What Big Data Will Never Explain

What is big data? It’s the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data we create everyday. IBM collects its big data from “sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals.”

It’s the raw dirt that allows IBM and other companies the ability to perform sentiment analysis on Twitter and other social media sites, to more efficiently utilize power grids by predicting power consumption, and decrease hospital patient mortality by analyzing streaming data from health care facilities.

But Leon Wieseltier at the New Republic is more concerned with what big data can’t do. From his article:

“To datafy a phenomenon,” they explain, “is to put it in a quantified format so it can be tabulated and analyzed.” To illustrate the scope of datafication, and the enlightenment that it may provide, they adduce “the datafication of sentiment”: “Twitter enabled the datafication of sentiment by creating an easy way for people to record and share their stray thoughts, which had previously been lost to the winds of time.” I think I prefer the winds of time.

“With the help of big data,” Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier continue, “we will no longer regard our world as a string of happenings that we explain as natural and social phenomena, but as a universe comprised essentially of information.” An improvement! Can anyone seriously accept that information is the essence of the world? Of our world, perhaps; but we are making this world, and acquiescing in its making. The religion of information is another superstition, another distorting totalism, another counterfeit deliverance.

Full story here.

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