posted on Mar, 6 2014 @ 11:09 AM
At MIT Workshop, Researchers Weigh Pros, Cons Of ‘Big Data’
March 4, 2014
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — After it was revealed that the National Security Agency was monitoring the phone calls of world leaders and storing massive
amounts of data about the rest of us, President Obama gave a major policy speech about individual privacy and modern technology.
“When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying
speed,” he said in January.
To explore this new world where governments and companies have the ability to amass, analyze and use vast amounts of personal information, the
president ordered a comprehensive review of what’s called “big data.”
The first of three meetings in this review process took place at MIT Monday.
‘Big Data’ And The Future
Big data is a big deal, says White House adviser John Podesta, head of the presidential study on the future of privacy and big data and the keynote
speaker at the MIT workshop.
“We’re undergoing a revolution in the way that information about our purchases, our conversations, our social networks, our movements and even our
physical identities are collected, stored, analyzed and used,” he said.
Podesta was supposed to appear in person but a snowstorm grounded him in Washington, D.C. He spoke by phone and suggested the trajectory of technology
and our willingness to make public our personal information seems clear.
“On Facebook there are some 350 million photos uploaded and shared every day,” he said. “On YouTube 100 hours of video is uploaded every minute,
and we’re only in the very nascent stage of the Internet of things, where our appliances will communicate with each other and sensors will be nearly
Podesta said soon, not only will users of big data be able to analyze our past behavior, they’ll be able to predict it in advance.
Online retailer Amazon recently got a patent for what it calls “anticipatory shipping,” delivering products you want even before you buy them.
“How should we think about individuals’ sense of their identity when data reveals things about them they didn’t even know about themselves?”
Podesta asked. “In this study we want to explore the capabilities of big data analytics but also the social and policy implications of that
The Potential Benefits
The MIT workshop included heavy-hitters in the privacy-big data debate. One panel included Prof. John Guttag, head of MIT’s Electrical Engineering
and Computer Science Department. He argued that big data, using personal electronic medical records, can prevent the spread of deadly hospital
“Progress in health care is too important and too urgent to wait for privacy to be solved,” he said. “I’m for privacy but not at the cost of
avoidable pain, suffering and death.”
The technology game-changer in the privacy-big data debate is the device which we hold near and dear and use to share our most personal, intimate
information willingly — and sometimes unknowingly. It’s the mobile phone, said MIT database researcher Sam Madden.
“In 2011 there were 5 billion cellphones in the world,” he said. “I think that’s kind of amazing statistic because it’s like more than the
number of people who have shoes or toilets or toothbrushes. And of those 5 billion phones, 1 billion were already these smartphone-class devices with
broadband-style Internet connections. And you guys probably all know your smartphones are already heavily equipped with sensors, and they’re going
to become increasingly more so.”