The Edward Snowden saga has given us a lot of political drama, another reason to dislike big government, and a negative aspect of the use of technology, but above all, it has showed us the real power of numbers and their value in the age of big data. We are creating numbers so rapidly and in very large sets that it is predicted that we have produced more data within the last few years than that of all human history. The U.S. government has come out to say that it is only metadata that was used in the surveillance done by NSA. But, a recent article on NPR states, that very metadata is enough to gather relevant and useful information about anyone. A program called Immersion, designed by MIT Media Lab that looks at the metadata from your Gmail account, reveals how much information can be gained by simply looking at the metadata.
The fruitful use of metadata has been recognized by engineers, scientists, politicians, advertisement agencies, and basically anyone who can analyze and make sense of these large sets of data. A BBC HORIZON documentary follows some of the people who mine Big Data. The documentary takes us into a the fascinating world of LAPD police officers who use data and computer algorithms to predict crime in the next 12 hours, a trader who makes millions, and an astronomer who wants to catalog the entire universe by listening to every single star. What unites these is the explosion of data.
As we move towards a more scientific world, it is evident that data will play a core role in our decision making. Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, in an article in New York Times, says, “In business, economics and other fields, decisions will increasingly be based on data and analysis rather than on experience and intuition. We can start being a lot more scientific.” Firms like Facebook and Google are leaders when it comes to harnessing data from the Web. Companies and people that realize the fruits of big data will be the ones prospering in the future.