Sunday, August 16, 2009

In defence of Profiling - My Name is Khan II

As the MyNameisKhan saga ensues, I trudge along a sea of data - transactions from one of our stores for a month, to spot patterns of purchase which are called trip types. In the absence of any data mining software, I have to rely on excel, since clustering cannot be done, and my intuition.

Right now I am concentrating on single-item focused purchases - purchases done to meet the need of a single item in an emergency. By intuition, I know such trips would have low sales and number of quantities and this comes to 20% of the trips. Further, from past experience in similar exercises with other retailers in my past job, I know some most prominent types of these trips are centred around - Dairy replenishment (Milk Run), Leafy vegetables (Coriander ex.), Banana, Bread and Meat.

After almost, a day of effort a story glimmers.

If I had not started from my hypothesis, if I had treated all data as a valid starting point, with more than 3000 items and 20000 transactions, I would have taken a long time to reach a story - if I could have.

There is bigotry and there is profiling.

Bigotry is what is happening to Indian students in Australia. Profiling is what happened to SRK.
What happened to SRK would have escalated to bigotry if
1. he had been segregated despite there not being any doubt in the mind of the assessor
2. After the doubt had been cleared conclusively, he would have still been detained

Profiling is the application of general knowledge to fuzzy data or where there is a lot of it.
We apply it all the time. If a stream of boys pass across you and without knowing about them, you have to pick a star basketball team - you would start with the taller boys.But if you persist in believing a taller boy is better than a bespectacled fat runt despite the fact that the runt is jumping three feet in the air and scoring three pointers, you've moved to bigotry.

I would be very concerned, if I were an American citizen, if the assessor does not detain a guy with a Muslim surname, or Asian looks, when he's not very sure about something. Simply because he's applying his general knowledge that it's mainly Muslims from Asian countries who're bombing planes.

This does not hold in the following cases -
1. There was enough time and not so many people that the guy had to rely on profiling. He could have strip searched everyone - including the nonagenarian nanny.
2. He takes the profiling beyond the seed of first doubt - that he approaches the research in a biased manner.

What the Americans did to the American-Japs after Pearl Harbor was unacceptable since they subjected them to unjust humiliations on the basis of their being Japs. But the opposite of this situation would have been disastrous - if they had not combed the population for espionage threats in times of war.

I say this as an Asian knowing that I will be subject to the same extra eying as I pass the immigration desk.

Why is the Indian government taking SRK's case, even if the detention (for 2 hrs?) was unjust? Many Indians have to face the same situation - what's so special about SRK traveling to dance at shows - independence or not - for megabucks?

This actually is a continuation of the VIP saga - . There are two types of people in our countries - VIP and non-VIP. We apply different rules for them, and are shocked when countries found on more liberal thoughts than ours do not follow the same practice.

Interestingly, Bob Dylan was picked up by the police on suspicion in NJ. Please read the story and compare the dignified manner in which the icon handled this compared to the angry Khan.

One thing that might come out of stories like these is that the VIPs might get a rude awakening of how the world really looks to the people they claim to represent - their dreams in movies, their representation in politics). I was reading how most MLAs have lived for decades now in lush bungalows or MLA houses where the water never runs dry, and the electricity never goes. And when have you ever seen a MLA rattle across the potted roads which are 99% of our roadways?

If all these MLAs have to spend 21st June in a non-AC old Ambassador, the windows rolled up, and seven to a car, careering and careening across Bannerghatta road, don't you think the nature of parliamentary debates might change?

similarly, Hindi cinema - dominated by star kids, with a combined IQ of 97, growing cross eyed and dumber than even their star parents with all the inbreeding and steroids in their muscles - might get a boost if these stars are subjected to more closer to reality situations like these.

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