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What trends will we see in a big data future?

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Big data is one of the areas of focus for business, government and research at present and when you start looking at what big data is, it’s not surprising. One of the big attractions for big data is its potential. Based on their area of expertise, we asked some of our leading academics how we can tap into the potential of big data.

1. We’ll start thinking like criminals

“It’s valuable to business as well as other people. There are people, criminals, out there who are working out how to use the data for nefarious purposes. As we’re creating systems and collecting data at the moment, we’re not necessarily thinking about its uses from an immoral point of view. That’s the significant challenge now facing us; to protect that data adequately.”

Professor Carsten Maple, WMG

2. We’ll realise it’s not a panacea

“From a social policy perspective I’m absolutely terrified. I think we’re going to see more of what’s happening already, which is basically big data being driven by the commercial sector. The commercial sector wants to know what most of their customers are doing, social policy wants to know what a minority of people are doing and they’re different things. The methods that are driving the current thinking around big data are for profit, not to change neighbourhoods or improve schools.”

Associate Professor Emma Uprichard, Centre For Interdisciplinary Methodologies and Director of the Warwick Q-Step Centre.

3. We’ll [finally] debate the issue of privacy

“It’s certainly not going away but like any buzz there’ll probably be a recalibration of expectations. We’re seeing it already around the ideas of privacy. The NHS database,, was a good recent example. With the best intentions in the world of trying to collect large quantities of data and make it available to medical researchers, it ran into a series of very reasonable concerns from people wondering how their data was going to be used and how anonymous it would be. I think we’re going to see a lot more debate around the privacy implications of big data – the concerns being voiced about decisions being made about people and for people and that they don’t understand how these decisions are being made.”

Graham Cormode, Department of Computer Science

4. And then we’ll give up that privacy

“Quite often, you’ll hear lots of worries about the surveillance of society and a desire to protect society but, actually, I’d quite like to know that I’m going to be safe in my bed at night. Security is the first duty of government and one of the things that’s often not discussed around big data is the debate around how much security we’re willing to give up to maintain certain levels of privacy. Historically we used to live together in long-houses – we gave up some privacy for security. We shouldn’t just be saying ‘privacy, privacy, privacy’ in this debate, there needs to be some discussion on the other side.”

Professor Tim Watson, Director of the Cyber Security Centre,­ WMG

5. We’ll think about healthcare differently

“The development of new technologies to collect data (genomics, proteomics, etc.) has revolutionized the speed at which complex diseases, such as cancer or neuro-degenerative diseases, are understood at the molecular level. We can now attempt to understand the big picture, rather than very narrowly defined aspects of a disease. From that, a big promise of big data is personalized medicine; the possibility of accurately predicting the course of a disease and the most adequate treatment for each individual patient.”

Assistant Professor David Rossell, Department of Statistics

6. We’ll get creative

“If you talk to more senior statisticians or computer scientists, a thousand data points was really challenging thirty years ago and now we’re talking about hundreds of millions of data points and we don’t really bat an eyelid. When one thousand data points was big, those statisticians and data scientists had to think very carefully and be very creative about how they would do something with that data; for me, I think the next five years are really going to be addressing a lot of the fundamental mathematical representations of these very exotic types of data.”

Professor Mark Girolami, Department of Statistics and Director of CRiSM (Centre for Research in Statistical Methodology)

7. We’ll change how we talk about the past

“Ten years ago, we had big debates in global history concerning divergence – why some parts of the world are very poor, why some parts of the world are very rich, why some parts that used to be very rich are now very poor and, of course, could some of parts of the world that are today very rich become poor in the future? All of that debate was based on explanations that had only a marginal methodology of quantification, it was more about argument. In the past ten years we’ve had the accumulation of data. We will see more data produced and, I hope, a refinement of methodologies.”

Professor Giorgio Riello, Department of History

January 2015

Surveillance by Lisa (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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