While enterprise use of big data analysis can solve tough business problems, some individuals may find big data analysis deeply unsettling to their own career prospects.
Here's the bad news, according to McAfee: Computers are getting smarter all the time. IBM's Watson computer proved it could beat the most talented humans at Jeopardy trivia questions, but that's really just the beginning, McAfee pointed out. He cited Narrative Science, a company that generates news prose from a computer algorithm, in effect replacing reporters, to write basic news stories. Computers have also shown in research studies that they can beat pathologists at reading slides to detect signs of cancer, McAfee said.
"We kind of come out on the losing end over and over again," McAfee said. Using big data techniques, algorithms can predict questions including how good this year's crop of Bordeaux wine will turn out and how the Supreme Court will decide pending cases, he noted. Big data analysis can outdo purchasing experts, who have spent years learning nuances of vendor strategies and contracts, he said.
In a group of 136 man-versus-machine studies that he examined, humans won in just eight cases. The kisser: This was before the era of big data, he said. The computers likely did not have enough data.
"I kind of see our robot overlords and computer overlords getting smarter and smarter," McAfee said. "Are we all thoroughly depressed about this?" he asked the audience, prompting wry laughs.