10 Big Predictions About Big Data

Will big data be a force for good or evil by the end of this decade? See if you agree with expert reactions to new Pew Internet Center research.
Survey statement: "In the end, humans just won't be able to keep up."

Jeff Eisenach, managing director of Navigant Economics LLC, a consulting business, and formerly a senior policy expert with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, agrees: "Big data will not be so big. Most data will remain proprietary, or reside in incompatible formats and inaccessible databases where it cannot be used in 'real time.'"

Survey statement: "Take off the rose-colored glasses: Big data has the potential for significant negative impacts that may be impossible to avoid."

Marcia Richards Suelzer, senior analyst at Wolters Kluwer, sees potential risks in real-time data analysis: "We can now make catastrophic miscalculations in nanoseconds and broadcast them universally. We have lost the balance inherent in 'lag time.'"

[ What are the key issues when it comes to big data? Read Oracle Big Data Study Shows Longtime Pain. ]

Some respondents feared the motives of governments and corporations, organizations with the most data and the greatest incentive to exploit it.

John Pike, director of, wrote: "The world is too complicated to be usefully encompassed in such an undifferentiated Big Idea. Whose 'Big Data' are we talking about? Wall Street, Google, the NSA? I am small, so generally I do not like Big."

And an anonymous survey respondent offered this bleak, Orwellian view of big data's future: "Data aggregation is growing today for two main purposes: National security apparatus and ever-more-focused marketing (including political) databases. Neither of these are intended for the benefit of individual network users but rather look at users as either potential terrorists or as buyers of goods and services."

Survey statement: "The rich will profit from big data and the poor will not."

"The collection of information is going to benefit the rich, at the expense of the poor," wrote Brian Harvey, a lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley. "I suppose that for a few people that counts as a positive outcome, but your two choices should have been 'will mostly benefit the rich' or 'will mostly benefit the poor,' rather than 'good for society' and 'bad for society.' ... And yes, I know about farmers in Africa using their cell phones to track prices for produce in the big cities. That's great, but it's not enough."

Some respondents offered a more comprehensive view of the future of big data.

Jerry Michalski, founder and president of Sociate and consultant for the Institute for the Future, pointed out big data's potential to feed humanity's dark side:

"So the best-intentioned of humans will try to use big data to solve big problems, but are unlikely to do well at it. Big ideas have driven innumerable bad decisions over time. Think of the Domino Theory, eugenics, and racial superiority theories--even survival of the fittest. These all have led us into mess after mess."

And its bright side:

"There are a few bright spots on the horizon. When crowds of people work openly with one another around real data, they can make real progress. See Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, CureTogether, PatientsLikeMe, and many other projects that weren't possible pre-Internet. We need small groups empowered by big data, then coordinating with other small groups everywhere to find what works pragmatically."

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