July 29, 2013 | Updated: May 22, 2015
Big Data has become the buzzword of the day in politics, crime and security, natural disaster management, economic productivity, resource development, employment, healthcare, marketing, IT development, and more; the focus is increasingly on how to gather it, how to crunch it, how to store it and how to use it.
In 2012, every single day, 2.5 quintillion (2.5×1018) bytes of data were created; a number so huge that most people have never even heard the word for it. Businesses, organizations and governments are learning more and more about how to utilize that data to understand the markets and the communities they serve and, based on that knowledge, act accordingly.
To that end, a myriad of tools such as NoSQL have been developed and introduced to compliment traditional relational database management systems and process data that is so large and so complex, it would be impossible to manage otherwise.
Where Does all the Data Come From?
Millions of data points come from a myriad of places and are collected in a variety of different ways. For example:
- Every time you use your cell phone, for any reason, data is collected.
- Each time you log onto the Internet to do a search, communicate with some person or some entity, listen to music, watch a movie, engage in social networking, buy a product, manage your money, check or pay utility bills or conduct any other kind of business, data points are collected, stored, processed and used for some purpose.
- In some cities, data is collected each time you drive by a video camera that is set up for the purpose of monitoring and recording your license plate.
- In still other cities, your image is captured each time you walk by a video monitor.
- When you travel, data is collected via your passport or identification card and your ticket for transport. If you order an alcoholic beverage, a vegetarian meal or coffee, that data is collected as well (though your personal data is not attached to that kind of broad information).
- Every time you use your debit card, credit card, PayPal account, cell phone or checking account to pay for something, a server or a group of servers, somewhere, is collecting data about you, what you are buying, where you are buying it from and how you are buying it.
- When you go to the doctor or take your child to the doctor, and tests are done or medication is prescribed, data is collected.
- Even when you watch television, if you use a cable or satellite service that has a set-top box or receiver, data is collected about what you watch and when you watch it.
How and Why is Big Data Used?
As modern day technology has allowed data scientists to collect all of this data on just about everything about us, these same analysts and data scientists have developed systems that enable politicians, police departments, governments, schools and more to utilize the information to observe and serve us in a variety of ways, just a few of which are the following:
- The Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 are terrific examples of how big data was used to determine how to sway a presidential campaign in the desired direction.
- Police departments in the Bay Area of California, as well as other cities around the world, are using big data to serve and protect.
- The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) collects images and data from over 35% of the sky, enabling scientist to conduct surveys of matter, and measure spatial expansion of the galaxies among other things.
- Computational social science has used search engine trends to demonstrate that there may be a link between real-world economic indicators and online behavior according to searches done by users from countries with higher GDPs.
- Earth Scientists use big data to analyze climate changes around the world. “The computing resources at NCCS are critical to our ability to use NASA satellite data in our model-based analyses, which help us characterize and understand Earths changing climate, “said Global Modeling and Assimilation Office head Michele Reinecker. “Moreover, NCCS enables us to undertake climate simulations and predictions and to share the results with our fellow scientists and other users. ”
Though some aspects of data collection are somewhat controversial, the reality is that data about the human population as well as the world and universe around us, has been collected, analyzed and stored for decades; the results, as well as the possibilities, of big data compilation can be seen in action all around us, both in the private sector as well as at governmental levels. Like anything else in life, there are tremendous benefits as well as some perceived detriments; nonetheless, big data is here to stay.