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If we don’t balance the human values that we care about with the compelling uses of big data, our society risks abandoning them for the sake of mere innovation or expediency.
Ben Torres/Bloomberg via Getty Images
These days, everyone seems to be talking about “big data.” Engineers, researchers, lawyers, executives and self-trackers all tout the surprising insights they can get from applying math to large data sets. The rhetoric of big data is often overblown, exaggerated and contradictory, but there’s an element of truth to the claim that data science is helping us to know more about our world, our society and ourselves.
Data scientists use big data to deliver personalized ads to Internet users, to make better spell checkers and search engines, to predict weather patterns, perform medical research, learn about customers, set prices and plan traffic flow patterns. Big data can also fight crime, whether through the use of automated license-plate readers or, at least theoretically, through the collection of vast amounts of “metadata” about our communications and associations by the National Security Agency.