The promise of big data is huge. It empowers us to take in monumental amounts of information, more than we could ever hope to process across multiple lifetimes, and make sense of the disparate pieces in a matter of hours. We can find correlations that we previously would have missed. Big data has been used to solve impossibly complex problems, from logistics to crime. We’re using it to find trends we otherwise could never identity, and those trends have unearthed insights ranging from diseases to to human behavior. And the speed at which we can do it is astounding; these days, live data is becoming an increasingly common expectation. We’ve gained power that was beyond the imagination just 20 years ago.
With that promise of power comes, of course, a huge responsibility. Unfortunately, we don’t know quite how big that responsibility is. Neither do we know how big of an impact a misstep could have. A few people have embarked upon the journey to find those edges. What they’ve come back with are hair-raising stories of frightening but impossible armageddons (think science fiction.) Others who are exploring the lands closer to home have come back with questions about privacy, surveillance, consent, and security. How do we account for these issues as technology becomes more and more powerful? Where does humanity fit in a world dominated by technology? As we make the mad dash towards the promise of progress, it seems as if we’re removing our very selves from the picture. No wonder why we’ve begun to fear technology taking over our jobs or enslaving people. Even if, for now, it’s mostly in the realm of science fiction.