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. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
Strange Maps
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
Keep reading Show less

New alternative to Trump's wall would create jobs, renewable energy, and increase border security

A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that the U.S. and Mexico build a series of guarded solar, wind, natural gas and desalination facilities along the entirety of the border.

Credit: Purdue University photo/Jorge Castillo Quiñones
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The proposal was recently presented to several U.S. members of Congress.
  • The plan still calls for border security, considering all of the facilities along the border would be guarded and connected by physical barriers.
  • It's undoubtedly an expensive and complicated proposal, but the team argues that border regions are ideal spots for wind and solar energy, and that they could use the jobs and fresh water the energy park would create.
Keep reading Show less
Image source: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Though we know today that his policies eventually ended the Great Depression, FDR's election was seen as disastrous by some.
  • A group of wealthy bankers decided to take things into their own hands; they plotted a coup against FDR, hoping to install a fascist dictator in its stead.
  • Ultimately, the coup was brought to light by General Smedley Butler and squashed before it could get off the ground.
Keep reading Show less