TODAY, THERE ARE AS MANY PIECES OF DIGITAL INFORMATION AS THERE ARE STARS IN THE UNIVERSE.
We’re in love with big data.
It’s technology at its best. It can help us solve problems and make informed de- cisions. It’s comfortable knowing that you’ve got some empirical data in your corner. Numbers, dashboards, maybe even a peek into the future. Wow.
Without question, Big Data has granted us tremendous insight. It’s enabled Amazon to serve us better, Google to anticipate what we might buy. It’s refined our credit scores, our weather predictions, streamlined man- ufacturing processes and supply chains, and enhanced sports performance and health care. And we now know that beer and strawberry Pop-Tarts are the major sellers on the eve of a hurricane, that proper capitalization is a predictor of creditworthiness, and that a prefer- ence for curly fries is a strong indicator of high intelligence.
We generate mountains of data. Next year, it’s projected that nearly 2 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet. And every day, we find new ways to turn this data into usable information for science, busi- ness, government, and healthcare. No question, Big Data is here to stay.
But to most of us, how Big Data op- erates is more than a little mysterious.
Data scientists can sometimes seem like the high priests who assisted the ancient oracle, or the seers who find meaning in tarot cards, or predict the future by looking at tealeaves. If Big Data is like most of the technological innovations that we’ve seen in the past few decades, it’s both a magic, shiny new toy, and a tool with real possibili- ties and equally real dangers.
Figuring out which is a matter of perspective. However, the problem with perspective is keeping it in per- spective. That’s not being silly. Your perspective on an issue grants you an insight from a particular point of view. The more specific, the more focused your insight—by definition—the nar- rower your point of view. So, a given perspective may yield an extraordinary understanding, but it will blind you to the larger context. You won’t see the forest for the veins on the leaves on the trees. And this blindness can be far from benign.
In this issue of Harbert Magazine we’ll try to get a look into that analyt- ics black box, get an idea of the lim- itations of limitless data and—with all irony intended—a perspective on how best to use this new and powerful tool.