These are just a few of the questions the Pew Internet Center's Internet & American Life Project and Elon University asked more than 1,000 Internet "experts," including educators, business executives, pundits, scientists, and other tech industry observers. "The Future of Big Data" survey posed a series of thought-provoking questions centered on one main theme: How will big data influence our lives in 2020?
The issue concerns government leaders as well. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced in March the Big Data Research and Development Initiative, a plan by six federal agencies to spend more than $200 million to develop new tools to access, structure, and pull meaning from massive volumes of data.
With as murky a term as "big data" is, it's no surprise the responses to the Pew survey were varied. Optimists and pessimists offered their thoughts on the state of data analysis within a decade.
[ Will big data be good or bad for your company? Read one point of view: Why Big Is Bad When It Comes To Data. ]
We've posted some of the more thought-provoking responses below. Respondents were free to agree or disagree with each statement, and explain why. The full set of survey predictions is available here.
Pew survey statement: "By 2020, the use of Big Data will improve our understanding of ourselves and the world."
Sean Mead, director of analytics at Mead, Mead & Clark, Interbrand, believes big data may be the next tech boom: "Large, publicly available data sets, easier tools, wider distribution of analytics skills, and early stage artificial intelligence software will lead to a burst of economic activity and increased productivity comparable to that of the Internet and PC revolutions of the mid to late 1990s."
"Big data is the new oil," wrote Bryan Trogdon, an entrepreneur and user-experience professional. "The companies, governments, and organizations that are able to mine this resource will have an enormous advantage over those that don't."
Survey statement: "Nowcasting, real-time data analysis, and pattern recognition will surely get better."
Google chief economist Hal Varian agrees that real-time forecasting has a bright future: "I'm a big believer in nowcasting," he wrote. "Nearly every large company has a real-time data warehouse and has more timely data on the economy than our government agencies. In the next decade we will see a public/private partnership that allows the government to take advantage of some of these private-sector data stores. This is likely to lead to a better informed, more pro-active fiscal and monetary policy."
Survey statement: "The good of big data will outweigh the bad. User innovation could lead the way, with "do-it-yourself analytics."
Marjory S. Blumenthal, associate provost at Georgetown University and adjunct staff officer at RAND, sees the pros and cons of advancements in data analysis tools and techniques. "Do-it-yourself analytics will help more people analyze and forecast than ever before. This will have a variety of societal benefits and further innovation. It will also contribute to new kinds of crime," Blumenthal wrote.