That’s according to a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. The report asks a hand-picked group of “Internet experts, observers and stakeholders” to examine two scenarios about the evolution of big data and to predict which one will more likely take hold by 2020.
More than half – 54% – of the group predict that big data and the increasingly connected planet, the Internet of Things, will produce an overall positive effect by the year 2020. Meanwhile, 39% say that big data will have an overall negative effect, while 8% don’t offer an answer.
The main findings from the report include:
- By 2020, we should be seeing progress in the use of big data to improve our understanding of ourselves and the world
- Open access to tools and data “transparency” are necessary for people to provide information checks and balances
- Big data is being widely viewed through rose-colored glasses, and it has the potential for significant “distribution of harms” that may be impossible to avoid
- We won’t have the human or technological capacity to analyze big data accurately and efficiently
- People are concerned about the power agendas of governments and corporations, the interests with the most big data resources
“Media and regulators are demonizing big data and its supposed threat to privacy,” notes Jeff Jarvis, professor and blogger, in the report. “Such moral panics have occurred often thanks to changes in technology. But the moral of the story remains: there is value to be found in this data, value in our new found publicness. Google’s founders have urged government regulators not to require them to quickly delete searches because, in their patterns and anomalies, they have found the ability to track the outbreak of the flu before health officials could and they believe that by similarly tracking a pandemic, millions of lives could be saved.”
David Weinberger of Harvard University’s Berkman Center says, “We are just beginning to understand the range of problems big data can solve, even though it means acknowledging that we’re less unpredictable, free, madcap creatures than we’d like to think. It also raises the prospect [that] some of our most important knowledge will consist of truths we can’t understand because our pathetic human brains are just too small.”
Respondents say they have concerns about the motives of governments and corporations, the entities that have the most data and the incentives to analyze it. Manipulation and surveillance are at the hearts of their big data agendas, according to the respondents.
“The world is too complicated to be usefully encompassed in such an undifferentiated big idea. Whose ‘big data’ are we talking about? Wall Street, Google, the NSA? I am small, so generally I do not like big,” says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org.
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