Human Face of Big Data

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The Human Face of Big Data

At 14:25 Rick Smolan took to the stage at DLD13, the first official speaker of this year's conference. His topic of choice is big data: the focus of his latest opus, ‘The Human Face of Big Data’. "When I first heard about big data I had been asking around about what topic to look into next. Marissa Mayer suggested big data. And I thought 'ok, maybe' except that at the time I didn't actually know what that was," Smolan confesses. Big data is the real-time visualisation of people data: what they do, whom they know, where they go, etc. It streams in through satellites, from RFID-tags, smartphones and billions of sensors.“We’re actually starting to measure everything on earth. It is really like watching the planet develop a nervous system.”

So what's the big deal with big data? "Until around six years ago, whenever you heard the term 'big data' it was almost immediately followed by 'big brother'," Smolan says. "It was seen as a very negative thing.” But that has been slowly changing, according to Smolan. 'The Human Face of Big Data', published by Against All Odds Productions, played a big role in this shift. One hundred journalists travelled the world for approximately six months taking photos and collecting stories for the book and ensuing apps. Smolan says the idea behind the project was simply to get people talking and thinking about big data. But the example stories from the book he is telling make clear that he is also teaching us an important lesson. We are the ones producing big data every single day. But we are not the ones controlling it or profiting from is. And more often than not, it is wasted rather than used. Partially this is because this data is not being shared. For instance, airplane radar monitors have been filtering out bird and bat migratory patterns for years, tossing it aside as noise. But that noise is a veritable goldmine for bat scientists and ornithologists. Secondly, this is because this data's value is generally underestimated.

A New Dimension "Understanding big data is like adding a new dimension to how we see the world," Smolan says. That takes time to learn. Smolan thinks 2013 is going to be the year we all master the shift. "I think 2013 is set to be a year the human race looks back on."

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