Imagining the Internet Project

 

 Responses to this 2020 scenario were assembled from Internet stakeholders in the 2012 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Future of the Internet Survey. Some respondents chose to identify themselves; many did not. We share some—not all—of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents who shared their identity are attributed only for the purpose of indicating a level of expertise; statements reflect personal views. If you would like to participate in the next survey, mail andersj [at] elon dotedu; include information on your expertise.  



 
Credited responses
to a tension pair on
Big Data and the
Internet in 2020 

This page includes credited survey participants' contributions to the discussion of the future of the Internet and Big Data by 2020. This is one of eight questions raised by the 2012 Elon University-Pew Internet survey of technology experts, stakeholders, and social analysts. Results on this question were first released by Imagining the Internet director Janna Quitney Anderson and Pew Internet Director Lee Rainie July 20, 2012. 

In a recent survey about the likely future of the Internet, technology experts and stakeholders were fairly evenly split when it came to imagining what role Big Data may play by 2020. 

>To read the official study report, please click here.<

>To read the responses of anonymous participants
in answer to this question, click here.
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Following is a large sample of the responses from survey participants who took credit for their remarks when sharing their thoughts in the survey. Some are longer versions of responses that were edited to fit in the official report. About half of the respondents chose to remain anonymous and half took credit for their remarks (for-credit responses are published on a separate page).

Survey participants were asked, “What impact will Big Data have in 2020? What are the positives, negatives, and shades of grey in the likely future you anticipate? How will use of Big Data change analysis of the world, change the way business decisions are made, change the way that people are understood?” They answered:

“The Internet magnifies the good, bad, and ugly of everyday life. Of course these things will be used for good. And of course they'll be used for bad and ugly. Science fiction gives us plenty of templates for imagining where that will go. But that dichotomy gets us nowhere. What will be interesting is how social dynamics, economic exchange, and information access are inflected in new ways that open up possibilities that we cannot yet imagine. This will mean a loss of some aspects of society that we appreciate but also usher in new possibilities. I'm writing this comment as Hurricane Irene sweeps through New York City. One hundred years ago, people might have not known that this weather system was a hurricane; they may have been scared; horses may have gone running north from North Carolina warning people. Today, we have amazing systems that allow us to watch the weather real-time, to see reports of what's happening where, to prepare both practically and for emergencies. This is tremendously valuable and will inevitably have saved many lives. Yet, because few have died, I also expect people to poo-poo Mayor Bloomberg for evacuating, for pulling the subways above ground, etc. So, what did this form of Big Data do? Some will say he overreacted; others will say he acted appropriately. And what we quickly learn is that the dichotomy has no value because, how it's perceived is all politics.” —danah boyd, senior researcher with professional affiliations and work based at Microsoft Research, Harvard Law School, New York University, and the University of New South Wales; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Well, this question seemed to have my name written all over it. I recently published a book Coming to Terms with Chance that largely mirrors the arguments at the core of the second option. In that book and in my view more generally, there is a need to think a bit more about the distribution of the harms that flow from the rise of big, medium, and little data gatherers, brokers, and users. If ‘Big Data’ could be used primarily for social benefit, rather than the pursuit of profit (and the social control systems that support that effort), then I could ‘sign on’ to the data driven future and its expression through the ‘Internet of Things.’” —Oscar Gandy, emeritus professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania; based in Tucson, Arizona

“The constraints of appreciating the benefits of big data will be the speed of adoption of open APIs, linked data, and interoperable metadata. Additionally continued concerns over privacy and security will constrain the utility of Big Data for inference visualization, and personal analytics.” —Mike Liebhold, senior researcher and distinguished fellow at The Institute for the Future; at one time or another, a consultant for the FCC, Congress, the White House, OSTP, NTIA, the Internet Society, IETF, Internet2, and other key organizations; based in Palo Alto, California

“I'm a big believer in nowcasting. Nearly every large company has a real-time data warehouse and has more timely data on the economy than our government agencies. In the next decade we will see a public/private partnership that allows the government to take advantage of some of these private sector data stores. This is likely to lead to a better informed, more pro-active fiscal and monetary policy.” —Hal Varian, chief economist at Google; based in the San Francisco Bay area, California

