Are big data solutions just a fantasy?

Is big data really the savior or is it a fantasy?

That’s the question Lee Rainie, the Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, wants to discover.

He and his team surveyed over 1,000 data experts to discover what the future of big data looks like.

But before we get into the numbers, you have to actually define big data, because these days it seems like everyone has their own definition.

For Rainie big data is, “digital material that is being generated by human beings and their digital instruments. Big data is the information gathered from other digital gadgets and gizmos in the environment itself. So it’s all kinds of material that is advertently created by humans or inadvertently created by them and the machines around them.”

The Rise of Big Data

  1. As information has become digitized it is a lot easier to store it and make it available for analysis
  2. Big Data in many ways started in the scholarly world and has migrated to the businesses and technology worlds. They are trying to analyze the data in hopes that they can understand the world in new ways. There is a strong financial, commercial and civic based incentive to do this.

Everybody has this fantasy of a dashboard of data in front of them that will allow them to fill in the blanks. Pick the right stocks. Figure out where diseases are going to breakout. Find out what teachers are performing the best. This is the real hope of big data,” said Rainie, “but data can be misunderstood, misused and it doesn’t always tell the whole story.”

Survey Results: The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center asked digital stakeholders to weigh two scenarios for 2020, select the one most likely to evolve, and elaborate on the choice. One sketched out a relatively positive future where Big Data are drawn together in ways that will improve social, political, and economic intelligence. The other expressed the view that Big Data could cause more problems than it solves between now and 2020.

53% agreed with the first statement:

Thanks to many changes, including the building of “the Internet of Things,” human and machine analysis of large data sets will improve social, political, and economic intelligence by 2020. The rise of what is known as “Big Data” will facilitate things like “nowcasting” (real-time “forecasting” of events); the development of “inferential software” that assesses data patterns to project outcomes; and the creation of algorithms for advanced correlations that enable new understanding of the world. Overall, the rise of Big Data is a huge positive for society in nearly all respects .

39% agreed with the second statement, which posited:

Thanks to many changes, including the building of “the Internet of Things,” human and machine analysis of Big Data will cause more problems than it solves by 2020. The existence of huge data sets for analysis will engender false confidence in our predictive powers and will lead many to make significant and hurtful mistakes. Moreover, analysis of Big Data will be misused by powerful people and institutions with selfish agendas who manipulate findings to make the case for what they want. And the advent of Big Data has a harmful impact because it serves the majority (at times inaccurately) while diminishing the minority and ignoring important outliers. Overall, the rise of Big Data is a big negative for society in nearly all respects.

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