February 12, 2012

LIVING IN THE AGE OF BIG DATA:

The story is similar in fields as varied as science and sports, advertising and public health — a drift toward data-driven discovery and decision-making. “It’s a revolution,” says Gary King, director of Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. “We’re really just getting under way. But the march of quantification, made possible by enormous new sources of data, will sweep through academia, business and government. There is no area that is going to be untouched.”

Welcome to the Age of Big Data. The new megarich of Silicon Valley, first at Google and now Facebook, are masters at harnessing the data of the Web — online searches, posts and messages — with Internet advertising. At the World Economic Forum last month in Davos, Switzerland, Big Data was a marquee topic. A report by the forum, “Big Data, Big Impact,” declared data a new class of economic asset, like currency or gold.

We’ve barely begun to tap the power of this sort of thing. On the other hand, there will always be a place for a more aesthetic, intuitive angle, too — especially where consumers are involved. And will Big Data methods go small in an Army-of-Davids fashion via intermediaries like Wolfram Alpha?

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