“Unsupervised machine learning is hard. There are many examples of supervised machine learning, but these are driven by subject-matter experts that guide the machine towards specific discoveries. It will take much more than ten years to master the extraction of actual knowledge from big data sets.” —Christian Huitema, distinguished engineer, Microsoft Corporation; active leader in the IETF; based in Redmond, Washington

“‘Big Data’ is very much undiscovered country for citizens and policymakers, and its beneficial potential depends on getting governance and citizen education right. The tech sector is typically pretty good at ushering in new applications in a secure way. But it is easy to underplay the importance of educating the public on what this all means, not least to foster widespread use of the affordances of ‘Big Data’ (e.g., health care delivery, home energy management). So a word of caution is in order if such efforts are not undertaken.” —John Horrigan, vice president of TechNet, a research organization; formerly at the FCC working on the National Broadband Plan and, before that, a researcher with the Pew Internet & American Life Project; based in Washington, DC

“In the aggregate, machine-learning technology and new computational capabilities will enable humans to harness 'Big Data' for constructive purposes. While 2020 is too soon for the emergence of true artificial intelligence and predictive power, the ability to manipulate social, physical, and informational inputs on a large scale will reveal new insights into behaviors and human development. The greater danger lies beyond 2020, when machine learning may become so effective that it crowds out human judgment.” —Jeffrey Alexander, senior science and technology policy analyst, Center for Science, Technology & Economic Development, SRI International; member, governing council, DC chapter of the Internet Society; based in Arlington, Virginia

“Big Data can be manipulated as well as Small Data. It is not about big or small! It is about embedding all data with trust and privacy features. We must develop the ‘Cloud Seal’ and wrap all data in such a notary like seal.” —Marcel Bullinga, futurist and author of Welcome to the Future Cloud - 2025 in 100 Predictions; based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

“In 2020, we will understand as much about Big Data as we do about The Web in 2011. Only by 2020 will we have enough of a fundamental understanding to start truly doing great things with Big Data. We will make a lot of mistakes in the next ten years, endure predictions about ‘The Death of Big Data’ and slowly but surely, we will develop the tools and understanding necessary to turn the rise of Big Data into a positive force for change.” —Ross Rader, general manager at Hover, a service of Tucows; board member of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority; based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

“All generalizations suck. Less colloquially put, it's naive to assume that Big Data will solve individual problems, but it will generally provide gross intelligence to support more-nuanced and customized decisions. The Herd will be served by Big Data, but creativity, customization, aggregation and precision must be achieved by individual decision-making.” —Mack Reed, principal, Factoid Labs, a consultancy on content, social engineering, design, and business analysis; COO, F8 Interactive, developer of life-like, non-violent games; longtime member of the WELL and the Burning Man community; based in Los Angeles, California

“I choose the more optimistic option, for I do believe that the creation and use of large-scale databases holds enormous promise for both research and policy determination purposes. However, it will be necessary to regulate these activities to ensure that they are used for the benefits of all peoples. Furthermore, it will be necessary to educate ourselves to ensure that we can recognize abuses and self-servicing frauds.” —Hugh F. Cline, adjunct professor of sociology and education at Columbia University; retired from a position as a senior research scientist and administrator in an educational testing company; lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and works in New York City

“While I doubt that any complex human-based events, e.g., the stock market, can be accurately predicted under any circumstances, added data will enhance our understanding of the physical world and the real-time tracking of objects in motion, e.g., shipments and inventories, will increase the efficiency of various economic activities. Privacy will continue to be a large challenge.” —Larry Lannom, director of information management technology and vice president at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), a research organization based in the Washington, DC, metro area

“The collection of information is going to benefit the rich, at the expense of the poor. I suppose that for a few people that counts as a positive outcome, but your two choices should have been ‘will mostly benefit the rich’ or ‘will mostly benefit the poor,’ rather than ‘good for society’ and ‘bad for society.’  There's no such thing as ‘society.’ There's only wealth and poverty, and class struggle. And yes, I know about farmers in Africa using their cell phones to track prices for produce in the big cities. That's great, but it's not enough.” —Brian Harvey, lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley; based in Berkeley, California

