Transcript of “Big data is better data”

Self-driving cars were just the start. What’s the future of big data-driven technology and design? In a thrilling science talk, Kenneth Cukier looks at what’s next for machine learning — and human knowledge.

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This is a good (and pithy) talk, but there are two points he makes that I find particularly interesting:

  1. We have to be the master of this technology, not its servant […] This is a tool, but this is a tool that, unless we’re careful, will burn us“. A patent warning against technological determinism, here, but one which (in my opinion) is not necessarily couched with enough care to help us to understand how to avoid a fully instrumentalist approach.
  2. Humanity can finally learn from the information that it can collect, as part of our timeless quest to understand the world and our place in it“. This accompanies a strong sense of why Big Data is important, but it’s also very essentialist: it’s about reflecting the here and now, rather than attempting to understand the past. I wonder if there are some historiographical problems here, given that Big Data collection is so recent and new, and still so patchy in places. The ‘timeless quest’, given this, seems to be one which will be answered from a position of privilege: from those who are fortunate enough, paradoxically, to have data collected about them.

Whose lifestream is it anyway? – Week 3 summary

This is a visual interpretation by Jen Maddox of one of my favourite songs from the amazing musical, Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and throughout this week I’ve kept going back to this song and its message about history. Or, maybe George Orwell was right when he wrote that “history is written by the winners”.

Cybercultures, or the history of the internet, is relatively recent history. Most of us have lived through it, and we may feel some sense of ownership over it. We might experience the kind of nostalgic determinism that The Buggles exhibit both in Video and in The Age of Plastic. My lifestream this week has been a reflection of my attempt to question this. I’ve been preoccupied by whose voices we hear. For example, I’ve questioned the ‘cultural sensitivity’ appreciated by care robots, and whether this is agitated by the fact that we’re approaching this from a strictly Western perspective. In my digital artefact, and influenced by Sterne’s project, I tried to expose one or two of the narrative nooks and crannies when we’re presented with new technology: commercialism, consumerism, the bottom line.

This is leading me to the conclusion that the socio-materialists have got it right: there’s a need to account for the affordances of technology as a complex assemblage, and it’s crucial to ensure that voices other than those of the Western, privileged classes aren’t black-boxed in these interpretations. This too should help us to keep sight of the culture of cybercultures, and the ways in which our chronicling of the history of the internet is influenced by culture, in practically every sense of the word.

 

References

Silver, D., Massanari, A., & Sterne, J. (Eds.). (2006). The Historiography of Cyberculture. In Critical cyberculture studies (pp. 17–28). New York: New York University Press.