Big data is definitely a big deal. However, it’s probably not as big a deal as it’s going to be eventually when we really figure out how to make good use of it.
For now, tech savvies have this point where they understand the value of the data, yet most organisations and governments don’t know how to use that data to its full potential. There are 200,000 datasets from 170 sources posted on Data.gov, the US government’s data sharing website. All of this data has not only made it possible for startups to blossom and flourish, it has also made information available to the public where citizens and watchdog groups can review it and root out corruption. Yet for all the good things listed in the article, the authors admit we are just at the edge of understanding what this data can do, and we need even more publicly available data to help it truly reach its potential.
The big data is not static
This belief raises perhaps because most people put so much faith into technology to solve their problems. They have been led to believe big data is going to help businesses make smarter and more informed decisions. In healthcare, it will help our doctors and medical professionals make better diagnoses and find the most appropriate treatments. In sports, it will help our favorite teams pick the best players. In government, it will open up information and lead us to the transparency promised land where no corrupt government official can hide. And it will help root out those people who are planning to do us harm.
People tend to believe that technology is the answer when it’s just a tool in the hands of humans. As anyone who has watched an episode of Law and Order can attest, you can have the DNA evidence at the scene of the crime, but the detectives still have to do the hard work of finding the person connected to that bit of data. The data is useless without the human element to connect the dots.
The same notion is true for mass government surveillance. You can vacuum up all the data you want, but it’s hard to know what it all means without some good old-fashioned shoe-leather detecting to help figure it out.
This holds whether we are talking about preventing terrorist attacks or finding out how best to compete with the company next door. Data is neutral. It can’t do something for you unless you know how to make the connections. Computers can help you collect and process it faster, but in spite of what we are led to believe, we are still far from the point where the computers can extract meaning for us.
The cooperation between humans and machines
Using technology as a tool, humans can enhance our own capabilities and make the best use of computers and the technology we have created. While the rate of technological change is increasing ever more rapidly, we still tend to overestimate just how advanced we are. Clearly, we still need humans to help make sense of the data we are collecting. If we can learn to do that effectively, it could ultimately help us to be smarter, safer and healthier. We just have to remember that it’s a means to an end, not the end itself.