Elif Ayiter/Flickr

Levende big data

CAMBRIDGE – 'Big data' bestaat uit het digitale spoor dat wij achterlaten als we creditcards, mobiele telefoons of het web gebruiken. Zorgvuldig en nauwkeurig toegepast kunnen deze gegevens ons een ongekend inzicht in onze samenleving verschaffen en de manier verbeteren waarop we leven en werken. Maar wat in theorie werkt, vertaalt zich misschien niet zo goed in de echte wereld, waar complexe menselijke interacties niet altijd kunnen worden 'gevangen,' zelfs niet door de meest geavanceerde modellen. Big data vergt van ons dat we op grote schaal experimenteren.

Mijn eigen laboratorium bij het MIT bouwt bijvoorbeeld een website die, gebaseerd op kaarten van Google, het digitale spoor van een samenleving gebruikt om armoede, kindersterfte, misdaadcijfers, veranderingen in het bruto binnenlands product en andere sociale indicatoren buurt voort buurt in kaart te brengen – en dat alles iedere dag aangevuld met de nieuwste gegevens. Dit nieuwe instrument stelt gebruikers in staat om bijvoorbeeld te zien waar overheidsinitiatieven succes hebben of falen.

Maar hoewel zulke indrukwekkende visualisatiemiddelen de transparantie en de publieke kennis dramatisch kunnen vergroten, zijn ze verbazingwekkend beperkt als ze worden ingezet voor het oplossen van de problemen van een samenleving. Een van de redenen daarvoor is dat zulke rijke datastromen het leggen van 'valse verbanden' bevorderen.

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