Big data was a session in Toronto last year and since then, data hasn’t stopped being talked about. Now it’s not just about big data but small data as well. This session was introduced by @petervan and he said that the session was going to take the audience on a rollercoaster journey on the future of data. The session was organized around a number of myths regarding (big) data. The panel of speakers were asked to each “ignite” each myth with a presentation, and giving their arguments whether they believed the myth was true, false, or subject for debate.
The discussion was started with a Myth #1: “Big data is all about volume” – to which the audience thought, was false.
Amir Halfon, CTO for Financial Services, MarkLogic opened up the panel and made the point that data is not going to go away and is a hot topic that will continue to be talked about more and more. Judging by the crowds of people in the audience you could see that this was of interest to them. He talked about the 3 V’s: Volume, Velocity and the challenging part of Variety, and how regulatory compliance is a challenge that companies are finding and how customer insight should be the main focus. Before closing his talk, he said “ideally we should have both big and good data.”
We then moved on to Myth #2: “We can use existing architectures, it’s just one big relational database, what’s new ?”
Daniel Erasmus, Owner, The Digital Thinking Network talked about data architecture and how data can have some constraints. To further prove this point Daniel created a game for the audience. Everyone was given a letter or symbol and had to join with other people to see who could create the longest word. At first it seemed like an easy task but once people moved around they realized that there were constraints, i.e. some people didn’t know what the symbols meant so couldn’t create any words. Daniel said that “we can all have data but clean data is fundamental.” He continued to say that “companies need to invest in their data, there is no need to have poor quality data”.
The next Myth was: “Algorithms are the real differentiator – you are as good as your best algorithm”
Sean Gourley, CTO, Quid changed the session by delving deeper in to data and talking about algorithms. Sean managed to make what is normally a confusing topic, interesting. Sean highlighted that with so much data, to make any sense of it you need to have the tools. These tools can harness the data, extract meaning and reveal new patterns so people can make better business decisions. Sean has built new tools that will enhance the human ability to undertake the complexity of data which will help to solve global problems. “Information leads to intelligence which then leads to insight”.
We then introduced Myth #4: “Physical limits ( distance, disk space, memory ) are irrelevant”
Dr Alexander D.Wissner-Gross, an award winning scientist & Inventor took to the stage with his opening line ‘How Big and Small Data might soon travel faster than light’. An interesting statement and one that made people take notice. He talked about the low latency arms race changing at such speed and how financial data is the driving force behind this as the industry strives for an ever faster transaction speed. Alexander then explored the economic implications of a world which is becoming increasingly automated. He introduced his algorithm of “SeaSteading”, calculating the best location for datacenters just to win a couple of milliseconds in latency for HFT. It happens that most favorable locations are in the middle of the ocean, hence “seasteading”. But that’s not the end: next is “coresteading” where communication of data is done via neutrinos through the core of the earth.
We then changed gears, and moved into some of the more human and societal impacts of big data by introducting Myth #5: “Social media brings us closer together and unites the human race”
Up to now the panel debate was running along smoothly until Andrew Keen took to the stage. He is called the ‘Anti-Christ of Silicon Valley’ and he played up to the title. His loud voice boomed and the audience took notice. He opened up with a video clip of Vertigo, Hitchcock’s film. “Data is like a blonde”, he said, which got a reaction from the audience and one he expected. He meant that data is being looked at in a voyeuristic way, like James Stewart in the film watching the blonde woman and how there is an uneasy feeling of being followed without consent. He also referred to our data being looked at without us knowing who or what they are doing with it. The pace didn’t slow down when Andrew continued to discuss the human dimension of data. “Social media is bringing us closer together and is uniting the human race, but is the data really bringing us together? We are going through a data revolution, first we lived in villages, then we lived in streets, now we live on the web.” Data is everywhere and transparent, “we are living in an age of rapid transparency”. We do have the choice and we make the choice to share everything with everyone on the web. Digital narcissism + alienation.
As people we should not become data, we should make a stand and draw the line. How do we say no? Andrew made people think about what data they are sharing. Every time we use Google for example, our data is being saved and companies are selling our data without our knowledge or consent. “We need to teach the web to forget.” What is the answer? All or nothing – it’s only the very rich or very poor who can make the decision. We need to learn to curate our own identity and manage our own data.
On reflection as the session came to a close, Andrew really delivered a great presentation and managed to make people think. He had some interesting ideas about data and being so vocal he made the panel debate very lively. It was great to see all the speakers who are passionate and believe in what they do and it was amazing that data could bring about such strong and diverse opinions to the session. This session has made data a thought provoking topic and one that will continue to deliver great sessions. I will be thinking about my data and how i use it from now on. He was a very interesting guy and one to follow on Twitter. I look forward to the next discussion on data and as the world changes I am sure data will not be going away any time soon.