American data scientist Alex Pentland discusses how data streams can be used to determine the laws of human interaction. He argues the information can be used to help forge better societies. Big Data is to the study of social behavior what the microscope was to the study of bacteria. If you want to construct a better society, you need a complete picture of social interactions. Until very recently we had neither the data nor the mathematics to analyze it. But now, thanks to Big Data, we can know exactly who interacts when, where and with whom.
And what happens when it is the government collecting the data? The recent scandal around the NSA has shown us how eager the secret service is to learn everything about us. That’s a huge danger. There is nothing more dangerous in this new world than somebody with a lot of big computers and the ability to collect a lot of data — whether it’s any company or the government. I think, the big mistake of NSA was to have such a centralized database. They make Orwell’s 1984 world look almost friendly.