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July 9, 2014

Big Data Utopia

This article originally appeared in Media Planet UK Big Data campaign report and distributed within CityAM newspaper in the UK.

To cut the story short, Big Data is about capturing every single “moment” throughout the human life.

The moments of all what we do including shopping, eating, walking etc… Now, humans can make use of their own data to improve their lives, activities and decisions. Similarly, businesses are the ones capturing these moments to improve the delivery of their services.

The “moments” journey starts when a customer enters a company’s website to search for a service or product, then engage with the customer service agent, then after it head to the mall and stay tracked there
by cameras, until he expresses his feelings on social media to narrate his experience in that scenario.

Machines and sensors will be able to automatically communicate with each other and send our moments to big data systems. This represents a journey with moments which companies are being able to capture now. However, this level of monitoring paves the way for a big-brother like surveillance of these moments which may be used in an abusive way when it comes to privacy, in particular, when misusing the data. Clearly, every contextual digital trace is being stored and recorded in order to associate or predict patterns. We as humans, we are all creators of this big data and we have rights in it. What we need is this collective effort to set legislations and ethical standards for the use of data worldwide. Regardless of the existing dangers, the big data movement is essential in every possible aspect especially when it comes to culture.

Once, traditional media and advertising targeted their audience in an attempt to change their behaviors and decisions, now big data is capable of transforming humans to “predictable” systems. Will this kill our intuition? Does predictive analytics help us solve our world problems?When talking about ethics, it would be essential to highlight that fact that each nation views its own customs as superior and there are no global ethics ruling this field. So, will we need a “data cosmopolitanism” where we all share the morality of using data for good? Personally, I would see a promising future for video analytics especially in the security areas where you can automatically identify anomalies in real-time. In predictions, social and physical sciences overlap like global warming prediction which is based on population growth and energy consumption.

Today more than ever, we do have the ability to monitor global trends and patterns in real-time but we still sometimes cannot determine what constitutes a problem and thus we fail in designing the best solution to tackle it.We need systems that involve phronesis which, according to Aristotle, involves not only the ability to decide how to achieve a certain end, but also the ability to reflect upon and determine good ends consistent with the aim of living well overall.

According to wikipedia, phronesis is an umbrella cognitive capacity that coordinates judgment, understanding, and insight to result in effective action. A capacity acquired through experience, phronesis helps practitioners to ask penetrating questions, provide insight into the implications of actions and events and to advise appropriate courses of action. With predictive and prescriptive analytics combined with human intuition and phronesis, we will reach the big data utopia and realize its value.