Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Big data and the assembly of global insight out of small scale, local and micro-local data 5: some thoughts on where this is headed 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on January 10, 2014

This is my fifth 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 1-4.)

I noted in Part 3 of this series that:

• In its extreme and as a perhaps ideal, big data and its accumulation of raw and processed 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.

Setting aside for the moment that this seeking is an activity of big data developers and big data systems owners rather than one of big data itself, I wrote Part 4 as at least the beginning of a discussion of:

• Who collects what, and who can access that data and knowledge developed from it and for what purposes and uses.
• And I wrote of the dangers inherent in the possibility of big data predominantly becoming an exclusive domain of select groups of haves with a majority left out as data and big data-based knowledge have-nots.
• Knowledge really is power and big data and its use can and will become a significant new source of actionable knowledge and insight.

I add here that this type of knowledge access inequality is a possibility that is unlikely to arise, at least as an only realized resolution to the question of who will own big data and who will benefit from it. And I may sound optimistic here and perhaps even a bit overly optimistic but I do not see closed, restricted-access big data systems as predominating in the big data arena either, with open access data base repository systems and open access to big data’s underlying technology predominating.

The entire evolutionary thrust of computer and computer network development and of our increasingly ubiquitously interconnected communications systems has been to open up and expand out access. So the problem of exclusivity and the challenge that big data generated-knowledge might be developed and used predominantly for parochial, localized agendas that are at odds with larger societal needs is less likely to occur, except perhaps for specific more specialized big data repositories, and particularly when they are developed to promote political or ideological goals. But overall, I see them developing more as self-limiting exceptions in the face of direct competition from more openly available alternatives.

I note here, and before offering any possible examples of closed-access big data repository efforts that even when long-term and big-picture consequences of these closed big data systems and their use are significantly problematical, they can often be developed, and defended when they become publically known, as addressing good and even noble goals. With that in mind I cite two big government examples of closed-access big data systems that in fact seek to gather data about as many individuals and businesses as possible – even if these surveillance targets are not supposed to know of the existence of these systems, let along what they hold about anyone or how this data is being used.

• China’s big data repository of online and telephonic and other communications, and information gathering or sharing efforts on the part of its citizens comes to mind here as a working example, where that is maintained in coordination with their Great Firewall (formally known as their Golden Shield Project). The ostensible and stated goal of this system is to safeguard China and its citizens – even if primarily from themselves and the consequences of widely expressed open enquiry.
• The United States’ ongoing equally open-ended surveillance programs, set up and run as a pillar in support of their War on Terror, comes to mind as a second such example (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.)

There are other examples that could as easily be cited here too, but these two should suffice for this discussion.

• Specialized purpose and even highly intrusive closed access big data systems exist, and certainly governmental ones do.
• And when closed access is put in place to safeguard personally identifiable information that could be used for identity theft purposes or for other reasons specifically oriented towards protecting the interests of those data is collected from,
• And the goal of those systems is to specifically benefit individuals that data is collected on, it can be a lot easier to argue those data repositories and data collection systems as beneficial, than it would be when any justifying goals are vague and societally generalized.
• To stress this: closed access data collection and use is more easily abused than open and publically known data collection and use. And to repeat the above point, it is easier to justify big data collection and use of either sort when it is developed and used with the needs and interests of the specific individuals it is collected on as a goal, than holds when it is developed and justified on vague and general, and even ideologically driven grounds.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will specifically focus on open access data repositories, as developed using technology that is either open source or at least available through the marketplace. And in anticipation of that, I will also at least begin to discuss how more open types of big data fit into and support ubiquitous computing and communications, in making many of their possible goals achievable realities – one perhaps minor and even mundane use-instance at a time but in vast and even open-ended usage instances.

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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