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BLOG: Big Data is not Big Brother

Zafar Anjum | Oct. 3, 2012
Big Data can be humanitarian or Orwellian in its application.

Here's another example. During the Republican convention this year, when Hollywood actor and director Clint Eastwood spoke to an empty chair, the 'chair' became one of the hot words on Twitter. It went viral. Another interesting nugget: more people in France talked about Romney than they talked about Obama (France currently has a left of centre government).

What are the lessons here? This kind of information can be important for Obama's or Romney's campaign manager. They can take the pulse of the voters through these analytics and design their messaging accordingly. The system (the one that EMC sells) is so smart that they can let you drill down to the tweets that are coming from particular geographies from the USA.

Similarly, the EMC investigations of one billion tweets showed that people in Africa are looking for a cure for malaria, and not just talking about it (that's what happens at big government and non-profit summits, mostly). People in India and Africa are talking about fake medicines and suggesting ways to combat the scourge of such practices.

Despite the concerns around privacy, an EMC official pointed out that India's UID project, which is creating a database of all its 1.2 billion citizens with thumb print and iris scans, will revolutinise public delivery and governance in the country in terms of fighting corruption in the public distribution system and in other government-sponsored employment schemes.

Similarly, census data in Ireland can now be captured via a smartphone app and the government can now collect data anytime-every week or month or year-instead of doing it once in eight years. This has the potential to transform governance in a country like Ireland.

The Singapore government is already using Big Data in a big way. The government is collecting public feedback through portals and social media. At the EMC event, Kristian Kloeckl, research scientist and Real-Time City Group Lead, Senseable City Lab, also showed a demo on how the data that was collected from various companies in Singapore-taxi and train service providers, gas and power service providers, Singapore Land Transport Authority, and so on-can be visually represented and made use of to improve services in the country.

For example, one set of charts showed how a simple electricity bill can be designed like a credit card bill and show exactly how much power (and hence, cost) each and every item in the household (your fridge, PC, laptop, washing machine, etc) consumed. With that knowledge, customers can better decide how much power to use on what equipment and save money.

It's still early days for Big Data and the technologies are being developed to look deeper into it. Big Data has principally two sides to it: how to capture the data and store it smartly and how to present the data in a simple, intuitive and appealing manner.


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