Einstein once said, “only daring speculation can lead us further, and not accumulation of facts.” It seems he was wrong, data is leading us further; but where is it leading us to?
In a well researched articleWired’s Chris Anderson tells us that the scientific process is drowning, it seems unable to ‘tread data’.
It is followed up with some excellent examples. “Sixty years ago,” he says, “digital computers made information readable. Twenty years ago, the Internet made it reachable. Ten years ago, the first search engine crawlers made it a single database. Now Google and like-minded companies are sifting through the most measured age in history, treating this massive corpus as a laboratory of the human condition.” Forget Terabytes – we are now in the Petabyte age and we have the Google-geek tools to surf the waves of the data oceans, picking what we want from the bounty. In the process the vehicle of science has been forced to install and run a hybrid engine, and it is getting much more mileage out of the ‘data’ part than it ever did out of the ‘hypothesis’ part.
By default humankind has discovered that with data and Google, no one needs a theory any more. With the right info, hardware and software engines; professorships, theories and published peer-reviewed papers are becoming obsolete. “It calls for an entirely different approach, one that requires us to lose the tether of data as something that can be visualized in its totality. It forces us to view data mathematically first and establish a context for it later.” It’s an interesting development, but it’s hard to imagine it as progress. What concerns me is that humankind is being asked… no it is being demanded of humans, that we think less than we ever have before, and that we reserve our imagining for our entertainment only.
We are handing our very selves over to untethered information, and no one is asking why and by whom it was tethered in the first place. One can see this quite plainly one looks at the plethora of human data. We are ‘chopped and diced’ into a million pieces depending of how the machine desires to look at us: DNA determined destiny subjects, poll influenced voter trendsters, brand infused identity grabbers, demograph earners, gene coded fatalists, epidemic distributors, mass trend drivers, uber-consumers, culture catchers… the list is literally endless.
You see I think that data has always had a context, indeed data without context is Frankenstein. I don’t think that there is a community on earth that should be so data addicted that we look for a context after we’ve had our fix… that’s tantamount to mass drunk driving. We’ve been blinded by science, now science has been blinded by data. I’m holding out for the return to logic again. And my advice is this: just think it through before you swallow it.