Friday, August 30, 2013

Is big data the 21st century god?

Brilliant piece of writing by  Dirk Helbing, Professor of Sociology, in particular of Modeling and Simulation, and member of the Computer Science Department at ETH Zurich.

Excerpts below. For full article see references section.

If God did not exist people would invent one! The development of human civilization requires mechanisms promoting cooperation and social order. One of these mechanisms is based on the idea that everything we do is seen and judged by God bad deeds will be punished, while good ones will be rewarded. The Information Age has now fueled the dream that God-like omniscience and omnipotence can be created by man.

1. Introduction  

"You're already a walking sensor platform... You are aware of the fact that somebody can know where you are at all times because you carry a mobile device, even if that mobile device is turned off.You know this,I hope? Yes? Well, you should...Since you can't connect dots you don't have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever...It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information."  Ira "Gus" Hunt, CIA Chief Technology Officer

For many decades, the processing power of computer chips has increased exponentially as predicted by "Moore's Law". Storage capacity is growing even faster. We are now entering a phase of the "Internet of Things", where computer chips and measurement sensors will soon be scattered everywhere producing huge amounts of data ("Big Data"). Cell phones, computers and factories,but also our coffee machines, fridges, shoes and clothes, among others are getting more and more connected.

2. Gold Rush for the 21st Century Oil 

 This huge amount of data, including credit card transactions, communication with friends and colleagues, mobility data and more is already celebrated as the Oil of the 21st Century. The gold rush to exploit this valuable resource is just starting. The more data are generated, stored and interpreted, the easier it is for companies and secret services to know us better than our friends and families do.For example, the company "Recorded Future" apparently a joint initiative between Google and the CIA seems to investigate peoples social networks and mobility profiles. Furthermore,credit card companies analyze "consumers genes" the factors that determine our consumer behavior. Our individual motivations are analyzed in order to understand our decisions and influence  our behavior through personalized search, individualized advertisements,and recommendations or decisions of our Facebook friends. But how many of these friends are trustable, how many of them are paid to influence us.


  1. See: and
  2.  For similar recent FBI priorities see
  3. For complete article go here