A quick and simple explanation: Big Data …

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… is the processing of the large amounts of data we all produce. Every Like, every purchase, every transaction, and everything that leaves a trace in the Internet is stored, analyzed, and used. This has its pros and cons. At the end of the day it’s about how we handle Big Data. To better illustrate this phenomenon to you we are going to take a trip into the past.

The modern oracle

In the ancient world, oracles were the medium for all social classes. Priests usually assumed this role. The oracle was consulted on important decisions. The priests, in a trance-like state, made contact with a higher authority. The information received was then bundled into an answer. The plausibility of the answers was left for each individual to ponder.

The principle of Big Data works in a similar way. It accesses an enormous pool of real data and bundles it into a conclusion that has significantly higher validity.

The oracles of our time do not go into a trance. Using the footprints we leave on the Internet, large online retailers and many other big companies can predict, for example, which product or which service consumer X would like to purchase in the near future. A well-known case from the United States provides an example.

Big Data already knows

The father of an American teenager was outraged after a large retailer sent her advertising targeted at young mothers. He complained to them that his daughter was much too young to be receiving such advertising. But as it turned out, the company knew more than the father because the daughter was, in fact, pregnant. She stopped, for instance, consuming alcohol and started buying unscented lotions. With the help of Big Data, the retailing group put two and two together and was dead on about the pregnancy. This new method of disseminating targeted information, however, is not just useful for boosting sales of goods and services.

Search and you shall find

Based on user queries, the best-known search engine in the world was able to foretell flu epidemics even before the health authorities. That was the beginning of the project “Google Flu Trends”. Twenty-nine countries were analyzed in order to paint a precise picture of the spread of the flu and notify the authorities. Certainly a nice gesture, but the search-engine giant also has other ways to skin that cat. The patented “Dynamic Pricing Model” adapts the price of a good or service to the current market situation, as well as to the financial strength of each customer. This means that someone with a lower income pays less for the same product than a person with a higher income. And speaking of higher prices …

Carrot and stick

Monitoring bodily functions with a smart watch may soon be rewarded with lower insurance premiums. The flip side: anyone who refuses to share their personal information could be penalized with higher insurance premiums. The same is also true for car insurance. Someone who reveals on social media that they like auto racing may soon have to pay more for their car insurance. As mentioned, it depends on how this immense trove of knowledge is handled.

Big Data: chef, doctor and much more

Web applications collect ingredients from hundreds of thousands of cookbooks. Based on the contents of a refrigerator they then put a recipe together which can be duplicated or perhaps even prepared by the kitchen itself some day. But Big Data not only has a sense for individual recipes, it can also be used for preventative purposes.

For example in the early detection of Parkinson’s disease. In the future not only will what a person types into their smart phone matter, but how they type. Detecting the How could thus become a potential indicator for vulnerability to Parkinson’s.

What else could become possible and how Big Data will affect our society cannot yet be accurately predicted. It is in our hands to steer this relatively new digital revolution in the right direction in order to reap the mutual benefits.

Pictures © Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash; Edho Pratama on UnsplashArtur Łuczka on Unsplash


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