“My answer is a reluctant acknowledgment of what I perceive as human nature. Basing my opinion on how effectively marketing works on many people—convincing them to do things other than what is in their personal interest—it seems likely that powerful people and institutions will use all of the data at their disposal to affect events according to their interests.” —Michael Goodson, assistant project scientist at the University of California-Davis; based in Davis, California

“The positive outcomes for ‘Big Data’ will depend on the general availability of powerful analytic and visualization tools and widespread fluency in their use. Even if consumer and pro-consumer data dashboards are less advanced than those employed by commercial business and government intelligence agencies, the ability of individuals and small organizations to develop analytically rigorous counter narratives complete with dynamic 3D graphs that go up on YouTube and get picked up by CNN could provide a check on the presumptuous uses of data mining.” —John N. Kelly, consultant with the Monitor Group, The Hub, Hawthorne Consultants; specializing in the incubation of social start-ups; based in Berkeley, California

“Sadly I've found that the axiom, bigger is better, is generally not true. While my disappointment in technologies’ failures to cure all of what ails us as society, is somewhat balanced by my amusement at what will undoubtedly be phenomenal fodder for late-night talk show hosts and comedians as well as the merry practical jokers of the Caucophony society, Burning Man organizers, et al. More importantly this collection of data and information, flawed though it may be will be an amazing enabler of some new amazing innovation which gives us all hope anew for the future.” —Richard D. Titus, a seed funding venture capitalist at his own fund, Octavian Ventures; producer of documentaries, including ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’; chairman of the board for European video tech start-up Videoplaza; based in San Francisco, California, and London, UK

“You don't allow the appropriate choice, which is a mild negative, so I'll choose ‘huge positive’ as that's what Big Data will eventually be, but only when we get an advanced semantic Web, which will be in the 2030's. In the 2020's the semantic Web will be in its infancy.  http://www.accelerationwatch.com/lui.html Lots of folks and companies will over claim what Big Data can do for us in the next decade, and are already doing so, but that's just a mild negative. Such hype causes overinvestment in underperforming platforms and other problems, but they are mild. Once we have cybertwins (semi-intelligent agents) interfacing with us and a valuecosm in 2030, all the smallest social values groups will have their own online lobbies, and be able to find subcultures that support and advance their values. In the meantime, expect the typical chaos, hype, and inefficiencies that tech innovation always brings.” —John Smart, professor of emerging technologies at the University of Advancing Technology; president and founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation; based in Mountain View, California

“Any trend in technology can lead to abuse. And likely will. But in aggregate the ability to understand and analyze—and act upon—massive data sets, will be positive for individuals as well as institutions.” —Lee W. McKnight, professor of entrepreneurship and innovation, Syracuse University; founder of Wireless Grids; co-founder of Summerhill Biomass; president of Marengo Research; principal investigator of Wireless Grid Innovation Testbed (WiGiT); based in Syracuse, New York

“Big Data will of course be misused because everything is. But we are just beginning to understand the range of problems Big Data can solve, even though it means acknowledging that we're less unpredictable, free, madcap creatures than we'd like to think. It also raises the prospect of some of our most important knowledge consisting of truths we can't understand because our pathetic human brains are just too small.” —David Weinberger, senior researcher, Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Harvard Library Innovation Lab; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Big Data allows us to see patterns we have never seen before. This will clearly show us interdependence and connections that will lead to a new way of looking at everything. It will let us see the ‘real-time’ cause and effect of our actions. What we buy, eat, donate, and throw away will be visual in a real-time map to see the ripple effect of our actions. That could only lead to mores-conscious behavior.” —Tiffany Shlain, director and producer of the film ‘Connected’ and founder of The Webby Awards; Henry Crown Fellow at The Aspen Institute; based in San Francisco, California

