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Rick Smolan puts a human face on big data

Big data can sound cold but it touches every aspect of life on earth, said Data Summit 2014 keynote speaker Rick Smolan (the Data Summit co-located with the Enterprise Search and Discovery Summit May12 -14). In his hard-hitting presentation on big data, Smolan, a Time, Life and National Geographic photographer, and author of the book, “The Human Face of Big Data,” described big data as “the development of a nervous system for the planet,” and shared insights about the current impact as well as the potential for the future—of everything that can be measured being measured.

Smolan showcased the ways big data is being used now and the potential applications on the way. From GPS-enabled devices that help aid workers traveling to remote regions of the world get polio vaccinations exactly where they are needed, to sensors that stop trains and factory production before earthquakes occur, big data is having a great impact on the lives of many. Other current and potential future big data uses include big data analysis to predict when and if premature babies will develop infections, “magic carpets” that can monitor an elderly person’s movements in their home to enable alerts on whether they are likely to fall, and sensors on cars to monitor cars enabling insurance companies to reward safe drivers.

And, technologies are on the way to make big data access and analysis easier, said Kamran Khan, CEO of Search Technologies, in his keynote following Smolan. Big data approaches are needed when the problem at hand is too big for analysis on a single machine, and typically rely on batch processing. Khan, who described the way big data analysis is being used in proceses as diverse as fraud detection and new employee recruitment, described search as "the enabler of big data agility," and noted, “search democratizes big data.”

But, as wondrous as it looks now, and the promise that it holds for the future, said Smolan. We are just at the beginning of truly exploiting big data, and there are many issues to be dealt with as far as data privacy and who actually owns the personal data that is being collected, he noted. In fact, said Smolan, we are actually “in the cave man era of big data.”

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