Big Data Quotes: Einstein, Come Back When You’ve Got Data

Dyson_George“Big data is what happened when the cost of storing information became less than the cost of making the decision to throw it away”—George Dyson (quoted by Tim O’Reilly)

“If the engineers have their way, every idea, memory, and feeling—the recorded consciousness of a single lifetime—will be stored in the cloud… ‘Information overload’ once referred to the difficulty of absorbing intelligently the data produced by others. Now we face the peril of choking on our own…By remembering everything, we may become haunted by our pasts and immobilized by digital distractions—or we may gain new powers to prevent the bad and promote the good”—G. Pascal Zachary

“[I]n a world where massive datasets can be analysed to identify patterns not easily identified using simpler analogue methods, what happens to genius of the Einstein variety?

Genius is about big ideas, not big data. Analysing the attributes and characteristics of anything is guaranteed to find some patterns. It is inherently a theoretical exercise, one that requires minimal thought once you’ve figured out what you want to measure. If you’re not sure, just measure everything you can get your hands on. Since the number of observations — the size of the sample — is by definition huge, the laws of statistics kick in quickly to ensure that significant relationships will be identified. And who could argue with the data?

Unfortunately, analysing data to identify patterns requires you to have the data. That means that big data is, by necessity, backward-looking; you can only analyze what has happened in the past, not what you can imagine happening in the future. In fact, there is no room for imagination, for serendipitous connections to be made, for learning new things that go beyond the data. Big data gives you the answer to whatever problem you might have (as long as you can collect enough relevant information to plug into your handy supercomputer). In that world, there is nothing to learn; the right answer is given…

What if Albert Einstein lived today and not 100 years ago? What would big data say about the general theory of relativity, about quantum theory? There was no empirical support for his ideas at the time — that’s why we call them breakthroughs.

Today, Einstein might be looked at as a curiosity, an ‘interesting’ man whose ideas were so out of the mainstream that a blogger would barely pay attention. Come back when you’ve got some data to support your point”—Sidney Finkelstein