November 8, 2013
Big Data, an inspirational novel about the collection and processing of massive amounts of data was eye-opening and encouraging. This collection of data over a long period of time has been processed and used towards many different aspects throughout the world. Dilemmas such as tracking the H1N1 virus, to buying the most inexpensive plane tickets, all the way to predicting dangerous manholes explosions have all been processed and tabulated for our own benefit with the use of big data.
One of the most practical and fundamental portions of Big Data included a excerpt on an individual named Oren Etzioni. Etzioni, co-founder of one of the internet’s first search engines MetaCrawler, is responsible for “Project Hamlet,” an application that used a sample of 12,000 price observations to help customers buy the cheapest flight tickets available at a certain time and place. This ingenious idea dawned on Etzioni after booking a flight in advance expecting the ticket price to be the lowest at that point in time. Only after boarding the plane and curiously asking his fellow passengers did Etzioni come to his realization that he had not only paid more than a majority of the other passengers, but most had also purchased their tickets substantially later than he had for his. Infuriated by this newly found information Etzioni gathered large amount of data by “‘scraping’ information from a travel website over a 41-day period.” After years and years of of the system being fed more data and becoming more efficient Project Hamlet “was making the correct call 75 percent of the time and saving travelers, on average, $50 per ticket,” by the year 2012.
The Silicon Valley startup 23andMe analyzes an individual’s DNA for a reasonable price. The benefit of having an analysis on your DNA is miraculous. “It can reveal traits in people’s genetic codes that may make them more sustainable to certain diseases like breast cancer or heart problems.” In other words with the analysis or your DNA and big data combined physicians can diagnose their patients more effectively. One of the more heart-felt and touching aspects of the book described Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, and his fight against terminal cancer. Jobs had his DNA analyzed like 23andMe but on a much larger scale; he had his entire DNA sequenced along with his tumor in hopes of jumping from therapy to therapy dependent upon how well they worked given his specific genetic makeup. Unlike 23andMe; Jobs, instead of receiving a sample, acquired a data file containing his entire genetic codes. In the likelihood that one treatment lost its effectiveness due to the cancer mutation, Jobs and his physicians could change treatment. “Jumping from one lily pad to another,” Jobs cleverly put it. Having all his data on his genetic makeup opposed to just a portion extended his life by a few years. Unfortunately Jobs lost his battle with cancer but made a major breakthrough in medicine with this approach. “I’m either going to be one of the first to be able to outrun a cancer like this or I’m going to be one of the last to die from it.”
Another interesting segment of big data is the collection and application to online shopping. Amazon for instance were one of the first of many to store and analyze previous purchases and viewed products; even if they were accidental. With this information collected and stored the website could suggest and predict books users might find interesting and possibly be enticed into purchasing. Needless to say this genius plan “had the cash register ringing.” So much so, that Amazon found it more cost-efficient to say goodbye their editorial group of book reviewers (humans).
A major point Big Data tries to convey is the undeniable fact that more data trumps better data. With billions of data files, digital and analog, it’s impossible only to allow perfect data; preventing and eradicating messiness. With this in mind...
Cited: 1. Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier. “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think.” Publisher:Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 5, 2013
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