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Data; boring but…

March 6, 2011 3 comments

I had a delightful dinner with a Canadian (Tory) politician this evening. Before we got around to talking about gun-control and “the situation in Freedonia,” the conversation fell upon data. “It probably sounds like the boring-est thing in the world,” I explained, “but it’s not: it is the most exciting, and arguably the most important in your lifetime.”

As I said this, his look changed from one of polite indifference (and mild pity), to genuine curiosity. Now, I had to explain myself. What I blurted out what this:

The world is becoming data-ized as digital information and numerical measurement is being applied to all aspects of what people do, particularly things that couldn’t be measured before because it was impractical or impossible. (Think: using wireless and GPS in cars to base insurance premiums on where and when people actually drive, as has been possible since 2007.)

The impact will be as profound as the scientific method in the 18th century — which quickly moved past the sciences and left its mark on all areas of human endeavor. For instance, what is “quantitative decision making” in management, if not the scientific method applied to business…. Likewise, the BigData revolution is plowing through the sciences, and also jumped into mainstream areas, such as business and government.

My dinner companion got it.

It is not easy to describe what is happening and why it matters. But parallels with the past, albeit imperfect, are usually very useful. Hence, trotting out the scientific method to explain the here and now.

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