The phrase Big Data is trending big on the Ingternecks these days and I predict it will only continue to snowball in the next few years. May become as prevalent, even cliched, as terms like Tipping Point, BRIC and so on.
A piece by the New York Times titled U.S. Intelligence Unit Aims to Build a ‘Data Eye in the Sky’ shows yet another of the possibilities that come with this development:
More than 60 years ago, in his “Foundation” series, the science fiction novelist Isaac Asimov invented a new science — psychohistory — that combined mathematics and psychology to predict the future. Now social scientists are trying to mine the vast resources of the Internet — Web searches and Twitter messages, Facebook and blog posts, the digital location trails generated by billions of cellphones — to do the same thing.
But a perceived hitch along the way:
Advocates of privacy rights worry that public data and the related techniques developed in the new Iarpa project will be adapted for clandestine “total information” operations. [...] The ease of acquiring and manipulating huge data sets charting Internet behavior causes many researchers to warn that the data mining technologies may be quickly outrunning the ability of scientists to think through questions of privacy and ethics.
Alright, but once Pandora's box is opened, how does one put everything back inside and lock it up? Not possible. Even ignoring this practical reality, if one looks only at the moralities and ethics of it, what they appear to be doing is taking information publicly available on the Internet and analysing it, just that this is being done with large-scale automated systems rather than manually. Is that wrong? Isn't this what private corporations already do today for profit?