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The most ambitious project ever conceived on the Internet: Google's master plan to scan every book in the world and the people trying to stop them. Google say they are building a library for mankind, but they also have other intentions.
With the rapid emergence of digital devices, an unstoppable, invisible force is changing human lives in ways from the microscopic to the gargantuan: Big Data, a word that was barely used a few years ago but now governs the day for many of us from the moment we awaken to the extinguishing of the final late-evening light bulb. This massive gathering and analyzing of data in real time is allowing us to not only address some of humanity biggest challenges but is also helping create a new kind of planetary nervous system. Yet as Edward Snowden and the release of the Prism documents have shown, the accessibility of all these data comes at a steep price. The Human Face of Big Data captures the promise and peril of this extraordinary knowledge revolution.Written by
The recent PBS special "The Human Face of Big Data" takes a look at recent developments in online information gathering, particularly as it affects individuals. The program, sponsored by technology companies such as Cisco, takes an overly optimistic view of these technological developments, at times willfully ignoring their down sides.
The film looks at information gathering in a number of areas, ranging from better understanding of DNA and the genome to the monitoring of internet searches. Overall, it puts a positive spin on these developments, with much of the commentary coming from industry representatives. For example, the founder of 23andme holds forth on how easy it will be to test people's DNA in the near future, never bothering to consider that the society she's describing is basically Gattaca.
The Human Face of Big Data does have a point, in that much of the technology described can be very beneficial if used with circumspection and caution. However, this circumspection requires that we squarely confront the potential dangers posed by these developments, not paper them over with corporate public relations.
Towards the end, the film does briefly consider "the dark side" of this technology, but not in much detail. This cautionary note is overwhelmed by the plaudits that have come before it. The film works best as a start to a conversation over very complex issue.
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