Big Data, We Have a Communication Problem
by Daniel Tunkelang
Presented on April 30, 2013 at the TTI/Vanguard Conference on Ginormous Systems
It's a cliché that we live in a world of Big Data. But the bottleneck in understanding data is not computational. Rather, the biggest challenge is designing technical solutions that effectively leverage human cognitive ability. Data analysis systems should augment people's capabilities rather than replace them. This argument is as old as computer science itself: in 1962, Doug Engelbart said that the goal of technology is “the enhancement of human intellect by increasing the capability of a human to approach a complex problem situation.” Algorithms extract signal from raw data, but people fill in the gaps, creating models and evaluating analyses.
Empowering people to understand data is not just a surface problem of building better interfaces and visualizations. We need to interact with data not only after performing computational analysis, but throughout the analysis process in order to improve our models and algorithms. In order to do so, we need tools and processes specifically designed to offer people transparency, guidance, and control.
Human-computer information retrieval has been revolutionizing our approach to information seeking -- no modern search engine limits users to black-box relevance ranking and ten blue links. We need to take similar steps in our analysis of big data, making people the center of the analysis process and developing the technical innovations that enable people to fulfill this role.