9 Big Data Ted Talks Everyone Needs to See

Big data may be a big buzzword, but its implications are bombarding the business world, offering new insights to old problems and connecting the dots where previously no dots were even seen. It’s a changing space out there, where what you like on Facebook can tell a marketer your inner-most desires, where the speed of algorithms concerns us more than the speed of light, where monuments and memorials are built to honor the humanity in us all – from a data standpoint. 

So, yes…big data may indeed be a buzzword, but its influence on our business models, our lives and even on the grography of our planet is only beginning. These five Ted Talks get to the heart of the massive shift in perception when it comes to utilizing data, from the security to the oddities and everything in between. It’s time to learn up on the data revolution, and begin to understand your data rights. 

1) Jennifer Golbeck: The Curly Fry Conundrum

In this 10 minute talk, Jennifer Golbeck gets to the bottom of social media data — making a case for the truly holistic information each of us shares. For instance, liking “Curly Fries” on Facebook has a high correlation with intelligence, but not because smart people just happen to like curly fries. Instead, based on algorithms and correlations across an individual’s social network, anything can be predicted based on a seemingly unrelated “Like” or “Follow,” including intelligence, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation and more. 

“If users don’t want me to use their data, they should have the right to do that. I want users to be informed and consenting users of the tools we develop.”

Golbeck’s talk makes it obvious that social media identity data has a very high value, and that ensuring users understand that value and have the option to opt-out of supplying that data is key to maintaining privacy in the era of audience intelligence and big data.

2) Alessandro Acquisti: Why Privacy Matters

Big data is being collected all around you and about you whether you want it to be happening or not. In this 15 minute talk, Acquisti questions the line between public and private information, noting that as big data continues to grow, that line blurs. And, in order to secure privacy, something has to be done about it. According to Acquisti, it’s the battle of our time as we fight for our data freedom to choice. It is possible to have the benefits of big data while protecting privacy. 

“I believe that one of the defining fights of our time will be the fight over the control of personal information, the fight over whether big data will become a force for freedom or a force which will hiddenly manipulate us.”

Acquisti’s answer lies not just in simply transparency, but in giving users the right to choose, the option to share, the tools and understanding necessary to truly gauge for themselves the implications of sharing their data — and then making the educated decisions to do so, or not.

3) Jer Thorp: Make Data More Human

In a moving 18 minute talk, Thorp presents the value of adding human context to big data, giving large amounts of information true meaning. His example? The 9/11 memorial, on which the names of the victims are not displayed alphabetically, but by adjacency. Brothers next to brothers, co-workers next to co-workers, the 9/11 memorial is the first structure of its kind to utilize big data to affect architecture with a human angle — showcasing the truly myriad connections each of us makes throughout our lives. 

“[The 9/11 memorial] has an incredibly timely concept in our era of social networks.”

Big data, he concludes, exists to help us, not harm us. And we should treat it as a tool to do so.

4) Kevin Slavin: Algorithms as Nature

This 15 minute talk begins with a Michael Najjar art piece showcasing Mount Aconcagua as seen from the summit. The steep peaks of the mountain, though, have been altered to accurately portray the Dow Jones stock market over the past 20 to 30 years. In essence, these are data mountains — and Slavin argues that Najjar’s artwork isn’t merely for show, it is a prophecy of how data, particularly algorithms, are changing the very landscape of our world.

“The landscape was always made by this sort of weird, uneasy collaboration between nature and man, but now there is this kind of third co-evolutionary force — the algorithm. And we will have to understand [algorithms] as nature, and in a way, they are.”

As algorithmic speed continues to dictate business outcomes, humans will continue to teraform our planet to make way for speed, precision and ROI at the hands of the algorithm.

5) Philip Evans: How Data Will Transform Business

In 14 minutes, Evans explains the history of traditional business strategy and how it no longer works in today’s modern business world. Instead, data-driven decisions will need to take precedence, not ego. 

“Technology is driving the natural scaling of the activity beyond the institutional boundaries in which we have been used to thinking about it.”

Technology is the driving force behind business innovation, and the businesses that begin to a accept and create a culture around using big data will win out in the end. 

6) Tim Berners-Lee: A Magna Carta for the Web

Twenty-five years ago, Tim Berners-Lee received an assignment. He wrote the code. And he was the very first user of the Internet. Today, more than 40% of the world is using the World Wide Web, including companies that collect data, often without your knowledge. In this talk, Berners-Lee details the importance of net neutrality and advocates for a Bill of Rights for the Internet, in which data rights for the people are protected and enforced by law. 

“I want a web which is, for example, a really good basis for democracy.” 

From survellience to potenital Internet “slow lanes,” the World Wide Web is changing, and lawmakers are having a difficult time keeping up with all the innovation. Tech moves fast, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep up.

7) Kenneth Cukier: Big Data is Better Data

The jury is still out on the big data versus small data debate. To use surveys or to scrap? To collect second-party data or to use first? How much should we scale? What is the benefit? What are the potential losses? Who is being hurt? Is privacy being breached? Few turly have the answers to these questions, but in this talk, Kenneth Cukier, data editor of The Economist, addresses one concern: is bigger data necessarily better?

“Big data is a little bit like the challenge that was faced by primitive man and fire. This is a tool, but this is a tool that, unless we’re careful, will burn us.”

His resounding answer is yes. And his reasoning makes a very good case for why this is so. From the Internet of Things to machine learning to AI, Cukier covers the gamet of the big data industry, and details why the collection and use of data at scale is one of the foremost human inventions of all time. 

8) Glenn Greenwald: Why Privacy Matters

In the age of mass survellience made easy by big data, Glenn Greenwald argues that even if you don’t have anything to hide, you need to care about privacy. It is true that as more and more of us use the Internet, opt-in to data collection, use social media platforms, create tons of passwords, use credit cards, use smart phones, decide to wear a FitBit (or what have you), companies, the governement and, yes, even hackers have a treasure trove of personal data to track us, market to us and potentially harm and/or arrest us. 

“We as human beings, even those of us who in words disclaim the importance of our own privacy, instinctively understand the profound importance of it.”

Many tech companies and platforms are fighting for user rights, but many aren’t. Unfortunately, though, not enough citizens are fighting for their data rights. In this talk, Greenwald explains why now is the time to take up in arms, and make a difference that will out live us all. 

9) Keren Elazari: Hackers: The Internet’s Immune System

Data breaches happen almost every day, with one big enough to affect a large consumer population at least once a month. You know many of them by name: Target, Home Depot, Adobe. Few companies have been spared from the underhanded attacks hackers can create. Yet, hackers are not who we think they are, and Keren Elazari wants to make this abundantly clear. 

“The reality is, hackers can do a lot more than break things. They can bring people together.”

Hackers are not the enemy, and they can, in fact, help to create an Internet on which large-scale hacks are more difficult. There are big guys everywhere, but they are few and far between. Our opinion of hackers needs to change. They are our modern day superheros. 

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