The Big Data Revolution

The Big Data revolution isn’t about the crazy amount of data being collected – although, there is a ton. We mean, a ton. The revolution is the fact that this data can now be analyzed in ways we couldn’t before – and that we can also do it quicker and more cost efficiently.

We know that companies and governments are using algorithms (instead of computers) to sort through data to help them do everything from firing employees, to admitting kids into college, and analyzing policing patterns. But, these algorithms could help scientists, governments, universities and those in the public policy sector better understand our society and how decisions influence them. Think: evaluating how policies affect constituents.

Getting their hands on that data though, that’s the problem. The likes of Amazon, Facebook and telecom companies hold the golden keys to the servers of this useful data; but, they could be inclined to give others a copy soon. Campaigns like the Open Algorithms project are pushing to open this private data up to the public sector. Some telecommunication companies are already on board – and they could lead the way for future innovation and understanding by doing so.

They won’t exactly be handing over the data, though. The project instead allows for the sharing of computer code – and would thus allow universities, governments and policy makers to access that data by running their algorithms on their servers. This takes information from the people – that until now was mostly used for private gain – and gives it back to the people. What these scientists and policy makers find won’t just help the people either – it will give companies in the private sector a look at their data in a way they never have before, possibly spurring their own innovation.

But, this revolution within the Big Data revolution could erect other change too. Efforts are also underway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab to allow individuals to control, and be paid for, how their data is being used. Now, the telecom industry can essentially sell this data themselves. But, the implementation of Enigma – the MIT cloud computing platform – would mean telecom customers could control what information is up for grabs and get paid for it too. With Enigma in use, it’s not like company’s would lose the revenue, but rather split part of the profits with their customers – the ones actually providing that data.

Right now, though, these are all voluntary efforts and collaborations. Whether policy itself could be created around this to mandate open access of data is yet to be seen. What we do know is telecom can lead these efforts – providing governments and policy makers with information that until recently was unimagined.

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