Big Data: Big Headache Or Big Opportunity?

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online
Data is everywhere in the digital world. Every time a computer or digital device is powered on, there is data at our finger tips. Big data is a type of data that could be a game changer in the next decade, and according to a new Pew Internet/Elon University survey that looked at the opinions of Internet experts, observers and stakeholders, this larger than the average data should be a good thing.
Of those surveyed, 53 percent said big data would produce an overall positive effect by 2020, while 39 percent said it would have an over negative effect and eight percent opted not to answer.
To understand what this means requires a quick step back. What exactly is “big data?”
According to McKinsey&Company big data could be the “next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity,” which sounds like a big deal and a big promise. The research firm suggested, “The amount of data in our world has been exploding, and analyzing large data sets–so-called big data–will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus, according to research by MGI and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office.”
And IBM explained it thoroughly as well:
Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few. This data is big data.”
Those who have suggested that big data will be a big deal with a big positive effect also note its potential to solve diverse problems.
The United States federal government apparently believed enough in big data to invest a not-so-small $200 million in big data. In March the Obama administration announced the “Big Data Research and Development Initiative,” which is to be launched through six federal departments and agencies that together will work to “improve the tools and techniques needed to access, organize, and glean discoveries from huge volumes of digital data.”
But is this really as big as it sounds? And is this something that will play a big role in our daily lives? The answer is yes and no.
“Unless you’re a computer science PhD or a database professional, it’s easy to take the term literally,” wrote Patrick Houston, co-founder of MediaArchitechs, for Information Week. “And among those who do, don´t forget, are the corporate execs and line-of-business managers with whom even those of you in the know must deal. To them, ℠big´ is just about the amount. It´s not difficult to imagine the petabytes piling up out there, given the contrail of information everyone exhausts as they move across the various fixed and mobile networks.”
Some of the respondents however maintained that the benefits of big data could outweigh any negatives.
Media and regulators are demonizing Big Data and it´s supposed threat to privacy,” wrote Jeff Jarvis, professor, pundit and blogger, according to Fast Company. “Such moral panics have occurred often thanks to changes in technology…But the moral of the story remains: there is value to be found in this data, value in our newfound publicness. Google´s founders have urged government regulators not to require them to quickly delete searches because, in their patterns and anomalies, they have found the ability to track the outbreak of the flu before health officials could and they believe that by similarly tracking a pandemic, millions of lives could be saved. Demonizing data, big or small, is demonizing knowledge, and that is never wise.”
And some respondents in the survey felt that big data would more likely benefit companies and corporate interests over individuals.
“The world is too complicated to be usefully encompassed in such an undifferentiated Big Idea,” wrote John Pike, the director of “Whose ℠Big Data´ are we talking about? Wall Street, Google, the NSA? I am small, so generally I do not like Big.”
The author of the survey, Prof. Janna Anderson, suggested to Fast Company that the statistical split between positive and negative outlooks for big data isn´t the most important part, nor was a ruling on the future of big data the point of the survey. Additionally, many respondents suggested that big data would likely have both positive and negative elements.
In other words, big data could very well be something quite big, but its benefits or negative effects will only be determined in how it is used.

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