Big Data: A New Way of Interacting with Information

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In its most basic definition, big data is nothing but a large set of information. If that is the case, what is the novelty behind big data and why has it become essential in information technology courses? In this article, we discuss the concept of Big Data and how it has changed the way we interact with information.

What exactly are big data?

Before we define big data, it is necessary to establish the meaning of data by itself. Ralph Schroeder, a researcher for the Oxford Internet Institute, establishes three key characteristics of data: it exists before its analysis, it belongs to a specific object, and it’s collected about said object. For example, your age exists whether you address it or not. With that in mind, Google or Facebook finds out your age, then they analyse it.

According to this, big data is when the information is so large that it cannot be handled manually. That is why the technology field keeps creating algorithmic and hardware able to store and analyse big data. Big data is, for now, mostly a private companies’ game, like social media platforms or security companies, since it helps execute highly effective business strategies.

As technology becomes widely available for the public in smartphones, computers, smart watches, and other smart home appliances, the data accumulated only grows. Approximately 56% of the global population have some kind of continuous access to technology. With this in mind, by 2025, it is expected that we will have at least 175 zettabytes of information. A Zettabyte is equivalent to a sextillion byte.

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How do we use big data?

The saying information is power never has been as real as it is now. Big data not only helps companies to provide precise marketing. It has also permeated the economic, political, and social sectors. One infamous instance is the 2016 United States elections and the involvement of Cambridge Analytica.

Other uses are related to the medical field. It can help doctors to diagnose medical conditions, and even assesses the risk for future conditions. During the pandemic, health providers found the data provided by dispositive like smart watches, especially helpful to keep track of their chronic patients or covid-19 patients recovering at home.

However, it is mostly used to further advance technology. For example, big data are necessary for Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. In the case of Machine Learning, the data recollected can be used in computer algorithms to improve by themselves, that is how the Google search algorithm works. In the future, most computers will be able to learn with the help of data, we will have more intelligent machines.

Given the multiple uses of big data in our current society, it is a great time to learn to manage it. But first, we must understand that not only data, scientists or programmers have a role in the analysis of big data. Professionals in sociology, anthropology, or other social sciences can give the context necessary to take maximum advantage of the data and learn about human behaviour.

Nonetheless, the use of data and privacy has raised ethical dilemmas for governments and private companies alike. In the next years we can expect to find more and more public policies regarding the mining of data in different countries. In the last years, organizations like the European Union, UNESCO, and OECD have taken steps to ensure the regulation of big data and similar technologies like artificial intelligence.

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