[ EVENT ] What’s the big deal with Big Data?

On Thursday 9th October, Professor Maggie Boden, research professor of cognitive science at Sussex University, Dr Norman Lewis, director of PwC’s crowd sourced innovation programme and Phil Booth, co-ordinator of medConfidential will be speaking at an event in Brighton called ‘What’s the big deal with Big Data?’ So – what is the big deal?

big data

Well, Big Data is everywhere. By analysing statistical trends gleaned from masses of information provided over the internet, Big Data promises to revolutionise the way we provide and consume services and policy-makers allocate resources.

Google claims that through the use of medical data-mining on software such as Flu Trends it could potentially save 10,000 lives a year if we would be more willing to set aside privacy concerns, whilst everything from massive infrastructural projects to supermarket stocking will massively benefit from a precise, real-time analysis of consumer behaviour. Some even predict that Big Data can provide even greater insights than accurate metrics: with programmes under development to mark university papers, assess the fairness of arts criticism and even predict potential areas of political unrest and destabilisation.

Yet, amidst all the hype, some commentators have expressed scepticism over what Big Data can and cannot show us. Despite its initial successes, Google Flu Trends has struggled with reliability as its data-sets have grown more wide and varied – and, it is argued, it is a problem confronting many similarly hyped projects. For some, the analysis offered by Big Data has not yet demonstrated it can properly adapt to the unpredictability of certain human behaviours or judgements: even famed political analyst Nate Silver came unstuck when he tipped Brazil as clear favourites for this year’s World Cup and attempts to apply data mining techniques to translation and other qualitative judgements have thrown up very dubious results. So far, it is claimed, it offers an advance on existing statistical models rather than replacement; yet others counter that as techniques and algorithms grow more sophisticated many of these issues will be soon overcome.

Is the excitement generated by big data based simply on its potential or has it already started to deliver on its promised data-driven revolution? Will the benefits offered by data mining outstrip the fears we may be heading towards a ‘dictatorship of data’? How should we effectively balance concerns over privacy and accuracy with its possibly innovative uses? Are there any obvious limitations about how and where it can be applied? Will data help us better interpret the world or profoundly change it?

When / Where? ‘What’s the big deal with Big Data?’ will be at The Friends’ Meeting House, Ship Street, Brighton on Thursday 9th October at 7.30pm until 9pm, when all are welcome to join the group at The Cricketers pub nearby.

The event is a satellite of this year’s Battle of Ideas, a weekend festival of public discussion organised by the Institute of Ideas, held at the Barbican in London, over the weekend of 18-19 October 2014. This year the festival is celebrating its 10th birthday by hosting a no-holds-barred interrogation of future political, social and cultural trends.


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