The Lowdown on Big Data

We’ve been hearing about big data for a while now and although many people bandy the term about, they don’t all know what it means. However, big data is the new paradigm and it’s driving many technological and scientific transformations.

So, what is it, exactly?

The digital age has created a huge explosion in the amount of data we generate – an inconceivable amount is created every day and it’s only going to get bigger. When we send a text message, check in to a location, use our satnav systems, order groceries online – it’s all data. It’s a digital footprint that can be harvested, analysed and used to find out about our behaviour and, well, anything, really.

There’s also machine-generated data – when your smart washing machine tells your phone it’s finished its latest boil-wash, or when an alarm system reports that all’s well. It’s all data.

That’s great, but what can it do?

This ever-growing never-ending stream of information is the bedrock of big data and we can use it in ways we never even dreamed of just a decade or so ago, especially if data visualisation tech from companies like Bitplane is brought into the mix. With big data we can:

Cure more diseases

Medicine can only benefit from the huge amount of data from medical records, x-rays and other images to create patterns and trends that can help us to pinpoint trends and causes.

Improve agriculture

Big data can help us to improve crop yields, limit the use of pesticides and make better use of existing machinery and equipment.

Look at distant planets

NASA uses big data to model the surface of planets – it used this tech to simulate the Rover Mars landing before it happened, for example.

Predict natural disasters

Data from sensors can identify an impending earthquake, for example, giving authorities and citizens more time to evacuate.

How does it do this?

Big data works because the more you know about something, the more predictions you can make. There are more connections to be made between factors and these relationships help us to make informed decisions.

Data analysts use the information to build models and run simulations, playing with the values in the data to create different outcomes. It’s all automated now, so it’s a rapid process. By looking at the different possible outcomes, it’s more likely that a solution to a problem, or an effective contingency plan, can be formulated.

Too much information?

The deluge of information we have nowadays means that data comes to us in its raw form, which not even the brightest and fastest minds among us can deal with. Rather than turn it into bar charts or tables, we use the data by turning it into maps, videos and other images. The information comes from photos uploaded to Facebook, phone calls, online messages, grocery orders, smart home appliances…the list is growing. This info is then analysed with the latest tools, using machine learning and artificial intelligence. Machines are able to spot and interpret patterns much faster than humans – they’re also unbiased, which should go some way to reassuring the people worried about this new technological shift.

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