The second interview of the “TEDxFrankfurt – interviews with speakers” series, is with the Big Data visionary Kenneth Cukier, Data Editor of The Economist and co-author of the international bestseller “Big Data: A Revolution That Transforms How We Live, Work and Think”. He serves on the board of directors of International Bridges to Justice, a Geneva-based NGO promoting legal rights in developing countries. He is also on the advisory board of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.
– Kenneth Cukier – „If We don’t use our data, it’s like we’re burning books!“
When did you first realize that data is going to change our society?
Kenneth: I remember that moment pretty well. It was in 2004 when I was a research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and worked as a freelancer for the Economist. Rather than a gradual realization, it was an instant flash of insight. I realized the incredible amount of data we produce daily due to the technical progress of society…a progress that grows exponentially. I thought to myself – how is this enormous amount of data going to change our society, the way we life and work? In my talk today I said that more data is not just more…it’s better, because of the new opportunities it creates. We see new things. This is what I realized back then.
Why did you choose Frankfurt as a TEDx host?
Kenneth: I chose Frankfurt deliberately. In my talk I explained how important it is to balance the potential threat of big data with the value big data creates. Potential threats can be the intrusion of our privacy or so called algorithmic criminology, where individuals can be punished for predictions. On the other hand we shouldn’t forget that big data brings big value and possibilities when used responsibly. We see the value if we look at how big data can predict the outbreak of diseases like Ebola. The last outbreak could have been stopped way earlier if we would have used the ressource called big data more efficiently.
Germany is the „ground zero“ when it comes to data privacy. A very cautious and skeptical attitude of government and society when it comes to data privacy, makes Germany not very willing to discuss new opportunities. The debate about the NSA scandal made many people distrustful of data gathering. When it comes to data privacy rules, we need to balance the benefits of using big data with the potential threats of data misuse. We need to establish a new balance, where using data to solve global issues is not overloaded by too much, uneccessary protection. We need to educate people about how their data is used, what it is used for and how they are protected from data misuse.
What was your biggest surprise when writing the book „Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think“ with Viktor Mayer-Schönberger?
It was overwhelming to see that big data changes everything! All aspects of our society are transformed to their core by big data: business, government, science and medicine, privacy, and even the way we think. Big data is often understood as a story of pioneering technology, but it’s actually a story of society and how it changes and evolves. We may tend to think that big data is for giant internet businesses like google only, but it’s not because we already use it in our everyday lifes. For example when we book our flight and the algorythm, fed with millions of data points, tells us whether we should buy our ticket now or wait because the price may decrease in the next days. Governments and medical institutions are able to predict the location of flu outbreaks. These examples made it clear to me how big data is everywhere in our society.
Kenneth has been interviewed by Marina Zayats, Global Shapers Hub Frankfurt.
The interviews have been realized through a partnership between the Global Shapers Frankfurt Hub and TEDxFrankfurt
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