To Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Big Data is not a just a new technology, but, in his own words, “a shift in mindset”: humans, he says, are gradually shifting from thinking in terms of causality to thinking in terms of correlation, from analysing small amounts of ordered data to processing huge amounts of messy data. A professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University, in 2013 Mayer-Schönberger published together with Kenneth Neil Cukier, the Data Editor of The Economist magazine, the visionary book Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, a bestseller both according to the New York Times' and the Wall Street Journal's lists. Since then, he tells Pirelli World, many things have changed and the role of Big Data has been proved even more important, especially for business and services.
Two years have passed since you published your book. Has since then the impact of Big Data increased further?
Two years ago, not many people had heard about Big Data. That certainly has changed. But people are even more uncertain what Big Data actually is. Countless companies, consultants and pundits have hyped technical tools and promised Big Data heaven. Quite a number of them are out to make money fast, but to push for even more Big Data tools obscures the core of Big Data: not a new technology but a shift in mindset, appreciating and embracing a new perspective on reality that will yield innovative insights generating value for companies and society.
Which are the business and research fields that have been mostly affected by the rise of Big Data?
So far, Internet services have benefitted mainly from Big Data. Amazon’s system of product recommendation is driven by Big Data analysis and is said to account for 30 percent of Amazon’s revenues. That is massive. Similarly, Internet search (whether through Google or Bing), language translations (either written text, like for Google Translate, or spoken words, as in Skype Translate), and automatic correction of typing errors have been used by hundreds of millions of people. And we all have watched self-driving cars stop in time to avert accidents – that, too, is Big Data. But the really big areas of Big Data disruption are others: health care, education and learning, as well as mobility and transportation. These areas will change beyond recognition thanks to Big Data.