June 23, 2014

What’s so big about Big Data?

Business

A large portion of this week’s blogposts will be dedicated to Big Data. For the last three years (roughly) it’s been a new “big thing” for the IT industry. The reason is clear: the technical possibility to sift through the gazillion bytes of assorted data discerning useful patterns that may grant a huge advantages over the competitors has emerged relatively recently. Now the Big Data topic is a much-hyped one, although multiple voices of doubt and reservations come in and grow in numbers.

Some readers of this blog may watch Person of Interest. The third season of this criminal drama wrapped earlier this year, leaving its multiple of fans in great pain, craving for the next season’s developments. 

For those who haven’t seen or heard of it, this is a story about a small and covert group of crime-fighters led by an ingenious programmer who, shaken by the events of 9/11, had created a special system, a “Machine” in order to detect and prevent possible acts of terror. It does this by crunching very large amounts of data from omnipresent surveillance devices (CCTV, etc.) and the Web, in order to find anomalies that may lead to mass-casualty events. Soon it turns out that the Machine “sees everything – violent crimes involving ordinary people”, and that it is – in fact – sentient on its own. It’s not malicious, but the very knowledge of it puts a person in a great peril.

POI_screenshot_800

From the CBS’s ‘Person of Interest’ intro.

Well, that’s a very superficial synopsis. This TV series actually covers a lot of actual and/or popular topics: artificial intelligence, cyberweaponry (with Stuxnet explicitly mentioned at least a couple of times), mass surveillance, conspiracy, use and abuse of technology, and, of course, a dire plentitude of information available about each one of us. Also a recurring topic is the illusion of omnipotence that IT gives to humans, along with how rapidly it dissipates when it comes to facing the real heat, and how useless it may be next-to-unlimited access to petaloads of data when it comes down to being a human in a critical situation. 

Actually, in the real world there is an issue of such “illusion of omnipotence” regarding the IT, and it’s directly related to the aforementioned TV series premise: the product of Big Data grinding provides its, well, handlers with not-so-subtle (if only tactical, though) business advantages. A lot of hype is generated over the last three years. But how big are these advantages and what’s the price tag attached?

In the next few posts we will tell a few stories – not so big ones – related to Big Data. It is not intended to be an in-depth thesis, it’s just a handful of facts to, let’s say, meditate upon. Stay tuned!

 

Big Data Week

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