Big Data “It starts to fundamentally change how we do things”

In aanloop naar het congres ‘Big Data in de Financiële sector‘ interviewden wijAndrej Janko Zwitter,Hoogleraar Ethiek en Internationale Politiek Rijksuniversiteit Groningen en initiatiefnemer van de internationale denktank International Network Observatory die zich richt op de ethische implicaties van de toepassing van Big Data

We vroegen hem o.a. naar de impact van Big Data op de samenleving en de kansen die hij ziet voor de financiële sector.


Wat is de impact van Big Data op onze samenleving?

Due to improvements in technology we are able to deal with massive amounts of data at once. We are accepting a lack of purity of the data for the fact that we can approximate N=all, that means we are not dealing with samples but with all data. It starts to fundamentally change how we do things. It changes how companies analyse their product strategies, how political analysts assess political sentiments before elections etc. In order to make use of big data, we needed to take real world problem and make it into mathematical problems. For example Google correlated past flue outbreaks with what people were searching for in google and when the next flue outbreak happened, they were able to predict nearly in real time how the flue would spread, while traditional methods relying on information submitted by health centers and hospitals lacked 2 weeks behind.

Waar ligt de grens van toegang tot en toepassing van big data?

One finds Big Data application in almost all fields of research and innovation nowadays. For example in research wether it is twitter research in journalism studies, whether it is used for genetic research and gene sequencing, whether it is used for astronomy (massive sky surveys), or whether it is used in market research etc. The limits for its use are twofold: (1) imagination of what we could possibly want to know and (2) due to emphasis of correlations over causation we give up understanding the why’s for the sake of the what’s.

Welke risico’s brengt Big Data met zich mee?

Big Data is everywhere: sciences, arts, social media, telephones, gps, pictures, news economics, public health etc. Since this is one of the fasted growing job markets one wonders why there are no professional ethical standards?

  1. Individual Privacy
    The more our lives become mirrored in a Cyber Reality and recorded, the more or present and past are almost completely transparent in this reality to actors with the right skills and access. The Guardian unveiled that the Raytheon (a US defense contractor) developed the Rapid Information Overlay Technology (Riot) software, which uses freely accessible data from social networks and data associated with an IP address etc. to profile one person and make every day’s action completely transparent.
  2. Group Privacy
    Data analysts are using big data to find out about our shopping preferences, health status, sleep cycles, moving patters, online consumption, friendships, etc. In only a few cases, and mostly in intelligence circles, this information is individualized. In general we are dealing aggregate and anonymous data. That does not mean that this data does not inform about who we are, what we like, and what we don’t like (on average). In essence, despite the data being anonymous – we as a group are becoming transparent. This information is used in a targeted way to get us to buy stuff, or to behave in a certain way.
  3. Propensity
    Minority Report showed how predictions about what people were likely to do could lead to a terrible vision of a future society. Now what if big data predicts that a certain person (living in a certain neighborhood, with no job, a car etc. etc.) has a likelihood of 95% to shoplift? Even if we would not incarcerate this person we would possibly have social workers sent to him. This would cause a stigma on him, his family and friends

Big Data en ethiek: hoe gaan deze hand in hand?

There is still a huge gap to be closed when it comes to the regulation of big data. The problem lies mostly in the fact that we don’t know about the potential consequences of big data abuse, because they can be so abundant as human imagination can come up with new utilities. One way, however, to regulate it is to reduce the power gap between those that collect and those that involuntarily but inevitably and most often unknowingly produce big data.

Waar liggen de grootste kansen van Big Data voor de financiële sector?

The biggest chances for the financial sector lie in the great potential of big data for innovation. One can distinguish three sorts of uses for big data:
Novelty discovery: Big data can be used to discover new things. Through mining of Twitter, mining of Facebook, etc. people can find 9/11 before it happens, find social behavior, finding the unknown unknows.
Class Discovery: Finding new classes of customers, new classes of galaxies, new classes of psychological diseases.
Association Discovery: Finding unusual (improbably) co-occuring associations; Google Flu Trends.
Here lies also the greatest threat to the financial sector. In order for innovations to be sustainable, they need to be ethical. That requires self-reflection and self-regulation; for example: Google’s formal corporate motto “Don’t be evil” (suggested as Google employee Paul Buchheit) at a meeting about corporate values ) can nowadays with used as an absolute veto to a project idea by any employee, and it will result in the immediate termination of the project. This is certainly a start, but voluntary self-regulation is not a strong side of the financial sector.

Als we u op 1 maart 2020 weer tegenkomen, wat is er dan veranderd op het gebied van Big Data?

The developments in this field are going so drastically fast that a prediction about what will be in 5 years seems almost certainly promise to be wrong. Already now people are talking about Massive Data (with n=all) replacing big data. One thing is certain, with concern for big data ethics also big data will bring innovations, such as: algorithms detecting fraud and other forms of abuse and manipulation in the financial sector; politics, governance and policing will rely more heavily on big data predictions; and finally, data will become the most important raw material of the information age.


Congres Big Data in de Financiële sector

Op 17 maart 2015 vindt de 2e editie van het congres ‘Big Data in de Financiële sector‘ plaats. Hier hoort u o.a. van experts als Tony Fish alles over de (eerste) concrete bevindingen uit uiteenlopende toepassingsmogelijkheden in de financiële wereld.

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