We are not even a quarter way into the 21st Century and our basic necessities include, Food, Water, Shelter and WiFi! Our internet usage has increased seven folds from 2000 to 2015, i.e. 735 million to 3.2 billion! In addition to that we are adding more electronic devices in our everyday activities. Replacing phones with smartphones, TVs with smart TVs, Analog watches with Smart watches, fitness tracking apps and what not. Now we even have Google assistant, Siri and the like, to make our lives even more convenient. What do we do with all this?
Generally speaking, we gather data for ourselves, we gather data about other people’s lives (thanks to social media) and we ask questions. Yes you guessed it right, it is not the internet that has replaced oil as the most valuable commodity, it’s data.
Don’t we love updating about our lives and expressing our views on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms? We want to tell all our friends about all the good we are upto and of course sad, sarcastic and funny memes (that’s an absolute essential).
Well, truth be told, we basically make ourselves look a whole lot better than how we actually are, don’t we? We have the incentive to lie on social media. Because we want to look fun and desirable to everyone. On Google, on the other hand, we have the incentive to tell the truth. We open up about our deepest desires and insecurities. On the internet, we sometimes even search for most ridiculous answers. For instance, once I asked Siri, “Do you think I am crazy?!”, to which she responded, (rather her programming made her say), “I don’t know how to respond to that”. Although I am certain my psychiatrist would say “of course you are crazy”! But asking Google and Siri such questions is funny and also quite revealing. Imagine millions of people like me asking Google or Siri such question! Is that Data recorded? Who is recording it and what are they doing with it?
Fact check: even if you are just passive observer on social media, the pages you like, the picture you view the most and the duration for which you are viewing it, is also recorded.
Unless you have been living in the wilderness, or another planet, or don’t use any electronics, you won’t have much difficulty in guessing the answer. The companies use it to better understand their consumers! This data has been such a game changer, that now it has replaced oil as the most valuable commodity in the world!
Imagine you are starting a new company and need to understand consumer behaviour in order to breakeven and eventually make profits. Imagine you are standing in the local elections, or even the highest post in your Country, how do you plan to win and make the right policy changes for your Community/ Country without really understanding it. This is where big data comes in!
What is big data?
Big Data is usually information gathered from our online activity. The fact that someone (many companies) is tracking our lives will sure make anyone uncomfortable. Even if such data mining is done ethically and keeps safe the anonymity of individuals, there is always a scope of infringement of privacy. Kudos to Edward Snowden for giving us the real picture of what is really happening in the name of administration in some parts of the world.
Keeping aside this legitimate fear, for the sake of understanding, one can see groundbreaking impact Big data can have on our lives. The book Everybody Lies revealed that, when big data is used to understand human behaviour, it unveils shocking truth about ourselves. It discusses a many of topics, from racism in America; to what porn data tell us about us; to our politics ideologies, crime rates and much more. Big data can help us understand and predict human behaviour.
“Collecting rich data toward’s world’s problems is the first step towards fixing them”, says the Author. And in the end adds, provided it is used with the right intent and manner. This is the pivotal point where everything rests. Big data if used with respect to it’s limitations and the spirit and intent of the Law can truly fast track the improvement of our lives, otherwise it shall be a purely corrupt system, where the joke will be on us!
Author of Everybody lies
Seth has a star-studded academic career. He received his BA in philosophy, Phi Beta Kappa, from Stanford, and his PhD in economics from Harvard. Seth has worked as a data scientist at Google and a visiting lecturer at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times.
His 2017 book, Everybody Lies, published by HarperCollins, was a New York Times bestseller; a PBS NewsHour Book of the Year; and an Economist Book of the Year.
Here is Seth talking about a part of his award-winning research:
Mind blowing, right?
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