“The Rise of Big Data”
The article I chose explained the concept of big data quite well and echoed David Golumbia’s sentiments in the reading for this week. “The Rise of Big Data: Changing the Way We Think About the World,” by Kenneth Neil Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger appeared in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs. They assert that big data has changed the way we process data by increasing the amount collected, allowing tolerance of a degree of error or inaccuracy because it is impossible to eliminate them from huge data sets, and to look for patterns and correlations instead of causes and singular answers. As the authors state, “This represents a move away from always trying to understand the deeper reasons behind how the world works to simply learning about an association among phenomena and using that to get things done.”
The authors talk about the possibilities for big data to be used in medicine, anti-theft and safety systems in cars, political campaigns, and municipal government operation. However, the increasing use and collection of big data by large companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook give rise to concerns about monopolization and breaches of privacy, and have already sparked calls for regulation in Europe.
The article echoes David Golumbia’s concerns about computerization reinforcing existing power structures by stating, “In all countries, but particularly in nondemocratic ones, big data exacerbates the existing asymmetry of power between the state and the people.” Already police forces use software intended to predict crimes based on processed data. According to the author, this could evolve into organizations and government operations reminiscent of futuristic dystopian novels such as 1984.
The article closes by questioning where the place for human instinct and other senses is in an increasingly datafied world. Cukier and Mayer-Schoenberger assert that it is important to recognize the limitations of using big data, as well as valuing its power.