Policy by the Numbers
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Adventures and Challenges in Big Data
Friday, January 20, 2012
It’s been around four decades since I began working with the nascent Internet on the first
site, located at UCLA. Since then, it’s been remarkable how our capacity to store data has grown exponentially. Every day, we’re filling up our phones, cloud-based services and personal hard drives with enormous amounts of data from Internet activities, medical research, climate analysis, sensor arrays and so much more. And now, the rapid development of new data analysis techniques, visualization tools and other related systems have the potential to address enormously important real world issues and problems.
Yet increasingly, we face a crucial quandary.
Talk is everywhere about the concept of "Big Data" potentials in an array of contexts, ranging from Web businesses to global warming researchers and beyond. But the collection, storage, and analysis of data interplays directly with many important privacy, social and increasingly political aspects of our cultures. Lucid consideration of legitimate concerns in these areas is now all too frequently being hijacked by a lack of understanding and by our increasingly toxic, polarized political environment.
The underlying areas of concern are often indeed legitimate, including matters like data anonymization, tracking, personal choice and others. But rather than approaching each such issue with a logical, levelheaded analysis of costs and benefits, of appropriate trade offs and responsible compromises, we instead are frequently faced with "my way or the highway" demands of the same flavor that have driven so many other aspects of our political systems into paralysis.
In the hope of encouraging a rational approach toward this entire spectrum of related issues, I'm very pleased to announce
—the Data Wisdom Explorers League—founded in association with Google, which is providing funding support for this effort.
The goal of DWEL is to serve as a global resource for discussions, educational outreach and a range of other relevant services in this essential sphere. Our efforts will focus on helping us all move toward the best possible uses of data in responsible manners for solving problems, providing services and improving our lives and planet.
Through the analysis of data we can gain knowledge, and from knowledge we may achieve wisdom. And wisdom, after all, is one of the more important goals to which we can aspire!
No matter where you are, regardless of how you may feel about any of these matters today, I hope you'll visit the DWEL website at
and consider joining one or more of the DWEL announcement and discussion mailing lists, as we begin this endeavor together.
, Co-Founder, People For Internet Responsibility
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