Cory Leonard

Brooks on Why Big Data Isn’t Always the Answer

In tech on April 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Big data is a tool, not a worldview.  We need better data–and it helps make more informed decisions–but what are the limits?  Brooks probes:

If you are relying just on data, you will have a tendency to trust preferences and anticipate a continuation of what is happening right now. Soros makes money by exploiting other people’s misinterpretations and anticipating when they will become unsustainable.

Then there is the distinction between commodity decisions and flourishing decisions. Some decisions are straightforward commodities: what route to work is likely to be fastest. Big data can help. Flourishing decisions are things like who to marry, who to befriend, what career calling to pursue and what college to choose. These decisions involve trying to find people, places and things that harmonize with your subjective self. It’s a mistake to take subjective intuition out of this decision because subjectivity is the whole point.

One of my take-aways is that big data is really good at telling you what to pay attention to. It can tell you what sort of student is likely to fall behind. But then to actually intervene to help that student, you have to get back in the world of causality, back into the world of responsibility, back in the world of advising someone to do x because it will cause y.

Big data is like the offensive coordinator up in the booth at a football game who, with altitude, can see patterns others miss. But the head coach and players still need to be on the field of subjectivity.

via What You’ll Do Next – NYTimes.com.

 

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