Is Big Data Spreading Inequality?
The New York Times
Social media companies depend on selling information about their users’ clicks and purchases to data brokers who match ads to the most receptive individuals. But the Federal Trade Commission and the White House have called for legislation that would inform consumers about the data collected and sold to companies, warning of analytics that have “the potential to eclipse longstanding civil rights protections.” Does the collection of data by companies threaten consumers’ civil rights? ♦ This edition of the NYT’s excellent “Room for Debate” forum includes essays by thought leaders from the Future of Privacy Forum, the Open Technology Institute and Princeton among others.
A White House report on big data released May 1 concludes that the explosion of data in today’s world can be an unprecedented driver of social progress, but it also has the potential to eclipse basic civil rights and privacy protections. The report drew praise from business and technology groups for its grasp of how big data analytics could improve education and health care, uncover wasteful government spending and help with the nation’s continuing economic recovery. But those same groups cautioned that government attempts to regulate data collection could interfere with productivity and job growth.
There are some things that just weren’t possible before the world wide web and cloud computing, and a recently launched emotion-quantification project called “We Feel” is one of them. The project, which is a partnership between Australia’s Black Dog Institute and its Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, is analyzing every English-language Twitter post around the world in order to determine how people are feeling. Using data from Gnip, the social-media data feed that Twitter recently acquired, We Feel gauges where tweets range on a spectrum from “joy” to “fear” (as well as “surprise”) and then breaks them down at a more-granular level (e.g., from “joy” to “zest” to “invigorated”). It also captures metadata on the countries from which tweets are coming, the sex of the person doing the tweeting and the timestamp of the tweet.
Even in a wired world, some simple data is still surprisingly hard to get — like how much it rains. The basic rain gauge has been around for hundreds of years, and it’s still a standard tool used by agencies like the National Weather Service to help predict flooding and monitor droughts. But gauges are expensive to maintain, and there are only a few thousand in the entire world that can actually report data in real time. That’s not enough for an accurate picture of the weather. A team of Dutch scientists wants to use the crowd instead, by turning umbrellas into mini weather-monitoring stations. Every time it rains, smart umbrellas would use sensors to detect falling drops, and then use Bluetooth to send a report to a smartphone app. As people walk around with umbrellas throughout a city during a storm, each app would send in data to a central system where meteorologists could use it to come up with better predictions.
The Wall Street Journal
A new wave of consumer applications is putting big data at everyone’s fingertips. Large organizations have harnessed the power of data analytics for some time. But consumer services are finding more ways to use business intelligence to benefit individuals. One thing that makes this all possible is the growing availability of large public and private information sources. Government agencies and companies like Facebook Inc., Google Inc. and Twitter Inc. offer APIs — application programming interfaces — that allow other software makers to access and use their data. Even as consumers worry about the effect on their privacy of all the personal information that is widely shared, many are finding ways to benefit from new, readily accessible, data-rich services.
Public schools nationwide are taking a cue from business, harnessing big data to improve student outcomes, help school districts make better hiring decisions and help governments use their education dollars more effectively. The results may be more successful students, better teacher retention and more finely tuned administration policies.
Thoughts On Cloud
Among the sea of booths and demos on the expo floor at IBM Pulse 2014, a culinary revolution is happening — and the cloud is its catalyst. It’s called the Cognitive Kitchen, and the fruit of its labor, the IBM Food Truck, is delighting palates while hinting to a world of possibilities. Chef James Briscione and his Institute of Culinary Education team are working with IBM to tap into cognitive computing, and in the process inventing some eyebrow-raising recipes. The flavor combinations are often bold and unprecedented. ♦ “Cognitive computing” is being brought to bear on many areas of endeavor here-to-fore regarded as the preserve of creative intelligence. Today it’s food — what next?