The amount of data in the world is growing by leaps and bounds. Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, a professor of Internet governance and regulation, and Kenneth Cukier, the data editor of the Economist, describe it in this way: "If it were all printed in books, they would cover the entire surface of the United States some 52 layers thick." Another way of thinking of the digital deluge is to envision it as "giving every living person on Earth today 320 times as much information as is estimated to have been stored in the Library of Alexandria." No wonder we all feel swamped and decked by information overload!
Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier believe that big data is transforming business, the sciences, healthcare, government, education, economics, the humanities, and every other aspect of society. Here are a few examples of what it can do: "Amazon can recommend the ideal book, Google can rank the most relevant website, Facebook knows our likes, and LinkedIn divines whom we know."
Throughout this fascinating book, the authors present ways in which big data is animating travel, banking, journalism, and more. Devotees of this phenomenon point to the benefits that will accrue to society such as addressing climate change, eradicating disease, fostering good government, and advancing crime control. Computers can now gather and analyze millions of transactions or process billions of online activities.
Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier assess the meanings of the datification of society with its quantitative emphasis on all that we do along with the presumption that the world is best understood through numbers and math. Part of this development is revealed in the feature film Moneyball that showed how "sabermetrics" has replaced the judgments of scouts in baseball.
Skeptics of big data are apprehensive of its messiness, the difficulties of governing its emphasis on more trumping better, and its invasions of privacy. Only time will tell whether or not these objections will stem the tide of digital information.