Curiosity Luminary Rick Smolan: “I have become a convert.”

I’m really looking forward to my first Curiosity Retreat later this month, and the chance to brainstorm the future with some of the smartest people in the world.

I’m honored to be sharing a fascinating journey I’ve been on for the past 18 months, exploring a strange new land, widely talked about in labs and boardrooms from Palo Alto to Bangalore, as the world of Big Data. As with all the best journeys, when I began there were no maps to guide me, just helpful fellow travelers also trying to navigate a wild and uncharted territory.

Along the way, I asked many experts to help me understand what Big Data really means. Some define Big Data as more than what can be stored on a personal computer. Others say it isn’t just the quantity of information, but the tools that show the patterns within it. Still others choose to be metaphorical: Big Data, they told me, is the process of helping the planet grow a nervous system, one in which we are all evolving into human sensors.

The overarching message I came away with is that we are witnessing something the human race has never experienced before. The real-time visualization of data streaming in from satellites, and from billions of sensors, RFID tags, and GPS-enabled cameras and smartphones, is enabling humanity, in real time, to sense, measure, understand, and affect aspects of our existence in ways our ancestors could never have imagined in their wildest dreams.

In the lecture I’ve been invited to share at the Curiosity Retreat, I’m going to share a wide array of examples of how Big Data, still in its infancy, is sweeping, almost invisibly, through business, academia, government, health care, and everyday life. It’s already enabling us, both as individuals and as a society, to provide a healthier life for our children; to provide our seniors with independence while keeping them safe; to conserve precious resources like water and energy; to peer into our own individual genetic makeup; to create new forms of life. And soon, many predict, to reengineer our own species. And yet, we’ve barely scratched the surface.…

To be honest, at the beginning of this project I was skeptical of the many claims I heard that Big Data might one day turn out to be more transformative than the Internet. Having now traversed vast regions of this new land, I have become a convert. I am now convinced that Big Data may well turn out to be the most powerful tool set the human race will have to address the widespread challenges facing our species and our planet.

Like all new tools, Big Data carries the potential for unintended consequences. But if we are careful and wise, in the not too distant future this new set of technologies may have an impact on humanity as great as those of language and art.

 

Rick Smolan
Founder
Against All Odds Productions

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