The big deal with big data

CAREER ADVICE, SYSTEMS & TECHNOLOGY   |   3 minutes  |   November 1, 2017

Big data-uses-short course

By 2020, each of the 7.7 million people in the world are expected to produce 1.7 megabytes of new information every second of every day.1 Considering that, currently, only 0.5% of all data is ever analyzed and used, the extent of the impact businesses could have by integrating this information into the decision-making process can only be imagined.

What’s on offer is a plethora of unmanaged information gathered by technology that concerns people’s daily interactions with that technology, as well as each other. It’s not just the “what” of actions, it’s the “why”.

An inviting offer, but a somewhat perturbing one, too.

One of big data’s primary concerns is the potential for threat to personal privacy through greater access to information – in a post-Snowden world, data ethics take center stage. This demand for privacy retention has given rise to solutions such as MIT’s bitcoin-inspired Enigma, which promises, through a magical mix of math and code, to allow anyone to share their data in the cloud while still keeping it private.2 Another example is openPDS, which enables users to own and control their personal data instead of leaving it in the hands of large tech companies.

“Understanding these human-machine systems is what’s going to make our future social systems stable and safe,” says Alex “Sandy” Pentland, Founding Faculty Director of MIT Connection Science, and Faculty Director of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning’s (MIT SA+P) online course in Big Data and Social Analytics. “We are getting beyond complexity, data science and web science, because we are including people as a key part of these systems.”

Large companies like Citi have used big data to reduce costs through cloud-based analytics, while others, such as the leading gaming company, Caesar’s, have benefitted from faster and more informed decision-making. Verizon wireless, on the other hand, has used its deep resources in mobile device data to offer new products and services through a business unit called Precision Market Insights. The unit sells information about the frequency that users visit locations, what activities they’re involved in, as well as background information.3

Pentland, who was recently listed by Forbes as being among the seven most powerful data scientists in the world, elaborates: “That’s the promise of Big Data: to really understand the systems that make our technological society. As you begin to understand them, then you can build systems that are better.”

It seems then, that the question of big data’s use is not “What if?”, but rather “What if not?”.

Who will be first, while the rest come last?

Many institutions are already using big data, even if they don’t know about it. What’s lacking, is a realization of this use; an understanding of what that data is; what it should be, and how to use it effectively.

Those who are first on board the big data train may well be the ones who outstrip their competitors, with knowledge in this area fast becoming a strategic imperative for innovation and the most lethal weapon to wield in a tech-fuelled world.

Big data not only promises more effective solutions in sectors like online advertising, retail, engineering, manufacturing, and services, but also in solving meaningful problems in areas such as healthcare. Through improved integration of big data, it’s estimated that healthcare could save as much as $300 billion a year – equal to reducing costs by $1000 per person per year.4

Collections of data, brought together and analyzed to uncover patterns for better decision-making, will become the foundation of successful competition and business growth, as interpreted data starts to enhance productivity, reduce waste and increase product quality.

“For instance, one type of Big Data and connection analysis concerns financial data,” says Pentland of a further use-case scenario, “Not just the flash crash or the Great Recession, but also all the other sorts of bubbles that occur. What these are, are systems of people, communications, and decisions that go badly awry. Big Data shows us the connections that cause these events. Big data gives us the possibility of understanding how these systems of people and machines work, and whether they’re stable.”

MIT SA+P makes a big deal of big data

“There’s a huge demand for skills in big data and deep analytics, not just locally, but globally. Having access to this knowledge is set to become the foundation that intelligent decision-making is built on,” says Dave Shrier, Managing Director of MIT Connection Science, and one of the Industry Experts appearing in a number of course videos.

By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.5

MIT’s mandate is to advance knowledge in areas that will serve to address the 21st century’s great challenges by educating students in science, technology, and other fields of scholarship that will best serve the world.

To this end, the University is collaborating with digital education company, GetSmarter, to deliver an 8-week online short course that will equip professionals with the fundamental theory and analysis of big data to better understand and predict human networks and behaviors in social structures, through an investigation into, and the use of, the technical tools, data sets and code scripts associated with big data analysis.

And, with privacy top of mind, the course makes a point of paying attention to data ethics. Considerations around identity, security and privacy are investigated to ensure students learn how to use data in a privacy-conscientious manner.

“The benefit that this course presents is immense. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about innovative tools, like Funf and Bandicoot, by the very people who invented them, and that’s powerful,” says Shrier. “You will also get guidance on working with the Reality Commons data set, a unique collection of fine-grained data about human behavior developed by Prof. Pentland’s team at MIT.”

The online learning model used in MIT SA+E’s course is underpinned by a predominantly constructivist, action-learning approach to the design of online learning activities. The student is seen as an active participant in creating knowledge in collaboration with their peers, and learning activities and assignments focus on engagement rather than instruction.

Just because you’re learning online, no longer means you’re learning alone.

“Our unique, supported approach to digital education has led to a course completion rate of over 90%, with more than 40,000 working professionals educated to date,” notes Amy Johnson, Chief of Education at GetSmarter. “We believe we’ve made great strides in understanding student motivation and retention strategies that see 1:1 coaching relationships and tutor-led, small group learning taking centre stage. These are just two of the quality indicators that really matter to us as we strive to deliver better education online.”

And it’s not just what you’ll learn, how you’ll learn and who you’ll learn from that counts, it’s who you’ll learn with, too.

If learning from Sandy Pentland, one of the world’s leading data scientists, wasn’t enough, the company you’ll keep on the course should be sufficient to tip the scales.

“The response to this course has been expectedly positive, due to the near universal relevance of what it promises to deliver for students,” says Ryan O’Mahoney, CMO of GetSmarter, “We’ve received registrations from countries like the US, Canada, Brazil, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Poland, Thailand, Russia, Switzerland and more – a selection which is indicative of the global interest.”

The course offers unparalleled access to thought leaders in the area of big data and social analytics, within a dynamic, applied environment that ensures you don’t just walk away with theoretical knowledge, but also practical skills in analytics.

“The interest we’re getting ranges across industries – from the world’s tech giants and investment companies, to financial services institutions and even big data specialists. The wealth of knowledge found in these students alone, is massive,” asserts O’Mahoney.

Want to learn how to harness the power of data?

Download the course information pack to receive further details.



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