Monday, September 17, 2018

Big Data – Caveat Emptor

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

Let the buyer beware…

Don’t want to be misunderstood folks. Big Data is, in my view, one of the essential technologies.

Big Data, and its partner technology, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Augmented Reality, Drones, 3-D Printing, Internet of Things, and Blockchain are transforming our lives – mostly for the better.

But we need to know where each technology applies, and where it does not.

Aristotle defined two domains: the domain of things that cannot be otherwise, and that of things than can be otherwise.

The former comprises things like matter, physics and chemistry. Water is water and cannot be otherwise. It evaporates when heated and freezes when cooled.

You can predict how it will behave by applying the laws of science. Big Data works well here.

The latter domain, that of things than can be otherwise, comprises fickle things like economics, politics, fashion, public opinion, and behavior.

Big Data does not work so well here. (A deep bow here to the great Roger Martin, former dean of the University of Toronto’s business school.)

Can we expect Big Data to effectively answer questions of design, marketing, opinion and behavior? Can we outsource our thinking about strategy to Big Data?

These are all the purview of creativity, intuition, imagination – which are our forte.

Gary Kasparov, arguably the greatest chess player ever, emphasizes the importance of ‘fantasy’ in chess, arguably our greatest strategy game and business metaphor.

This is the same man who played the super-computer, Big Blue, to a draw, an encounter the New York Times likened to ‘Man vs Forklift’.

(Big Blue, let it emphasized, was programmed by the world’s top grandmasters, and rebooted before each game, so that Kasparov was, in effect, facing a new super-computer opponent.)

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s – let’s use Big Data where it works best, and recognize its limitations.

For example, don’t expect Big Data analytics to give you the ‘super-nova” moment, the blinding strategic insight that illuminates the path forward.

In my view, the centaur concept provides the proper metaphor and way forward.

Like the half human-half horse of mythology, the intelligent human being working with, and guiding, well-designed AI, has the potential to blend the best of both worlds, machine and human.

I like the thought of my doctor working with AI and Big Data.

The next Kasparov or Kasparova may well have Big Data and AI riding shotgun.

Best regards,


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