is I believe that you should currently stage in few years from now, where genetic information will be related to what I call, social DNA and with complete people genetics, we maybe able to predict social behavior. And that’s what’s scary, but I believe this will happen because of this new toolset of artificial intelligence, it will allow us to get these huge databases and send this big information between people genetics, biometrics and social political behavior.

LP: Right, so that sounds like evolution to me, I mean it sounds like a much more efficient or just generally speaking I know there are some downfalls too, but that sounds in the general direction as evolution to me that we have more instantaneous access to what the real answer is, right?

NL: Yes.

LP: So maybe let’s touch on some of the negative aspects of that because a lot of people are paranoid about anybody having that much information, right?

NL: Yeah but the biggest worry is of course what we used to call big brother, the main issue is that it could lead to a major inequality in access to certain services. For example if my bank had profiled me and I go to the bank to take loan and fellow looks at the screen and immediately sized me out according to my profile they will not offer the services that my profile would suggest not to give me. Now the adventure is of course we all believe it’s credibility and if we define a person wrongly like of a profile with social behavior, which maybe helps – in this instance and digitally – never disappears. And this could lead to erroneous profiles which adjust with the people that will prevent them from access to the local services, it’s a big danger. And you see this profiling would lead to the inequality in access to the permission to services, to enter that and especially there are going to be mistakes and mistakes always happen in this. When talking about artificial intelligence and creating profiles of people with data they always have these probabilities you know if they try to sort out and create these profiles. Now for building these, it’s never been 100% correct, but all of the information that the people are going to be created within a profile, they are going to be identified with this profile and these profiles would grant access to power information or money, and this will be one of the biggest dangers.

LP: Right, so just on my topic because you mentioned that and I pulled out those lines from paper that you will end, it’s right on topic. ..so this was a paper that you wrote in 2004 and it was called Personal Psychosocial Web-Derived DNA and Socio-cybernetic Decision-Making. What you wrote was “It may be that turning decision-making over to machines will threaten the vitality of human development by robbing progress of its dynamic element.” And you said “After all, ‘new information systems’ cannot be programmed to recognize singular genius or even bright innovation and separate them from hair-brained schemes. So I see your point there that there is some room for error, handing that decision making over to computing, but probably, let me know if you agree that overall this is probably still positive evolution and not a step back kind of, right?

NL: I hesitate at the quality of evolution, because in realistic evolution, you might overlook, I also added a lot dimension, that larger organizations like governments and big industries because of the information overload, it has to be in automatic decision making, which we call sort of metrics. And every government office today hands over to machines to make a local decision based on information being collected and big decisions are being made automatically. And in this kind of — automatic decision making processes work according to the objectives that their organization has decided. Major social implications, because of these kinds of handling of decision making from people to computers, because the basic assumption of course is the people make correct decision making and they behave rationally which is not correct. So handling this decision making in bigger organization through the computer decision making, I find very rare some but it is happening and it will happen that way because of digital efficiency that all systems will collapse due to the information overload. So I discuss it if evolution be happening, it will happen but I try to focus on the problems and I even mentioned some ideas how to try incorporate it, it’s very – it is very dangerous.

LP: It is dangerous. Although I would add that even in the human world, we argue over who gets to make the decisions anyways. So not everybody is rational and not everybody is rational at all times and we are at war — something you should be very familiar with there in Israel. I am very curious about the students at your school and what’s emerging from their learning in particular during a volatile environment and time.

NL: Well, actually I am the dean of a new school of communication Herzliya in Israel, it’s the first private university in Israel. It just was the first year but all students were very much involved in what’s happening in Israel even the secondary — 60-80 children. So the students are ever ready to know something, though caution, they have never got students who go to the battlefield. But also there, we are moving in decision making and in the last war, we have been in Lebanon. There was a big, big argument with the big commanders in Israel, it used to be in Israeli tradition that the commander goes before the soldiers. In the last war, the commander fought before schools and watched the battle over the school and the soldiers were in the field and that created a lot of problems. So even though in the army, constructing, decision making and decision making to computer screens creates problems. I don’t know if that answers your question but well definitely it’s interesting some of that that’s happened and the next time they would battle, the commanders would be in the field and not in front of deploying the schools.

LP: From the articles that I read today they are going to be on vacation right. Let’s talk about support in that area for those who are affected by the war specifically what are you teaching in terms of best practices or positive ways to communicating and help the community get through the war, the conflict?

NL: Well first of all you know when we teach, we teach communication and the faculties of communication in the most professional ethical way. Having said that, we are trying to create these through Internet and social networks in order to try and communicate with the Arabs across the border for example in the last Lebanese war where the Lebanese bloggers who communicated with our teachers with blogging and we tried to bridge, to create bridges through the Internet to create communication between Israelis and Arabs even when the war is on, even in Iran. That said, blogging in social, ethical ways, are known between Iran and Lebanon and Israel among people who feel that they should communicate so we definitely put in our school quite an emphasis on trying and using media and Internet which cut across borders in order to try and let people talk, let people communicate. That’s the way it works and that’s the benefit of the Internet as a very good medium to grow different uses together so we are quite involved in that. We teach people to use the media to try and get Israelis, Palestinians, Iranians a little bit closer.

