Get with the data

Without wanting to appear too limited in my palate, I must admit that when strolling around the supermarket, I often wonder who on earth is buying the durian fruit, or the canned squid. The answer, of course, is: someone.

The selection of produce, brands and quantities available on a store's shelves is not based on guesswork or the desire to appear broad-minded. It is based on numbers, tabulated with each barcode swiped at the cashier station. There are probably five durian fruits available at my local grocery store because there are about five fans of this pungent fruit living in my neighbourhood.

While this is common-sense data analytics, stores also use this information for targeted advertising or predicting when a shopper will return and what products they would be interested in buying. This kind of precise data mining can sometimes yield embarrassing results (for example, the recent story of Target predicting a teenage girl's pregnancy before she'd had a chance to break the news to her father). 

Wherever you go, whatever interaction you carry out, you are leaving a trail of information that, until recently, has basically gone ignored. But now, merchants, statisticians, insurance brokers, head hunters, and government demographers are in a race to glean as much detail as possible about you and the 7 billion other unique individuals in this world. Data makes for more effective medicines and learning programs. Data helps us find a more compatible mate, or employee. Data will reduce costs, increase happiness, and help solve many world problems. Data is, quite possibly, the next oil.

big data

Tomorrow, an ambitious crowdsourcing project called The Human Face of Big Data will launch. It will try to put all this data into plain sight for everyone by gathering, comparing and making available as much data as possible about as many people in this world as possible (over a one week period). The study will allow you to submit a variety of data right from your smartphone, such as your location, as well as submit answers about your daily routine and preferences. You may be able to find your data doppelganger!

The Human Face of Big Data coincides with the soon-to-be published book of the same name, which seeks to visualize terabytes of information on everything from pizza delivery traffic movements, to the energy usage of an average home, in an easy-to-comprehend way.

The results of this week-long, "digital snapshot of the human race," will be posted on October 2nd, which fittingly falls halfway through Cybera's annual Summit in Banff (this year focusing on big data). Michael Coren, a multimedia entrepreneur and contributor to the Human Face of Big Data book, will be at the Summit, no doubt talking about the project's results, as well as the potential of this all-encompassing topic.
The possibilities of big data and cloud technologies will be the core theme of the Summit, particularly as it applies to an Albertan audience. Our province is a treasure trove of resource-based data: the question is not what do we have, but how can and should we be using it. If you were curious to know how your organization could be taking advantage of the next wave of data technologies, this is a good starting point.

Everyone is welcome. Come learn how data, cloud and high-bandwidth technologies are changing the face of Alberta (and the world).