Several events evidence the recent years of unremitting digital development. The symbolic date chosen to mark the beginning of the era of Big Data was the year 2002, when for the first time, the amount of information on digital media exceeded that stored by analog methods. The Big Bang Data, exhibition, which was inaugurated on December 3, 2015, was set in the Somerset House in London until February 28, 2016.
We live in the era of computing, in which sensors and smart devices, online activities and Internet of Things produce data for each activity, with traceable and measurable information. It is an explosion of information that promises to change the future and open up new horizons in the ways we act, work, relate, live. The London event hosts works by artists, musicians, journalists, data scientists and data visualization experts, all with a common goal: to analyze the pervasive “datafication” of contemporary society and explore the boundaries of Big Data.
London live stream
One of the focal points of the exhibition is the «London situation room», where the daily lives of thousands of digital citizens are enclosed and represented in a single, constantly changing room. Some installations allow you to track and view the live digital data stream of London and that produced by those who live, visit or simply transit through the UK capital.
A screen projects raw data stream in real time, on the opposite side, the data is processed in a constantly updated data-map: London’s public transport lanes illuminate, as the geo-referenced posts of Instagram overlap with tweets on the map, while highlighting the hashtags in use. On a third screen, the distribution of sentiment in the different neighborhoods of the city.
The present is complemented with the future. Some interactive panels allow users to “play” in the London of tomorrow: from current datasets, a simulation of the future development of the city is based on the answers provided. Can an entire metropolis be identified with the sum of its parts, can its future be accurately predicted through the flow of actions and online messages?
Big Data: Opportunity or Risk?
To find an answer, you need to know more about the nature of the Big Data: by definition, a vast amount of data is hard to figure out. Or better, it is not meaningful without an analysis and can not predict the future if it is not properly analyzed and correlated. As the English exhibition highlights, the potential is high, but at the same time it is also a risk and a critical one. While we have witnessed the emergence of the global network, the evolution of databases, the social media revolution, on the other we live today the dangers of lack of privacy, possible Orwellian surveillance or superficial analysis and a data and messages manipulation. Face to Facebook, the work created by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico, sounds like an alarm bell for users of social networks: after having adopted one million photo profiles from Facebook, the two artists have created a site in which unknown users have been paired to form virtual couples. The site, http://iknowwhereyourcatlives.com, on the other hand, uses Instagram’s geo-localized photos to show how easy it is to point the cat’s position (and their masters) on a public map. The message is clear: sensitive information, such as your geographic location, is precious and should be administered with caution. Hence the urgency of securing cyber security and an ‘ethical’, conscious, data management.
The complexity of the data requires a method
The biggest challenge is to build and practice a proper relationship with the digital products. If the user carefully manages their sensitive data, it is necessary for those who analyze and use it, to work with precision and intellectual honesty. One needs to face and clarify the ambiguity of a future identified with its data and disable the utopia of objective and self-explanatory databases. The complexity of the world has not changed with the arrival of the Big Data: with new strength, the commitment to order knowledge is necessary. It is a must to develop a methodology, through effective data collection tools, of a rigorous and coherent way of monitoring and analysis, social skills and qualitative quantification of data, strategic capabilities capable of reworking the amount of information in a plan to respond to the stimuli returned by the Network today and define the guidelines for future actions. In short: Social Intelligence.