LP: Right a little bit closer exactly. There was just recently a big blogging conference nearby. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what you saw there and what happened?

NL: Well it was a terrific conference. We had a 2 day conference in Israel on blogging and brought some immediate bloggers from the United States who brought the Ninja and welcomed them and we brought those who came to take part in a conference because the conference was academic, research and the second day was 24 workshops teaching people how to use video blogs, test blogs and it was really a terrific get-together in blogging, good blogging and it’s one of the most beautiful parts of what we call digital media because it allows people to have their own part in the media developing with Internet resources and communicating with other people and creating social networks. And if you go to Google and you typed Blogference, our conference was called Blogference, if you typed Blogference in Google and you get today around 40,000 posts with pictures and video blogs and that’s what happens. And I think that it is basic software because you push blogging, because you teach people how you can create content with a very limited amount of resources like creating a blog. And you got inquires most through media, where DVD is an issue. But how with very little resources you can reach large public and that’s exactly what you are doing. I think your radio blog is very, very successful.

LP: Interesting. And you are identifying lots of ways that computers and computing as a means to aide us and getting closer and understanding what’s going on as close to when it’s going on is interesting. So let me ask you also what do you think are some ways that those outside of journalism and outside of traditional communications studies, that the general public can either participate in or support in positive new media participation?

NL: I think new media participation allows every person to join in on the biggest sites and open up a blog and express their opinions, to get opinions and interact. And you see today not just in media using blogs but you see in big corporations, small corporations, advertising agencies using blogs in order to allow the people to express themselves, they have blogging and allow every person to bring in research, to express themselves without censorship of an editor. And I do this blogging because I love the conference. It allows you and a very large number of people to interact. We are contributing with one of the journalists, a Israeli journalist who was a critic in our blogging conference and he said if blogging existed when my father and his friend were sitting and shouting on the porch in the evening, probably blogging would have prevented their sitting there and shouting in the veranda. And I wrote the guy listen, if your father and his friend had blogging, they couldn’t have hot words whatever happened in their society and then you would have had better education because if your father was shouting in the porch but if your father could use a blog to express his opinion and then reach in the porch, in the veranda but meet other people who thought like him, they could have affected lots of change and this is what’s actually beautiful about blogging.

LP: Yeah that is beautiful. So also there is another side to you that I just wanted to talk about for a minute. You are also an experienced investor, right and you are on the board of a company called SercoNet, is that right?

NL: Yeah.

LP: Do you want to talk a little bit about SercoNet because I think that’s a very interesting company?

NL: Well SercoNet has developed a very unique technology for home networking. Today when you get a broadband at your home, usually you can attach your computer only to the point of entry and those who want to go to listen wireless to other rooms in the house, there is a instruction. And SercoNet has developed a beautiful technology that allows in every house in the world that has a phone system to have wireless indication in their home in every room with 100% accuracy and as big as 100 megabits per second. So SercoNet really has developed what we call the industry the best backbone for a wireless system in home networking. And then you can watch a video, text, audio in every room in the house wirelessly with perfect reception. That’s what SercoNet is really all about, it’s a home networking, wireless home networking and employing the old wireless systems in the phones as a backbone for wireless communication.

LP: Is it international? You could have one in Japan, one in the US, you could have one in Europe, is that right?

NL: Oh yes of course it’s international. This technology suits every phone system in America, Europe and lot of American companies like Motorola and Cisco, they show interest in SercoNet. So it’s a very, very good technology. It solved the problem of poor reception in the home with wireless communication. So you can get it good — at home — the second it allows you to have wireless communication in the home anywhere in the house on the laptop or in the PC without having to rewire the house.

LP: That’s great. Well on an upcoming show, I would like to like to talk more about WiFi and in particular accessing it in the remote areas and places where it might make more difference than in every corner of metropolitan city. But I want to thank you for being on the show. Dr. Lemelshtrich Latar, I can’t tell you what honor and a pleasure it was for me, I really did enjoy your discussion at Stanford and it got my mind thinking about things that I hadn’t been previously able to articulate. And so I appreciate that and support everything that you are doing there at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications.

NL: Thank you, very, very much for this opportunity. It was a pleasure to talk to you and it means so much to be part of discussion and I wish you every success in what you are doing the radio blog, it’s a great idea and I give you my best wishes. And I also enjoyed your conversation very much.

LP: Thank you very much and take care. I hope we can talk again soon.

NL: Thank you very much Lisa.

LP: So that’s our show for today. I hope you enjoyed that discussion. I think the doctor was a little bit difficult to hear today and if that was your experience, please check back in not too long as I am going to transcribe the show and I think you will find more value in maybe reading through our discussion today. So we will see you next week. I am Lisacast every 10 A.M. Sunday Pacific time.

Thank you again, sir, for one of the best conversations to date on Lisacast. I look forward to talking with you again soon. — Lisa Padilla, Lisacast.com

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