The good news is, we’re moving into exciting times. With algorithms to make Big Data actionable, we can accomplish things we only dreamed of, solve problems we thought were insoluble.
So let’s deal with the bad news and be done with it. Privacy. Gone. It already is, and we hardly noticed it. On the other hand, maybe we never had it.
Until modern times, most of us lived in small communities. We had small homes. Whole families shared one small sleeping space. Not much privacy there. Andy Griffith lovers…remember the scenes of phone calls on party lines when everyone, including the operator, joined in on “private” conversations?
In the words of John Prine, “In a town this size, there’s no place to hide…Everywhere you go, you meet someone you know…You can’t steal a kiss, in a place like this…How the rumors do fly, in a town this size.” (“In a Town this Size”)
Once upon a time, we lived small, and everyone knew what we did. Now we live big, and someone, somewhere, knows what we think. So the truth is, we’ve never had privacy, really.
Not to minimize the privacy issue. Of course, there are some kinds of data we need to protect, some uses of data we need to prohibit. There are laws and will be more laws. As long as there are criminal hackers, there will be ethical hackers opposing them. It’s a war out there. But inevitably, for every bit of privacy we gain, whether from living in larger cities and larger homes with more rooms or from greater expertise in cyber-security, we’ll lose a bit of privacy somewhere else.
That said, there’s a wonderful new world out there, and it’s worth the risks to embrace it. Let’s just imagine together a few of the ways we’ll benefit from Big Data.
Greater Interaction with Businesses. Intimate, even. As businesses embrace Big Data, they’ll know what we need before we do. Amazon has already announced its intention to do just that, to land a drone on your doorstep with the item at the moment you think of it, anticipating your every need. “Amazon is considering a new phase in its quest for global commerce domination. They’re working a plan that would ship products to you before you even purchase them because Amazon knows what you want better than you do.” They’re serious about this! They have already submitted a patent for “anticipatory shopping.”
Global Development. Global Pulse, a new United Nations initiative, wants to use Big Data to predict required assistance to areas before they slip back into poverty. “The group will conduct so-called sentiment analysis of messages in social networks and text messages — using natural-language deciphering software — to help predict job losses, spending reductions or disease outbreaks in a given region.”
Government Planning. The Universal Graph. What is it? It doesn’t exist yet, but it is a real near future possibility. At the present time, data is mostly stored in a wide range of separate locations. Take one person, for example. That person’s shopping habits warehouse in one place, their political preferences in another, their medical information in yet another, and so on. As we move toward a more connected world, though, we move toward more connected data, a “universal mind,” so to speak. And we’ll harness this vast compendium of infinitely interconnected data to solve problems more effectively than our current institutions.
Politics. While we’re on the issue of government, consider politics and these long, wearisome, expensive campaigns. During this past election season, artificial intelligence (AI) driven chat bots were trained (via data collection and algorithmic organization of it) to simulate the tweeted conversations of various presidential candidates. These chatbots had their own Twitter accounts. There were even presidential debates among them! Maybe next we’ll have a chat bot for our actual president, giving speeches and talking with the press. Staff meetings between high-level bots using information from the Universal Graph…
Higher Education. We all know our school system is changing and needs to change more. As our numbers grow and our society grows in complexity, the old mechanisms struggle to support us all. College becomes more and more expensive and limited to those who can afford it. Enter online learning, pointing the way to one version of the future. As data proliferates and learning institutions embrace the possibilities, it’s easy to imagine a time when our educational system won’t be so centered on brick and mortar buildings. When teachers will meet with students in more strategic ways. When even people who can’t afford a traditional college education can compete because we’ll find all the data of centuries that was in books and buildings available in cyberspace, presented back to the student in a customized learning package at a convenient time.
Medicine. 3D Print enthusiasts believe they are on the edge of creating living human organs. Already there are valves and limb replacements through 3D printing, which also allows surgeons to map out operations more precisely through modeling. Combining the amazing possibilities of 3D printing with the amazing possibilities of big data…well, we can see where this is going. “The role of big data in medicine is one where we can build better health profiles and better predictive models around individual patients so that we can better diagnose and treat disease.” As we understand more about the biology of disease, the DNA, proteins, and metabolites to cells, tissues, organs, organisms, and ecosystems, we’ll be able to diagnose and treat disease more effectively. Between more effective treatments and cost-effective organ replacements (also built on data), we might just find the fountain of eternal youth.
Agriculture and Food for Hungry Populations. Big Data will help with agricultural planning, allowing us to avoid catastrophes and maximize our results in the face of seasonal and climatic changes. Joseph in the Bible did that with the help of God through dreams. We’ll do it with the help of Big Data telling us what to anticipate with greater precision than we ever dreamed possible.
Just think: instantaneous translating, making the world even smaller than it already is; driverless cars, already underway, as the norm; anticipating states of mind for shoppers will also let us anticipate states of mind for more sinister intent; food distribution to reduce or pre-empt hunger among populations; 3D printers printing out what you want to eat before you know you’re thinking about it.
The future is here, and it’s amazing! In ten years, the way we manage our lives today will seem archaic as big data gives us more effective information and capabilities in every sphere. Embrace it. Just keep that electronics-free space of your own, even if it’s a tent, to enjoy a few moments of privacy.