With new generations of external and internal monitoring devices continuously gathering unimaginable quantities of health and medical data on billions of people, we will soon learn more about the human body in a year than we once did in a century ...
Most of all, big data is about to ask some cultural questions for which we have no ready answers, much less consensus. For example, who owns our personal data? Today that answer is not clear—and it may take legal precedent, perhaps even the adoption of a Bill of Data Rights, to resolve that question.
These are major challenges, but they will be overcome because the fruits of big data are too valuable. None, it is now clear, is more valuable than what is called “metadata”—data that derives from, and provides information about, other data. One of the biggest lessons of technology revolutions is that they begin by solving a need you already have—say, tracking how a particular virus spreads in a population—and end by solving needs you never imagined. And that may be the real destiny of big data.
When you can study billions, even trillions, of data points you begin to uncover forces and trends that until now have always been invisible to human observers. What if that impacted wisdom tooth you had at age 10 shortens your life 70 years later? Or if that one fugitive, missed heartbeat last week is a harbinger of cardiac trouble to come next month?
It is the discovery of this metadata that may prove to be big data’s real destiny: to teach us to see both ourselves and the natural world around us in ways we never could before.
This may be a case, however, of "your money or your life!"
We are made up and defined, actually, and we have always known this, of something unexplainable and mysterious that we call "life." Life is sacred, we say - and correctly so. Life is something inherent in the living World of Nature, a world that we did not create ourselves, a world into which it has been our privilege to be born.
Big data converts our human lives into a manipulation of human beings seen as "things," and the world becomes a "system" devoted to constructing, arranging, and destroying things to achieve the ends that we have decided to pursue, in the realm that we control.
The "human world" is not the world of "life." It is, in the end, a dead world, unless that human world celebrates and acknowledges, in every moment of its existence, the World of Nature, that sacred world of life, upon which our human world depends.
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.
I think it's really coming down to that.
I'm choosing life.