Big Data, Big Potential

10th November 2014

Big data is a method of data gathering and analytics which can benefit a wide range of industries in lots of different ways. This is demonstrated by the Met Office’s recent investment in big data, as they plan to purchase a “supercomputer” in order to provide more accurate forecasts. The £97 million supercomputer will perform 16,000 trillion calculations per second and will be one of the most powerful computers of its type in the world. The huge amount of data it collects will be used to give a more accurate forecast of the weather and will even be able to predict climate change trends. This will result in advanced warnings of floods, less disruption for air travel and will also provide a detailed picture of where investments for renewable energy and climate change should be spent.

What is it?

That sounds great, but what exactly is “big data”? The term can be quite confusing, as it is quite difficult to define. Lisa Arthur, writing for Forbes, defines it as: “a collection of data from traditional and digital sources inside and outside your company that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis”. Sourcing data from a wide range of places allows for in depth analysis and forecasts, to help improve services and systems in business, technology and society.

Improving the Environment

The use of technology and big data can be used to improve living conditions and communities. City planners, for example, are collating data from cyclists within cities to “analyse and improve city infrastructure and urban design”. Those that are willingly contributing to the data are able to improve their communities and environment with very little imposition on themselves. If a group of people were willing to cooperate with organisations looking to improve certain aspects of living and environments, there may be scope for wearables to be an integral part of big data capture (this goes for the apps that facilitate this too).

Big Data in Healthcare

Healthcare data is growing increasingly every year, and if we can find a way to properly mine and utilise this data we could significantly improve the wellbeing of patients. We took a look at technology’s impact on the health industry in an earlier post. If wearables are used to collect data from those suffering with illness or disease on a large scale, then more effective cures and treatments may be found as a result. Finding a way of doing this which is inexpensive will be the real challenge.

Big Issues?

So, while big data is extremely useful, it isn’t always completely reliable… One issue with collecting big data from people is the likelihood of sample bias. Strava is a smartphone app which logs users’ workouts and commutes. This data is then used in an attempt to improve the infrastructure of the environment, for example cutting down travel times, reducing congestion etc. The problem with this is that data is only being collected from people with smartphones, thus providing a bias. We are only seeing a representation of a certain type of person; the type of person that can afford a smartphone. Big data can also be tricky to analyse, therefore in depth analysis can be extremely costly.

Huge Potential

The potential for big data is extremely exciting, and despite its potential flaws it is worth remembering that it is still in its infancy. The improvement in technology such as wearables, smartphones and apps is helping and will continue to improve big data. In turn, this will affect all aspects of society and will only serve to streamline and advance the way we live.

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