"Big Data" - Who Makes Money off it + How does it Affect YOU?

Will data science increase operational efficiencies and create new savings, less waste, and thus greater wealth for humanity? What secrets can pouring over your data give to an organization, be they nefarious, marketers, or perhaps trying save your life?

What is Big Data?

In our everyday lives we take in and evaluate data almost unconsciously, whether it’s noting someone is consistently late and adjusting our expectations of them, to noting traffic trends and tailoring our schedule accordingly. 

“Big Data” refers to vast amounts of data recorded digitally and analyzed using vast and previously unavailable computational power to uncover trends and patterns. It is already being used in medical diagnostics, to keep physical machines running smoothly, and even to understand you as an individual. 

Examples of Big Data in Use

For each example I have put the data being used in italics. 
Video- How Big data is Revolutionizing Medicine

Medicine- After feeding a computer millions of breast tissue cell images, and with a feedback loop from an expert team of doctors, A Harvard team was able to demonstrate their program could pinpoint, with 92 percent accuracy, cancer cells among samples of breast tissue cells.

Data driven A/I medicine literally brings WebMD to an entirely different stratosphere, and will save billions of dollars in time and resources by allowing the collective expertise of doctors to be dispensed by computers to thousands of people per minute, rather a single patient every twelve.

Machines- Imagine tiny sensors on jet airplanes measuring exactly how much fuel is being used at a given speed and elevation, enabling Delta to use jet fuel more efficiently. 
Sensors on the outside paneling will measure tension at various nodes for any potential cracks that might be forming, bettering safety. 

How about elevators whose sensors give off a stream of data so that management can predict necessary maintenance before it is needed?

Valuable stuff? You bet, and right now companies like GE and IBM are leading the charge to ring out what is potentially hundreds of billion$ of savings in what is being referred to as the “industrial internet.”
Video- Why Big data is so Frickin' Important

And Now YOU
Okay, so let’s talk about You and your beloved Facebook account. Every time you fill out a questionnaire to see which Star Wars character you’d be if you lived in a Galaxy Far Far Away, you give data snoopers access to your profile (“click on to take the test but we get access to this and that”) It seems innocuous, but each time you do you’re giving them a tremendous amount of valuable information. 
From a mere 68 average Facebook “likes,” according to a Vice News article “it was possible to predict users skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent).” 
Sidenote: The best indicator for heterosexuality was "liking" Wu-Tang Clan. … (“Well Duh!)

But if you said, "I bet it doesn’t stop there," then I'd say you're getting the hang of this. Let’s keep going down the rabbit hole a little. From these public likes on Facebook, researchers were able to determine your Intelligence, religious affiliation, and alcohol, cigarette and drug use … what you had for breakfast (Editors note: We doubt the last one, unless you’re one of those annoying people that posts photos of what you eat. We sifted through our own data and came to the following conclusion: No one cares!) 


Rewarding You Rewards Themselves
I like savings when I’m shopping, heck yes I'm going to use an in-house rewards card at a store. You might think it will cost their bottom line ... guess again; companies that know how to parse through their data make it back and then some. 
For example, using their personal rewards system, Target was able to identify specific items purchased over a short time period that highly correlated with the shopper being pregnant, which was especially valuable to the chain as marketers have determined pregnancy as a rare moment when customer loyalty was more fluid. 
Without an ounce of medical data, they were able to send out individualized custom advertisements to these women with maternity items highlighted, leading to an increase in sales and a likely more loyal customer.  

Now imagine with all the other data you give away, likely without even knowing it, and what the CIA and marketers (not sure who would consult who for info) can predict about you. 


So now that we have a grasp of “Big data” and a tiny fraction of the potential uses of it today, In our next column we will discuss whether the analogy holds true that "data is the new oil," and then we will go on to predict the likely big winners from the data revolution.



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