March 28, 2014


Binary data Credit: W. Rebel / Wikimedia Commons


  • Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future
  • Gary Marcus, psychology professor at NYU

Will big data be our salvation or our destruction?

It’s complicated, says Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future.

Tucker notes that the obsession with data goes back over 200 hundred years to the founding fathers.  Ben Franklin kept a book of virtues and in an effort to avoid bad habits, “he had to write down, on a daily basis, when he kind of ran afoul and so this was really the birth of what we call today quantified self.”

However, Gary Marcus, professor of psychology at NYU, cautions that we should be careful. “The big companies will probably have more information about ourselves than we want…it’s true that there’s going to be a lot of useful data for individuals, but we do need to think a lot about privacy.”

So how do we reap the benefits of big data while avoiding the pitfalls?

Tucker and Marcus both look at online dating sites like OKCupid as an example of where improvements can be made. Right now, “we have access to every single [person] in the world who has an online profile and that’s way too many…it’s really a matter of getting much more data that is the right type of data.”

And the right data? Tucker argues that how you listen and how you express yourself would be much more useful in dating profiles.

Education also has the potential to be transformed by data. In small classrooms, data collection can help teachers tailor instruction to individual children.

Tucker is optimistic that, building off of Benjamin Franklin’s legacy, people today and in the future will be able to use big data “to learn much more about ourselves and the world around us.” 

Business, Culture, Big Data, Patrick Tucker, Gary Marcus

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