270. King Kong and Big Data

BigDataBig data is an enabling tech­nol­ogy. That is, it enables both risks and rewards, accord­ing the skills and judge­ments of those who engage it (http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/it-pro/business-it/how-big-data-can-result-in-bad-data-20130720-hv11k.html?rand=8744926). Human beings have never been known to turn down an enabling tech­nol­ogy, regard­less of the con­se­quence that it will enable cat­a­stro­phes as well as rewards.

Take the motor vehi­cle: “There have been more traf­fic related fatal­i­ties around the world, since the first auto­mo­bile was made, than all the deaths from all global con­flicts over the past 3000 years com­bined” (http://www.shaundejager.com/psychology-of-our-driving-culture-affects-our-safety/). With cars the car­nage has been suf­fi­cient for us to impose some bur­den of legal care on dri­vers (with­out stel­lar suc­cess). No such sanc­tion, or even sys­tem­atic care, is ever likely to be the case with the poten­tially cat­a­strophic mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of big data by ham­burger dri­ven office work­ers.

Edward Snow­den is right: by col­lect­ing lim­it­less data on all of us, the Amer­i­can “secu­rity” jug­ger­naut, Prism, and its indus­try ana­logues, have lim­it­less poten­tial to gen­er­ate expen­sive errors or even tragedy through the poor judge­ments of mis­guided human con­trollers. At a national level, Aus­tralia is deeply enmeshed in the activ­i­ties of the United States Defense establishment’s big data plays, both because of the whole­sale plun­der­ing of our pri­vate and busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tions, but for­mally through intel­li­gence estab­lish­ments such as those at Pine Gap (http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/it-pro/security-it/australian-outback-station-at-forefront-of-us-spying-arsenal-20130720-hv10h.html). That is, what­ever brings those bun­nies to grief in the name of secu­rity will also bring us to grief. Not if, but when.

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