“The successful analysis of these large data sets yields results only through the application of scientific method. We can hope this will mitigate the potential for abuse outlined in the second paragraph. Scientific method has proved vastly superior at generating knowledge wherever it has been applied compared to all previous approaches. We can expect huge benefits from these new possibilities to apply a scientific approach in areas, which previously were the subject only of speculation and theorizing. I expect this will be quite transformative for society, though perhaps not quite in just the next eight years.” —Mark Watson, senior engineer for Netflix and a leading participant in various technology groups related to the Internet (IETF, W3C), specifically dealing with video standards; based in San Francisco, California
“Control of Internet access and data, once in users' hands, is fast being co-opted by corporations, which may be inevitable, as other technologies in the past have had similar trajectories. While the rise of Big Data yields some positives, I fear that it will mostly result in increased surveillance and more targeted marketing efforts.” —Melinda Blau, freelance journalist and the author of 13 books, including ‘Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don’t Seem to Matter But Really Do’: based in New York City

“The problem of massive data sets is already on us and the ways we handle it are already showing both the strengths and weaknesses of vast quantities of information. To whit, we don't have the resources to process the data and analyze it adequately for its meaning. Also, vast quantities of quantitative information are lovely, but without the contextualization and detail that come from interviews, observation, and other qualitative techniques that vast quantity of information is essentially meaningless. In other words, that's nice but so what?  Until we commit adequate resources (which currently are not available—I point out the emphasis of our current society towards monetization and specialization) towards interpretation and explanation ‘The Internet of Things’ remains a great idea and that's about it. In terms of values, it totally depends on where you sit. There are going to be people who are terrified of what comes out of finding out what people actually do; they are much more interested in having the world reflect what they know and understand and find ‘difference’ to be incredibly threatening. Such folks will always try to manipulate data sets. On the other hand are the idealists who likewise want diversity to always be a good thing and will try to manipulate data sets to reflect their vision. Integrity in scholarship is the key here—way too many people have an agenda they are pursuing. This is the threat to ‘The Internet of Things’ not the information itself.” —J. Meryl Krieger, adjunct lecturer in sociology at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis, Department of Sociology; based in Bloomington, Indiana

“Big Data is a Big Idea and I think the age of Big Ideas has largely passed. Moore's Law has not been repealed and all else is commentary. But otherwise, the world is too complicated to be usefully encompassed in such an undifferentiated Big Idea. Whose ‘Big Data’ are we talking about? Wall Street, Google, the NSA? I am small, so generally I do not like Big.” —John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, former director of cyberstrategy and other projects for the Federation of American Scientists; based in Alexandria, Virginia

“Big Data is here and expanding. It does make marketing to meet individual needs more effective. However, I see two major negatives overwhelming the positive. 1. Our trust in econometic models made the great world economic crash more likely. By getting better and better at predicting the specifics of the near future we had models that ignored big system changes and the power of market corruption by those on top. Predictive models are all subject to a movement to the mean, ignoring the rising system change caused by falling off a cliff not seen by the models and not looked for by the humans trusting models.  2. Like 1984 and Brave New World, books my generation know well, I have seen government, and even more big business use massive personalized data to control people, to not just respond to their needs but to create needs. Government has made us fearful and willing to accept increasing limits on personal freedom because of our insecurity. The wealthy elite (top 2% or so) can purchase TV ads and other media to get Congress elected for their purposes. Now big corporations can be even more active on the top of the table. This increasing power shifted to the top is moving the United States away from Democracy into what I now see as a Plutocracy. The RFID's in our clothes and products make tracking the outliers easier and perhaps puts people at more risk in the future.” —Ed Lyell, professor at Adams State College, consultant for using telecommunications to improve school effectiveness through the creation of 21st-century learning communities; host of a regional public radio show on the economy; based in Alamosa, Colorado

“Despite the potential for governments to try to take over the use of the Internet and for unscrupulous people to use it to cause disruptions to the lives and livelihoods of people just trying to survive, the Internet has the greater potential for doing good in the world. The big issue to do with the Internet, is trust in where the information comes from and how it is used. As long as people know who is offering the information and can trust its source, then there is a better understanding of what the world is about. However, confidence in the technology declines when it is misused and people are harmed as a result of miscommunication or false communication. Education in the appropriate use of the Internet, taking more flexible advantage of the diversity of access that the World Wide Web offers, and the security of online information during financial transactions, are what I see are the big issues for the future, to ensure that the Internet is used appropriately and safely, and provides the positive impacts for which it has the greatest potential.” —Maureen Hilyard, development programme coordinator for the New Zealand High Commission; vice chair of the board of the Pacific Chapter of the Internet Society; based in Rarotonga, Cook Islands

