By @SimonCocking

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Review and interview with Rob Kitchin @RobKitchin author of The Data Revolution, He is a professor and European Research Council Advanced Investigator at the National University of Ireland Maynooth.  He is currently a PI on the Programmable Cityproject, the Digitial Repository of Ireland, the All-Island Research Observatory, and the Dublin Dashboard.

The Big Data Revolution, 2014 by Rob Kitchin

This is an interesting book aiming to explain what the explosion in big data can, and can not offer for the wider benefit of humanity. For the generally interested reader, rather than the data scientist specialists, the most useful sections are those outlining why the increase in data has such interesting possibilities, and the challenges faced to achieve this.

Kitchin reminds us that revolutions in science have generally been predated by revolutions in measurements (page 128). A clear reminder that if you can’t measure something you will struggle to analyse it meaningfully. Kitchin describes that we have reached the 4th paradigm of science, a new era of empiricism (p130). Moving forwards it is possible that as ‘everything’ can be measured (within limits), models will no longer be needed. Instead it will become easier to simply record everything, and then consider what questions to ask afterwards, so enabling ‘data driven science’ (p137).

Kitchin does outline some of the risks, such as possibly having more data, but less of it analysed (150/1). It is probable that ‘more’ data will trump ‘better’ data (154), however big data still needs precision measurement for it to be of value. There will still be a need for skilled humans to tell stories and garner insights from the analysis of the data (161).

He also addresses privacy issues, suggesting the need for ‘privacy by design’ (173), rather than current less scrupulous behaviour. However he also makes the point that our own personal data, our data body (or shadow) will probably indicate more accurately who we are / how we really behave than we would necessarily chose to reveal.

It’s an interesting book, and a good primer for those wanting to have an understanding and awareness of the coming issues in the coming world of the Internet of Things, and all that it implies for our lives.

We also had a quick chat with Rob about his book and his thoughts on a few questions arising from it, see below for his responses.

Who was the book written for?

The book is aimed at anyone who wants to move beyond the hype and hubris surrounding big and open data to consider their implications in a more holistic and critical way.  So, while it is quite academic in orientation I would hope it was accessible to the informed lay reader who is interested in new scientific developments.

Having outlined the trends and possible challenges, are you optimistic about the ability of humans to effectively analyse it, and get useful insights out of it – given the challenges of different formats / content etc?

Like most human inventions, once we’ve got over the initial hype cycle boosterism, we’ll settle down into a period of sustained incremental advancements, and increases in uptake and effects.  More and more data will become open.  The techniques for handling big data will improve and new data analytics will provide fresh insight into different issues.  However, it will not the panacea for all issues.

What trends are you excited by?

I’m excited by developments in visual analytics which are moving beyond simply visualizing material to also provide a means of delving into and exploring the data and identifying trends and patterns.  With so much data being produced and made available in real-time the visual domain is becoming essential to making sense of what those data mean.

Since writing the book is there anything that has surprised you or changed since you made your predictions?

No not really.

What’s next in this area ?

Good question.  Trying to second guess what’ll be the next big thing is always difficult.  I think the social and legal side of things will start to catch up and the whole privacy issue will become increasingly important.  Data security is going to continue to be an issue that needs to be addressed.  New technology will continue to be applied to big data – I can imagine a move to creating 3D virtual reality datascapes, for example, in which you can move through and interact with data landscapes.

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