The pleasure of Big Data

Tech blog

Sixty-two per cent of people think children should be independent, while the rest prefer them obedient.  Fifty-five per cent of people are pessimists by nature.

Seventy-six per cent of singles between 35 to 45 years are ready to marry someone with whom they can never have children. 

Twenty-five per cent of college-going women think better romance would improve their lives, but only 13% of middle aged women think so. These are a few samples from a survey that is running at an online project on big data (www.thehumanfaceofbigdata.com).

The answers give an interesting insight into what people think on various issues and are displayed live on the web site.

Data is the oil of our times and Big Data is the refinery, which makes useful products out of the crude. Thanks to the spread of smart devices an unprecedented amount of information is being generated about our surroundings; the ability to process all these information is also improving immensely.

The Human Face of Big Data project, conceived by photo journalist Rick Smolan, besides hosting the survey mentioned above is also collecting useful examples of how big data is changing our lives. 

Shwetak Patel of California found that every device at home, which consumes power, has a unique digital signature that can be detected with simple wireless sensors.

He tracked the power consumption of these devices and found that digital video recorders hog 11 percent of household power. To manage the water bodies that surround their country, Australian scientists collect terabytes of data through various sources including sensor floats and animal tags.

They have built a massive database different aspects of the oceans from animal migration to carbon storage. 

A team of researchers analysed massive amount of discarded ECG data of heart attack patients. They found that three abnormalities in ECG data correlated to pose a substantially higher risk of dying from a second heart attack within a year. 

Macular degeneration patients lose eye sight as the disease destroys the photoreceptors in the eye.  A researcher Sheila Nirenberg has found a way to help them.

Patients wear eyeglasses fitted with cameras; custom software created through high-speed, parallel processing computers recreate the complex signals that the healthy retina produces.

Smolan has collected hundreds of examples, in his forthcoming book, which show how big data is changing lives. 

But Big Data is a double-edged sword. It adds to the computing load, a major culprit in global warming. It is also helping governments collect massive amount of data about people and crunch them.

For anyone, who wants to create a surveillance society, Big Data is an undisguised blessing.

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