Is The Future of Big Data Bright, Or Bleak?

Written by Ed Higdon on . Posted in Insight


The Internet has a way of taking the good, the bad and the ugly of our daily lives and magnifying them to an exponential degree. A woman wearing skinny jeans passes out while bending over, and suddenly people are calling the pants dangerous. A person is struck by lightning, and panic ensues; yet, in the U.S., deer are much more likely to kill a person than getting struck by lightening. Big data, often positioned as “Big Brother,” has often been a subject of this type of sensational magnification and fear mongering over the years.

While it may be true that some companies and even some governments have used big data for nefarious purposes, those instances are few and far between, and most data collection stems from a desire of simple understanding. The more we learn about behaviors and actions, the more useful and personalized our technologies, products and services will become. The truth is, nobody really knows where data will take us, but the possibilities for the future of big data are endless—whether they are good, bad or ugly.

In the Near Future, Big Data Could Prevent Big Health Crisis

Google’s reputation for protecting privacy has come under fire in recent years, but there have been positive results from its massive data collection efforts. Google has actually figured out how to track an outbreak of influenza before government health officials, and it is its belief that the right algorithms could also track and even prevent a pandemic before world health officials, potentially saving millions of lives.

There are also healthcare companies looking for ways to leverage an individual’s own “big data” for health. Engineers sponsored by Samsung, are developing a device that tracks a person’s vital statistics, and will send a text message or phone call letting them know they are at extreme risk for a stroke within 24 hours, a serious medical problem that is often not caught until it is too late.

Sending Merchandise Before You Buy

Amazon, always at the forefront of predicting customer behavior, is working on processes that can ship merchandise before customers even click “buy.” The company looks at previous order history, product searches, wish lists, shopping cart contents, item returns, and even how long a user hovers on an item. They can use that data to ship merchandise to a distribution hub—and in some cases, products will even be placed on a truck—just waiting for the customer to make the purchase.

The process will make Amazon even more valuable to its customer base, but the technology can also be adapted for brick-and-mortar stores to optimize inventory. If data shows, for example, that one store location sells 40 percent more Apple merchandise and another location sells 30 percent more Microsoft merchandise, inventory can be controlled early, giving customers access to the types of products they prefer while simultaneously controlling costs and maximizing shelf space for individual locations.

Big Data, Big Entertainment

The Entertainment Software Association reports that 51 percent of U.S. households own a gaming console like a Play Station, Wii or Xbox, and the average household owns more than one console. Gaming is big business, and developers are using big data to improve the experience for gamers at all levels.

Big data allows for the hyper-personalization of rewards and challenges. If a user rarely cashes in on game rewards, but responds to bonus levels or ancillary challenges, the game will react accordingly, generating more specialized levels rather than generating more opportunities for rewards. If a player is extremely advanced, the game will offer more challenges to keep that individual from becoming bored with the game.

Platforms that allow players to challenge one another across distances are becoming “smarter” about their matchups, as well. Among random pairings, games are able to match players of a similar skill level, so that the competition doesn’t become one-sided, engaging users for longer periods of time and reducing game abandonment.

The future of big data is bright, not bleak. There will always be individuals and companies that look for ways to exploit big data for bad, but in general, data collection is about growing understanding of behavior to find new ways to improve our lives.

Where do you think big data will take us?