The controversy surrounding the NSA and government surveillance made me pay special attention to the accompanying wave of news coverage about Big Data and data mining.
New York Magazine’s Best Doctors Issue featured a story about MetaMed, a company introducing new information systems to our health care. MetaMed representatives Skype with patients about their medical history, do blood tests, and genetic profiles eventually generating a full report that may recommend tweaks in medication or specialists to see. It’s cofounder, Michael Vassar says “Almost all of the health care that people get is going to be done – hopefully- by algorithms within a decade or two.”
The New York Times published a Special Section on Big Data last week which laid out some interesting trends in how people are using Big Data. CVS Caremark collected data about customers habits and found that their best shoppers were ones with chronic conditions. By targeting those customers who are prescribed medication for 1-2 years but stopped refilling after just a few months, CVS filled a revenue gap they had previously overlooked.
Political camps use microtargeting to isolate voter groups and send tailored messages based on family status, age, education, etc.. Such methods helped Obama’s team earn the title of “most technologically advanced campaign in American history.” Sunday’s New York Times Magazine takes a more in depth look at how Obama’s data crunchers are now taking their skills corporate.
The cover image from the NY Times is from Jonathan Harris’ We Feel Fine project. Blogs were screened for the words “I feel..” or “I am feeling…” and the artist created beautiful infographics according to positive and negative sentiments. This is a reminder that data may be impersonal but comes from people (with feelings) who can benefit or be taken advantage of depending on which direction Big Data heads.
I’m reminded by these articles that MLS holders are just a few of the many people using large datasets. I hope that there can be a good exchange of experience and skills between these different data disciplines. As big data expands, remember this tidbit from Jeffrey Hammerbacher, one of the field’s pioneers, “Just because you can’t measure it easily doesn’t mean it’s not important.”