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Taming the ocean of data

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Big Data


When we take a look at the number of mobile phones in the world, almost 6 billions (85% of the population) and at the number of Internet connections, over 2.4 billions (34% of the population), it seems like we are approaching the economic limits of the expansion of both technologies. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

If we change the focus from people to objects we find ourselves in the domains of the Internet of Things (IoT), where the number of connections may reach 50 billions, (7 times the global population), as some forecasts have established.

Taking a look at the volume of data that humans generate daily in every digital activity, we will quickly discover that the rhythm of data production has greatly overcome the capacity to storage it.

The information produced during the year 2000 was larger in volume that all the information produced in all the History of mankind to that point. And one day of 2011 produced more information that all the year 2000. We are using such a volume of information that it has become necessary to use multiples beyond Gigabyte and Terabyte of our hard drives, such as Zettabytes.

New techniques, grouped around what we call Big Data and the blooming Science of Data, are trying to obtain trends and patterns to exploit information that otherwise would be lost. This information could make our lives a lot easier and our societies much more efficient.

All this just considering the trail that people leave behind, phones, credit cards, our Internet searches and browsing history, social networks…. Just think about the kind of volume we will manage when we count the information shared by the millions of sensors and cameras that will be implemented in smart cities. The Internet of Things requires a faster development of Big Data to face this information tsunami that may overflow us.

The Science of Data is not just maths and algorithms; it is also programming, and, most of all, visualization. Big data volumes are not useful for humans in unbearable tables or multidimensional graphs with a lot of variables.

Interestingly, here is when Art comes to the rescue. Artists and designers have experimented with visual stuff so much that they are the best prepared to synthetize this information. In the Science of Data three languages converge: maths, programming and visual language. This will create new narratives and meanings.

What is next? We are at the threshold of all this and what lies ahead are the smart societies that will want to take advantage of all the information thanks to services and products that will allow important savings. There is no doubt we will hear about them.


José de la Peña
Director of Education and Knowledge - Fundación Telefónica

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