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Control over AI: just as important as personal data

Posted on: Monday 6th of June 2016


Guest blog from StJohn Deakins, CEO, Citizenme

Taking control of your personal data means little if you don’t know how to use it. For years, companies have been leveraging data to help them make better decisions. Now, in this information age, there is no reason why we cannot automate insights for people too.

The race for Artificial Intelligence (AI) has begun. All the big tech companies are working on it. From a user perspective, AI is appealing because it takes simplicity to whole new level. Touch based interfaces, optimised user flows and mobile sensors have streamlined many parts of our lives; from productivity to communication. The introduction of AI and digital assistants will remove those optimised routine jobs altogether. Removing the mundane from people’s life is an age old aspiration. Both Oscar Wilde and John Maynard Keynes both envisioned a future where the mundane is automated and people are free to explore the fun and creative sides of their lives.

There is a vision for AI that is as enticing as it is scary: “[Any major tech company] will know what you want before you do”. Personally this sounds great if I’m about to leave for a meeting and a taxi has already been ordered. It gets scary when my decisions about what I should buy are manipulated by an algorithm. Algorithms will certainly contain unconscious implicit bias by the person / team that wrote the algorithm. All humans have their biases. But when a business is incentivised purely by profit, who’s to say there will not be any explicit biases: promoting the desirable outcome for the service provider instead of the customer. Even if people are in control of their data they may not be in control of the outcomes resulting in a skewed value exchange.

Citizenme has been redesigned to start tackling these issues. The new apps were launched this week. We aim to put people in control of their data.  But we also aim to put people in control of the AI that interprets their data – and their preferred outcomes.


Three levels of empowerment

The first step is providing insights about the individual and how they fit into the world around them. With a new service, the challenge is achieving this with very little data. On first use, users can unlock their ’Big 5’ personality traits by connecting their Facebook and Twitter accounts. They can also see how this compares to how they perceive their own personality by answering a quick 20 question survey. In addition the “Are you like your neighbours” insight shows people (US and UK only… for now) how they compare to their neighbours. Over the summer we will be enabling citizens to experiment with additional types of personal insights such as career and health.

The next step, when users have data in citizenme, is to introduce deeper insights generated by the citizenme neural network. This connects the dots between all of a citizen’s data and surfaces unique insights for them. These insights can begin to predict the citizens likelihood of liking product ‘x’, brand ‘y’ or service ‘z’, illuminating the hidden meaning in their personal data. It supports consumers with understanding, discovery and recommendations without relying on service providers or advertisers. Intimate personalisation without crossing the creepy line.

The long-term aim is to put the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in the hands of people. When people are in control of their data and insights, they can use it to support decision making and all the challenges that life throws their way.


Transforming marketing

The future of customer centric insights from personal data will turn the traditional marketing model on its head. By focusing on helping people better understand themselves, businesses can better understand people. Right now this means businesses can connect with people engaged with their data. With data integrated around the individual, businesses can radically improve their understanding of customers and markets by moving away from a siloed approach to data storage. The traditional marketing wheel is fundamentally changing to map customer journeys, stories and brand relationships to each of us as individuals.  In this data centric world we shouldn’t aim to be more digital, but look to harness the power of our data and digital services to help us be more human.

The new Citizenme app is free to download from the App Store and Play Store and will also be distributed through forward thinking operators and device manufacturers, such asWileyFox. More information available at