As more organizations collect more and more data, and as IT vendors design better tools for parsing out the insights in that data, will the field of analytics evolve in a positive way—or will Big Data end up causing more problems than it solves?
The Pew Internet & American Life Project, in conjunction with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, recently put that question to a collection of 1,021 “digital stakeholders” collected via email, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. Specifically, they asked those surveyed to agree with one of two statements:
Statement one was more positive:
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.
Statement two, on the other hand, was far more negative:
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.
Around 53 percent of respondents agreed with the positive statement, while 39 percent cited the negative one as the most likely outcome.
Around 40 percent of the survey participants were research scientists or “employed by a college or university,” while 12 percent worked for a company with some sort of IT focus. Another 11 percent said they worked for a non-profit organization, 10 worked for a company “that uses information technology extensively,” 8 percent worked for a consulting firm, 5 percent worked for a government agency, and 2 percent worked for a publication or media company of some kind.
Big Data: evidently, not everyone sees it as a good thing.