The Expanding Reach of Big Data

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[ Reaching to the SKY : A curtain of BEAUTY ] The Swedbank Central Office Tower, Vilnius, Lithuaniaby Angela Guess

The Economist recently weighed in on the subject of Big Data and its growing prevalence. The article states, “The data revolution is disrupting established industries and business models. IT firms are nosing their way into the health-care market: Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault both allow consumers to track their health and record their treatments. Manufacturers are hastening their transformation into service companies: all those sensors allow them to monitor their products and see if they need repairing long before they break down. BMW uses sensor-data to tell its customers when their cars need to be serviced, for example. Insurance firms can now monitor the driving styles of their customers and offer them rates based on their competence (or recklessness) rather than their age and sex.”

It continues, “The data revolution is clearly handing power to the little people as well as the big ones. You can now buy a device that will store all the world’s recorded music for just $600. Shoppers can use their mobile phones to scan bar codes to see if there is a better deal elsewhere. Citizens can use publicly available information to demand better public services. Britain’s Open Knowledge Foundation has used government databases to develop a useful site called Dr Foster Intelligence provides patients with information about the quality of health care.”

The article goes on, “But on the second question, they are silent. Big data has the same problems as small data, but bigger. Data-heads frequently allow the beauty of their mathematical models to obscure the unreliability of the numbers they feed into them. (Garbage in, garbage out.) They can also miss the big picture in their pursuit of ever more granular data. During the 2008 presidential campaign Mark Penn provided Hillary Clinton with reams of micro-data, thus helping her to craft micro-policies aimed at tiny slices of the electorate. But Mrs Clinton was trounced by a man who grasped that people wanted to feel part of something bigger. The winning slogans were vague and broad (‘hope’ and ‘change’).”

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