Human Intelligence Series, #1
How Human Intelligence (HumInt) Cuts Through Popular Beliefs & Provides Actionable Intelligence and an Asymmetric Edge for the Aware & Nimble
In an age where the Internet is king and people rely on mobile devices to understand the world and form their opinions, and large corporations rely on Big Data software to provide digitized view of the world to drones working in cubicles, it is often forgotten that the best intelligence is gathered through contact with other human beings.
This writer was reminded of this fact in a recent research study on socio-economic development in Arctic Canada in which residents of three territories were asked to give their views on current issues facing their communities and the prospect for future economic development. The interviewees included entrepreneurs, C-level executives, leaders of First Nations and Inuit communities, and people working in the mining, fisheries, and tourism sectors.
The intelligence gathered from these people was far more valuable, and often in variance, with what one would learn from the media.
A number of factors motivate Arctic Canadians to favour economic development in their territories, the most important of which are a young and growing population, pragmatism, and high cost of living:
- A very young population with a high fertility rate (e.g. about one-third of Nunavut’s population is under 15) means that political leaders are concerned about education and the creating local jobs. In the Arctic, job creation often means jobs in natural resources sectors such as mining and fisheries. Economic and industrial development is a top priority among Arctic Canadians.
- The experience of surviving in the Arctic for millennia has given the First Nation and Inuit communities a pragmatic point of view with regard to economic development: they are more than willing to have mining companies come into their communities so long as
i) the community has a say in the development
ii) jobs and skills development are provided to community members and
iii) environmental degradation is kept to a minimum.
- A small population and long distances make the cost of living in the Arctic very high. Importing food from southern Canada is especially expensive. As a result, the growing use of “country food”(eating what the sea and land provide) is an important development. Examples of country food in the Arctic are: arctic char, seal, whale, and caribou.
Global Warming/Climate Change:
Residents in Arctic Canada feel that southerners are off the mark when it comes to climate change. This sentiment is especially strong among Inuit, who have been living in the Arctic for millennia, and have gone through many periods of fluctuating temperatures.
Arctic Canadians point out ice persists in Arctic seas even in the summer, and that the presence of ocean ice makes the construction of port and dock facilities a difficult, if not impossible, task.
Many of the “ports” in Arctic Canada are accessible only during low tide or by use of barges shuttling between ship and shore.
At present, the port of Churchill is the only fully functional port in Arctic Canada. For years, there was talk of creating an “Arctic Bridge” between Churchill and Murmansk, Russia. This talk was predicated on the assumption that global warming would open up the Arctic Ocean to shipping.
This has turned out to be a pipe dream as there is no comparison between Murmansk and Churchill.
As a result of warm ocean currents, the port of Murmansk remains ice-free all year, even when the temperatures plummet during the winter.
Churchill, on the other hand, can operate only a few months during the short summer. Also, since Hudson Bay has a lower salinity than ocean water, the water around Churchill tends to freeze quite easily.
The conclusion that can be derived from this brief analysis is that there is no substitute for human intelligence for gathering high quality intelligence, as well as the way such intelligence can be used to develop creative solutions to solve real world problems effectively.
There is a place for Big Data. The caveat is that dependency on such data, and the various software packages used to analyze such data, can lead to costly mistakes caused by the fact that the end-user (sitting at a desk) is far removed from the source of the data (individual human beings).
There is also the potential that the data may have been manipulated (by software algorithms, for example) without the knowledge of the end-user.
Human intelligence is not perfect but provides the advantage of bringing the end user closer to the source of the data. If human intelligence is gathered continuously, decision-makers become aware of changes among the targeted population far sooner than would be available through Big Data.
And timeliness is an important competitive edge.