The Winter 2013 issue of the California Magazine contains a story, “Riding the iBomb: Life in the age of exploding information,” that features numerous CITRIS people, including i4Energy initiative leader David Culler, as well as many of our big data/information science events.
California Magazine: The Acxiom Corporation has me down as Arab.
Acxiom is a commercial data broker based in Little Rock, Arkansas, a Big Data company that builds consumer profiles by aggregating information from various public and consumer databases. It then packages and sells that information to marketers who want to more accurately target ads to consumers. One of Acxiom’s slogans is “Stop Guessing. Start Knowing.”
Under pressure from lawmakers and privacy advocates to be more transparent, the company recently allowed consumers a glimpse of their personal profiles. Logging in to aboutthedata.com, I discovered that Acxiom knows my birthday, my street address, the last four digits of my social security number, and even when my auto insurance expires.
The Arab thing is a total guess, though: Ethnicity based on surname.
For better or worse, we have now entered the Age of Big Data. The nebulous term refers not just to the unprecedented scale of data (including our own personal data) and computing power now available to marketers, governments, researchers, and the like, but also to an emerging mindset that sees nearly every question facing humanity as suddenly susceptible to computational analysis.
The idea found early expression in an influential 2008 essay in Wired magazine called “The End of Theory.” Chris Anderson, then editor of Wired, announced to readers that we now lived in a “world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is, they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data,” he concluded, “the numbers speak for themselves.”