Big Data and Machine Learning Is Shaping Society

The Information Age is Changing the World Around Us

Vast quantities of data and AI tools to make sense of it all can bring profound changes to our world, and also some thought-provoking challenges.

Information is power, or so the saying goes. In the world of 2019, there is more information than ever before, but the real challenge is making sense of it all. With more aspects of our lives being lived online, every mouse click, every social media like and every e-commerce page browsed tells a story. This is the world of big data, and we are only beginning to understand and harness the power that all this information can bring.

Increasing granularity

In the 17th or 18th century, it was possible for a professional in a given field to say, with complete sincerity, that he knew all there was to know on his chosen subject. A doctor or lawyer could read up on the appropriate case law and be a complete authority on arthritis or UK boundary disputes. Today, the data that is available on either of these topics is increasing every day, as new research is carried out or new case law comes into effect. It would be impossible for any one person to keep up, and even if they read every new piece of data, they would spend all their lives researching and no time practicing medicine or law.

This is where big data consulting comes to the fore. Imagine a doctor looking to make a diagnosis specific to one type of arthritis and its effect on the wrist in men over 50. Even when taking this highly granular approach, the amount of data out there is immense. The consultant could use his personal knowledge and compliment it with an hour spent looking at the latest research online. However, he would barely scratch the surface.

With machine learning, artificial intelligence can examine a thousand times as much case history and research, compare it with the symptoms of a specific patient and come up with a diagnosis and proposed course of action in a matter of seconds. That is not to say that AI is “better” than the doctor or will render him obsolete, just that it is a tool that will help him treat patients faster and more effectively by using big data in a way that is far beyond the capability of the human brain.

Protecting our data

The doctor example is just one illustration of how big data analytics can bring about massive changes and improvements. You could similarly look at how analysis of online activities and traffic can provide insights to sales teams about buyer behaviour.

However, the notion of our every online move being tracked and analysed by some faceless AI might not sit entirely comfortably with everyone. 2018 saw the introduction of the GDPR, which sets out to provide better protection and privacy where personal data is concerned.

Just how well machine learning and the GDPR operate together is a topic that has already raised more questions than answers. Ultimately, however, big data is not going to go away, and machine learning brings too many benefits to simply ignore it. Finding the optimum way to utilise it while protecting the privacy of billions of internet users will be one of the fundamental talking points of the year ahead.