I am quite taken by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology academic Alex Pentland. His new book about big data, Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science, is highly interesting and quite of the moment. Using physics and mathematics to improve machine power identifying social and economic patterns in data is becoming faster and more detailed. This in itself is not a new thing, but it is bringing benefits to enterprises as they exploit their own big data vaults.
Even the unsexy public transport sector is discovering the fruits of their big data labours such as traffic control in Dublin and Dutch light railway effectiveness. The hotness of big data was further propelled into the spotlight by the UK government announcement of the Alan Turing Institute. This will lead research into the power of big data for UK business and innovation.
So squeezing intelligence from enterprise big data is one thing. But what if you want to harness big data available from elsewhere?
In my field of health, big data is deemed important and transformational for the cause of the health of the nation. It is hard to go to a meeting, a conference, or even regular conversation on any given day without it being mentioned as something that we should be doing and harnessing its mystical power.
There is a part of me that feels like I am caught up in hype but a recent Wired article assures me that 2014 is the year that ‘big data gets real’ and we finally get to grips with the term and leave the hype behind? But could it help us deliver or design better services in health? I really do feel like I am tinkering around the edge.
I am interested in a most basic question – what keeps you healthy? This has led to some interesting work around community asset discovery and curating small to medium sized data for selected geographic locations. But the question is would big data enhance our own data and improve user experience outcomes and satisfaction levels? We think government and third sector (community and social enterprise) data sets would add not just volume but depth to Scottish community health. For example public transport, housing, health improvement, planning controls, sports and leisure activities and commercial outlets are all important to how we live and thrive.
There is a technology aspect when it comes to bringing different content together and making it shareable. All the better if it is open source technology too, as it can be taken to hackathons. Bringing coders and service design folks together can lead to innovation around your data and big available datasets, but will also be focused on designing better services. For me that means a service that end users need and will use.
It seems like everyone is talking about big data either in the enterprise or public dataset use. Some of it is hype, some of it is politicking, some is case study, and some of it is tinkering around the edge. From my viewpoint very few seem to have nailed it and we are at the infancy of big data.
A lot of content is hardly a new thing. Using technology is not new either. Big data has an old fashioned element – keep asking the right questions and tinkering.