March 31st, 2014
05:28 PM ET

What I'm reading: Are we making a mistake with big data?

By Fareed Zakaria

“New, large, cheap data sets – and powerful analytical tools will pay dividends – nobody doubts that. And there are a few cases in which analysis of very large data sets has worked miracles,” writes Tim Harford in the Financial Times. “David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge points to Google Translate, which operates by statistically analysing hundreds of millions of documents that have been translated by humans and looking for patterns it can copy. This is an example of what computer scientists call ‘machine learning,’ and it can deliver astonishing results with no preprogrammed grammatical rules. Google Translate is as close to theory-free, data-driven algorithmic black box as we have – and it is, says Spiegelhalter, ‘an amazing achievement.’ That achievement is built on the clever processing of enormous data sets.”

“But big data do not solve the problem that has obsessed statisticians and scientists for centuries: the problem of insight, of inferring what is going on, and figuring out how we might intervene to change a system for the better.”


“Russia’s ideology may be mishmash: the old Soviet critique of hypocritical ‘bourgeois democracy,’ plus some anti-Europeanism, some anti-globalism and a homophobic twist for contemporary appeal,” argues Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post. “But let’s not assume that competition between ideas is absurd and old-fashioned. And let’s not pretend that ideologies don’t matter, because even if we’d prefer otherwise, they do.”

“As we merrily roll along, radically altering the planet, we are, as the leaked IPCC report makes clear, increasingly in danger of committing ourselves to outcomes that will simply overwhelm societies’ ability to adapt,” writes Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker. “Certainly they will overwhelm the abilities of frogs and trees and birds to adapt. Thus, any genuine ‘preparedness’ strategy must include averting those eventualities for which preparation is impossible. This is not something that the President can do by executive order, but it’s something he ought to be pursuing with every other tool.”

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. ✠RZ✠

    How often are mistakes borne of what is wrong in the first place?

    March 31, 2014 at 11:51 pm |
  2. #RZ#

    I like pepperoni pizza....

    April 1, 2014 at 6:16 am |
  3. chrissy

    Lol @ RZ i can always count on you to give me a good laugh when i need it most. And so far i know only 1 other person who can do that: ring ring...calling mr bobcat...where art thou? Lol

    April 1, 2014 at 8:08 pm |
    • ✠RZ✠

      But this week's prize goes to Steve's comment on the Ukraine for pointing out the only thing Obama can really do about it is "Crimea River".

      April 1, 2014 at 10:14 pm |
  4. chrissy

    Lol that is a good one yea. Although i dont think Obama is too concerned with Crimea as they themselves voted for this!

    April 1, 2014 at 11:32 pm |
  5. Dreamndiscover

    BigData: What, Where and How?
    This blog introduces the BigData and talks about its impact on the human kind.

    April 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm |
  6. childrens board games

    Good post.Ne'er knew this, thank you for letting me know.

    April 13, 2018 at 1:21 pm |

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