“The term “big data” has recently taken hold in the technology industry. It is bandied about at conferences, in advertisements and is de rigeur at presentations to venture capitalists. But no one really knows what it means. The amount of data to process has always seemed to outstrip the tools available; data has always seemed “big” to someone. After all, the guidance control computer on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969 had all of 64 kilobytes of memory.
In Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth N. Cukier define what is new and why it matters. The media and business analysts have so far only skirted the surface of the issue, focusing on the size of the data deluge and the fancy new tricks that data-crunching can do. Both are interesting, but they miss a more important point. Big Data tells of a much more significant transformation. Big data does not simply allow us to do new things. Rather, it forces us to change the way we think about and interact with the world.
With big data, things that could never be measured, stored, analyzed or shared are becoming data-ized: quantified in digital form. Harnessing all the data rather than a sample, and privileging more data of less exactitude, opens the door to new ways to understand the world. It enables society to give up its time-honored preference for causality, and in many instances tap the benefits of correlation. The search to know why something happens is no longer the be-all and end-all, big data overturns it. The certainties we believed in are changing–replaced, ironically, by better evidence. Big Data explains where we are, how we got here, and provides a roadmap for what lies ahead.”