by digging for Data, you could stumble on a goldmine

Data in the 21st century is like oil in the 18th century: an untapped, immensely valuable asset. Technology, through machine learning, can use that data to improve our lives, may it be by filtering spam email or telling us which vitamins we need. Like oil, for those who see data’s fundamental value and learn to extract and use it there will be huge rewards.

Machine learning is a way for technology to turn big data into every day applications, and the data itself are already part of our lives. Films like ‘Her’, about a man who falls in love with his artificial intelligence device,’ are smash hits at the box office. Retailers are using data about our previous purchases to recommend others we might want to buy.

At the same time, big data is one of the most overused corporate buzzwords in 2014. If you’re not dropping it into conversations, pretending you know what it is and tweeting about it, you might as well not even bother turning up for school. Being part of the big data movement is like being a member of the cool gang. What comes to light is that we are reaching a point in human history where we must consider the real implications of artificial intelligence on our lives.

New applications and ways to benefit from big data emerge at a rapid speed. Some might find the collection of big data intrusive but there is no doubt that it can help bring about innovation that can improve our lives.

In terms of innovations in machine learning, the health sector can expect to see massive changes this year. The medical industry already has the ability to access patient data anywhere at any given time. With big data it might be able to predict medical illnesses before they happen. Most recently, The Carilion Clinic health system in Virginia has identified 8,500 patients at risk for developing heart failure through employing IBMs predictive modelling of data in its electronic medical records (EMRs).

Another way in which we are starting to see this is predictive shift is through the increased interest in quantifying our health to determine the impact it has on our overall happiness and effectiveness at work. As we move further into 2014, the desire for self-knowledge in numbers known as The Quantified Self Movement is becoming increasingly rife. We are now presented with a multitude of trackers; phone apps, adhesive patches and sensors that enable us to better strive for personal perfection. The concept underlying that age-old saying ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ is increasingly being employed by HR departments to boost and track worker productivity, engagement, and satisfaction in novel new ways.

The impact big data and analytics will have on businesses, from all industries is unquestionable. You only to look to Amazon’s investment in anticipatory shipping, or Yahoo’s $10 million partnership with CMU to realise how valuable big data initiatives are expected to be. Machine learning tools are increasingly facilitating us to look at aspects of our business and our lives that remained hidden from the untrained eye. The reasons for success, and failure for that matter, are often hidden, and without recent innovations in data science they would have remained that way. Nike, and Ford for example have just invested millions in analysing data to rethink their product design and find more sustainable business models.

Big data in itself is nothing else than trillions of bits and bites sitting in networks around the globe. It is up to us to use it in a way that makes our lives better.

“Technology is essentially hard to understand, unattractive, insensitive to human needs in its raw state,” Yves Béhar, founder of Fuseproject, a design and brand development firm, told Vanity Fair in an interview in February. “It’s all about how you take technology and turn it into something magical, attractive, with a sense of humanity attached to it.”

Like looking for oil in the deep sea, searching for an attractive way to use big data and machine learning can take some time and effort. Companies and individuals with the clearest vision of how to find it and persist in their search will guarantee their place in the cool gang.

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