How Big Data Works Like a Parallel Universe

The quantity of knowledge contained by humanity increases by about five billion bits per second, yet our poor understanding of how information systems work could spell disaster. 

What's the Latest Development?


The era of Big Data has arrived, increasing the world's store of electronic information by about five trillion bits per second, but we have yet to fully understand the system we have constructed, says science historian George Dyson. This world of information--which contains data on everything from our shopping habbits to catalogs of stars in distant galaxies--constitutes a parallel universe of "numbers and codes and viruses with its own 'physics' and 'biology,'" said Dyson. And theses processes which we have yet to grasp can create unpleasant surprises, such as they did during the "flash crash" in May 2010. 

What's the Big Idea?

Like climate cycles yet undetected in the geological record, it may be that the patterns and currents that determine our lives remain invisible to us. Were data engineers to uncover what makes the gears of the Big Clock turn, whoever posessed that information could, in principle, hold a great deal of power over society--perhaps even rule the world. J. Doyne Farmer, a physicist and complexity theorist at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, says classical economics has failed properly explain human behavior. So he has begun using Big Data to create agent-based models of the economy, where seemingly random behavior gives rise to order. 

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