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Number Crunching

Date: 08-09-08
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Ian Ayres, Galen Cook

Yale Law and Business Professor Ian Ayres discussed his book Super Crunchers as well as all the ways data mining and number crunching are affecting our lives today. Private corporations have amassed petabytes* of data about individuals, Ayres explained, pointing out uses for super crunching such vast amounts of information.

Ayres said companies crunch numbers to determine everything from the coupon that prints out when a shopper checks out at a grocery store to who will likely return a rental movie late or a rental car without a full tank of gas. Ayres talked about a company called Epagogix that makes box office predictions based on movie scripts and offers suggestions on how filmmakers can tweak their movies before shooting even begins.

Ayres spoke about how super crunching has invaded the medical field in the form of evidence-based medicine (Wikipedia). According to Ayres, physicians under 40 are relying increasingly on statistical studies to determine the best treatment for patients. Ayres believes as more data on hospitalization and medical experiences gets crunched, patients will benefit and it will be easier to identify new diseases.

Ayres commented on the research of John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime. Ayres said Lott's study was flawed and it is now the consensus among academics that concealed gun laws have no effect on crime and may even increase crime rates slightly in some areas. He also talked about how super crunching is helping consumers (ex. farecast.com), and expressed worry about some of the potential dangers of super crunching, such as individual pricing and being refused insurance.

*1 petabyte = 1000 terabytes, entire Library of Congress holdings equivalent to 4 terabytes

D.B. Cooper Update

Attorney Galen Cook appeared briefly in the first hour to provide an update on the D.B. Cooper case. Cook thinks the notorious hijacker was the late William Gossett, a Utah man who confessed to his family about being Cooper. Cook said he has submitted a fingerprint of Gossett's to the FBI's Seattle office as well as sent a DNA sample taken from Gossett's hair fibers to a lab for testing. Cook also shared his progress in tracking down Cooper's $200,000 stash, which he believes may be in a in a safety deposit box in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Related News)

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