What’s the Future of Big Data?

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Data is the raw material of the information age.

So says Alec Ross in his book The Industries of the Future.

An expert on innovation, Ross draws parallels between land being the raw material of the agricultural age and iron being the raw material of the he industrial age.

Essentially, big data will touch every aspects of our lives. “Big data,” he says, “is transitioning from a tool primarily for targeted advertising to an instrument with profound applications for diverse corporate sectors and for addressing chronic societal problems.”

Here are a few of his predictions:

  1. During the next decade, big data will enable people to converse in not just one another language but dozens. While I won’t give up on my Spanish studies anytime soon, it’s good to know that data-based help is on the way.
  2. As the world’s population grows, so does the need for more food. “Precision agriculture” enabled by big data will help solve this problem.
  3. Smarter financial systems can be powered by big data. It was surprising, and even a little shocking, to read how antiquated many banking systems still are today.

An important caution is to understand the limits of big data and the critical interplay between machine and mind. This comes in the form of spurious correlations that may result from ever larger and bigger data sets. “Not all the trends it finds are rooted in reality,” he says.

The solution? Including error bars with data analysis predictions. Error bars are “visual representations of how likely a prediction is to be an error rooted in spurious correlation.”

In addition to peering into the future of big data, Ross gives two great tips for “the most important job you will ever have.” How does he define that? Parenting.

What can parents do to help their children be ready to embrace the future?

Ross frames it in terms of languages. The first language is globalism. “Ironically,” he writes, “in a world growing more virtual, it has never been more important to get as many ink stamps in your passport as possible.”

And even though big data may eventually make the need to learn other languages obsolete, it’s wise to learn another language beyond English. The most practical choices, not surprisingly, are Spanish and Mandarin.

The other language to learn is technology. “If big data, genomics, cyber, and robotics are among the high-growth industries of the future,” Ross says, “then the people who will make their livings in these industries need to be fluent in the coding languages behind them.”

Other benefits come with understanding technology. Ross cites fellow pundits who tout the ability to better see patterns and to think in new and different ways. Studying technology is a valuable way to sharpen your critical thinking skills.

One of Ross’ points that I was happiest to see came in the introduction. Because his book explores competitiveness, he delves into the driving force behind competitive countries and businesses being the development of people.

He takes it a critical step further. “And there is no greater indicator of an innovative culture than the empowerment of women. Fully integrating and empowering women economically and politically is the most important step that a country or company can take to strengthen its competitiveness.”

Well said, Alec Ross.

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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