Thursday 16 August 2018

Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Kenneth Cukier

A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think

Written in 2013/4, this was the first major book about the topic, with two authors explaining what big data is, how it will change our lives, and what we can do to protect ourselves from its hazards.

As is usual with predictions, some are eerie in their accuracy, others we laugh at for the "obvious" errors, but all were brave, and most were fascinating.

The book posed questions about choices consumers make -relating to colours and preferences that didn't appeal to me that much. Also the fears and concerns around the 'Minority Report' methods of using data (i.e. predicting crimes that haven't yet occurred and making arrests based on that data) seem a bit silly and far-fetched now.

Some of the hype around what the big thing around big data is has dated. Calling it a 'revolution', for example,

But it's also interesting to see the kind of comments that have stood the test of time - time only being 4 or so short years in this case.

Getting our heads around the concept of usefulness and application - "The technical tools for handling data have already changed dramatically, but our methods and mindsets have been slower to adapt.” 

Some of the usefulnesses of the data sources available - “Amazon monitors our shopping preferences and Google our browsing habits, while Twitter knows what’s on our minds.”

Skills necessary to utilize the power of the 'revolution' - “the “data scientist,” which combines the skills of the statistician, software programmer, infographics designer, and storyteller.”

There were also many historical comparisons - how statisticians used data in the past, based on theory, probability and assumptions around distributions, and how this changes when the scope of sampling is so much larger. This quote captures it best.

“In some ways, we haven’t yet fully appreciated our new freedom to collect and use larger pools of data. Most of our experience and the design of our institutions have presumed that the availability of information is limited. We reckoned we could only collect a little information, and so that’s usually what we did. It became self-fulfilling. We even developed elaborate techniques to use as little data as possible. One aim of statistics, after all, is to confirm the richest finding using the smallest amount of data. In effect, we codified our practice of stunting the quantity of information we used in our norms, processes, and incentive structures.”

An enjoyable lesson from the first game-changers that I found fascinating.

4 stars


You may also enjoy Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

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