Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Big data and the assembly of global insight out of small scale, local and micro-local data 4: some thoughts on where this is headed 1

Posted in business and convergent technologies, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on January 4, 2014

This is my fourth installment to a series on big data and how wide-ranging and even globally significant insight can be developed out of small-scale local and even micro-local data (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, postings 265 and loosely following for Parts 1-3.)

Up to here in this series and in related material that I have added to this blog, I have focused largely on the here-and now-context of big data, and particularly as it is developed and used for business purposes or for addressing large-scale demographics-based problems such as predicting disease outbreaks. See for example:

• My series: Big Data at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, postings 177 and following for its Parts 1-7 and that directory’s continuation page, postings 207 and loosely following for its Parts 8-11,
• And also see Part 1 of this series for a specific epidemiological example where big data is used in identifying newly emerging influenza outbreaks.

I turn this series in a very different direction here, to at least begin to discuss where big data is headed, and with a goal of at least pointing in the direction of some disruptively new ways that big data is likely going to be both perceived and used. And I begin that by repeating a point about the nature of big data that I specifically raised in Part 3 of this series, that:

• In its extreme and as a perhaps ideal, big data and its accumulation of raw data seeks to become in effect, a digital representation of all of us and of all of the world around us, as we interact with it and are affected and influenced by it.

I begin this posting by assuming that goal to be realistic, and in fact by assuming it to be an already emerging reality.

• What would that make possible and even perhaps inevitable that would not have been before the advent of big data?
• And what challenges would that create?

Any realistic answers to either of these questions will depend on how a set of three other more fundamental questions are answered, as big data capabilities are developed and used:

1. Who will explicitly aggregate together big data resources, and for what purposes at the level of meeting their own needs and objectives?
2. Who will have access to this accumulation of data, and I add metadata that is developed from it, and under what terms and for what uses?
3. And of course, how many significantly large big data repositories will be developed? In this, will any be open source in nature and both for data repository technology and for open access to data accumulated with it? With that, I explicitly mean large enough and actively maintained enough open source and publically available big data repositories to in effect break any broad-based expectations of proprietary monopoly on the part of governmental or privately held and used repositories.

I will start this part of this overall discussion with question 3 and work backwards from there. And I begin discussing that third question by noting that I have, in effect been posting an extensive series on this blog on a very specific closely held big data repository that the United States government has been assembling from its accumulating cyber and telephone systems surveillance programs, as a core component to its War on Terror (see my series: Learnable lessons from Manning, Snowden and Inevitable Others at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 as postings 225 and loosely following.)

• If big data is developed and held as a closely controlled, limited-access resource,
• And if any real efforts to open up access to this type of resource are blocked through the courts or by other, legislated means,
• Then the answers to questions 1 and 2 above, become crucial societally. And disparities of access and oversight there, can only serve to create power imbalances between haves and have-nots that would with time serve to challenge society-wide democratic freedom and rights.
• Knowledge is power, and the capabilities for developing both locally focused and globally reaching knowledge and insight that big data can create, represent an incredibly significant new and emerging source of this power.

Basically, what I am doing here is to at least as a first-cut analysis posit control over big data access and use as a gatekeeper that depending on whether access is open or closed, leads to very different future outcomes. And as cartoon extremes this could mean either utopian or dystopian.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, noting in anticipation of that, that there is not going to be a simple correlation between either open or closed access, and either of these extremes. My goal for the next installment to this series is to discuss that and some of the possible scenarios that we are likely to see played out, with several of them most probably simultaneously realized depending on the precise types of data and metadata under consideration: governmental or private sector or mixed. Meanwhile, you can find this series and other related material at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and also in my first Ubiquitous Computing and Communications directory page. And I also include this series in my directory: Reexamining the Fundamentals.

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