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Big Data

Posted By David Marble, Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The term "Big Data” is thrown around so much lately that we tend to gloss over its significance.  Some folks brush the trend off as nothing new; a natural evolution under Moore’s law.  As OSHEAN looks to 100+Gbps networks, I have become intrigued by the applications that are now emerging—applications which utilize massive data sets and ultra-fast networks to enable entirely new areas of science.

Data sets have become markedly complex.  In response, Data Mining has emerged as a new branch of IT, tasked with developing the tool sets necessary to explore and correlate the massive amounts of data being collected in given research areas.  It is interesting to think about the evolution of these tool sets that can be launched against these data sets to uncover trends and relationships even when the researcher doesn’t know what s/he is looking for.  I was always taught the scientific method where one started out with a hypothesis, collected data, ran test cases, and drew conclusions.  Now, with Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA) techniques, we can start with the data and launch tools to generate the hypothesis.  Wilder still, there has been an explosion in our abilities to use visualization tools to help understand and represent massive data sets and outcomes.  The possibilities pouring from these new capabilities are mind-boggling.  With every technological leap of this sort, we are also confronted with moral dilemmas and this one is no exception as we face ethical questions surrounding privacy, security, governance, and ownership of data.

I was a huge fan of the Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov and read with vigor his seminal work "The Foundation Trilogy” when I was in high school (I reread it about 10 years later).  One of the central themes in this work was the idea that well into the future, mankind would have so much data describing human behavior that we would have the ability to write programs that would predict future outcomes at a societal level.  Asimov, to his credit, tackled the ethical dilemmas facing the holders of governance to a populace that had developed a branch of science called Psychohistory—which produced quantitative capabilities to predict macro-level trends in societal evolution that ultimately included the prediction of the demise of its own galactic empire.  Holders of this knowledge were then faced with the moral conundrum of how to handle this data and what to do to manipulate a different outcome.  Sound like any headlines you have read lately?

Tags:  big data  broadband rhode island  exploratory data analysis  moore's law 

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