The term “Big Data” has lately been used broadly in scientific and non-scientific publications, penetrating all expressions of common culture. How did Big Data, currently one of the hottest technology buzzwords become a mainstream concept, a term and a marketing tool? In this New York Times article, Steve Lohr reviews the emergence and the penetration of “Bid Data” in daily life.
Big Data refers to the application of the tools of artificial intelligence, to make sense out of vast new troves of data -beyond those captured in standard databases. Among data sources are Web-browsing data trails, social network communications, sensor data and surveillance data. With the help of technology, the elaboration of Big Data through algorithms could purportedly improve decision-making in fields from business to medicine, allowing decisions to be based increasingly on data and analysis rather than intuition and experience.
When it comes to the buzzword, two vital ingredients seem to be at work. The first is that the term itself is not too technical, yet is catchy and vaguely evocative. The second is that behind the term is an evolving set of technologies with great promise, and some pitfalls.
The first scientific publication making explicit use of the term, was written by a group of leading computer science researchers, the Computing Community Consortium, who published an influential white paper, “Big-Data Computing: Creating Revolutionary Breakthroughs in Commerce, Science and Society.” Their endorsement lent intellectual credibility to Big Data.
Shortly later on, Rod A. Smith of I.B.M. stated: “Big Data is really about new uses and new insights, not so much the data itself.” It didn’t take too long for I.B.M. to adopt Big Data in its marketing, especially after it resonated with customers. In 2008, Mr. Smith’s team put up a Web site to explain the Big Data theme. I.B.M. now has a Big Data newsletter, and it also published an e-book, “Understanding Big Data.”
Other similar marketing terms include “data mining,” “business intelligence” and “data analytics.”
IT may seem marketing gold, Lohr states, but Big Data also carries a darker connotation, as a linguistic cousin to the likes of Big Brother, Big Oil and Big Government. Indeed, smart technologies that promise to observe, record and make inferences about human behavior as never before should prompt some second thoughts — both from the people building those technologies and from the people using them.
Read the complete article by Steve Lohr for the New York Times here.