“I doubt that in only eight and a half years Big Data will have turned out to be either a ‘huge positive’ or a ‘big negative.’ However, the huge prospects for the 'Internet of Things' tip me to checking the first choice. I tend to think of the Internet of Things as multiplying points of interactivity—sensors and/or actuators—throughout the social landscape. As the cost of connectivity goes down the number of these points will go up, diffusing intelligence everywhere.” —Fred Hapgood, technology author and consultant; moderator of the Nanosystems Interest Group at MIT in the 1990s; writes for Wired, Discover, and other tech and science publications; based in Boston, Massachusetts

“As with any new technology its arrival is a mixed blessing fraught with the peril of our decision-making organizations to utilize new potentials. The two most obvious cases in point are intelligence gathering systems used for national security and the information systems currently employed to manage international financial markets. Both have manifested unintended consequences—in the one case a failure to properly act on information available and in the other hugely intricate and extreme fluctuations in markets that no one can explain. I am optimistic for the potential of the Internet of Things deployed on a manageable scale. The great caution with more ambitious systems is an over reliance on seemingly rational systems to provide total unassailable solutions. The potential for these systems to be abused or to fail to take into account unforeseen circumstances is real, underscoring the need for the design of such systems to be founded on well-considered principles addressing information privacy and civil liberties as well as the realization that the systems are constructs from data using rules. Rules created by people, with all their foibles and imperfections, are subject to the occasional ‘Black Swan’ conditions of unimagined outcomes.” —Sam Punnett, president of FAD Research Inc.; analyst for public and private funds supporting media and tech development; contributing writer to the Canadian Internet Project a part of the World Internet project run through USC; based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

“Big Data gives me hope about the possibilities of technology. Transparency, accountability, and the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ are all possible with the advent of Big Data combined with the tools to access and analyze the data in real time. Many examples are already in progress. In the accounting profession there is the advent of XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language), an open source, and standardized business reporting language, which is a subset of XML. This is already being deployed with mandatory financial reporting with the SEC, FDIC, and is being proposed for government spending accountability via the DATA Act of 2011 (Digital Accountability and Transparency Act). The use of XBRL is also being used for reducing the compliance burden for businesses and government with many governments around the world (Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK). The risks of a negative scenario revolve around data integrity and security issues. If these allow for manipulation and distortion from those in power, then the public trust will erode and a very negative scenario will rise. However, if the data is set free and there are tools for the many to access and analyze the data, then I would expect the positive scenario to be the most likely.” —Tom Hood, CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs; named one of the Top 100 Most Influential CPAs by Accounting Today and one of the Top 25 Thought Leaders in Public Accounting Technology by CPA Technology Advisor; based in Towson, Maryland

“City planning will reach a new evolution.” —David Cohn, founder and director of journalism organization Spot.Us; lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley School of Journalism; based in Oakland, California

“Health services that are connected make for repeat tests and a waste of both patient time and physician time. When data can't speak to each other, time and effort is wasted. In many cases the use of analytics is a way of understanding long-term trends or identifying emergent behavior that may evolve into long-term problems. As with any natural process, there will be mistakes and errors, but there will also be great benefits, one of which is the reduction of the time and space it takes to get work done or understand a process.” —Amber Case, CEO of Geoloqi, a company that creates location-based software for commercial and enterprise use; cyborg anthropologist and professional speaker; based in Portland, Oregon

“As with any technology, there are opportunities for abuse and for a lessening of social justice, but I believe, with Hans Rosling, that the more data we analyze, the better off we will be. Global climate change will make it imperative that we proceed in this direction of nowcasting to make our societies more nimble and adaptive to both human caused environmental events (e.g., Deepwater Horizon) and extreme weather events or decadal scale changes such as droughts. Coupled with the data, though, we must have a much better understanding of decision making, which means extending knowledge about cognitive biases, about boundary work (scientists, citizens, and policymakers working together to weigh options on the basis not only of empirical evidence but also of values).” —Gina Maranto, co-director for ecosystem science and policy and coordinator, graduate program in environmental science and policy at the University of Miami; based in Miami Beach and Coral Gables, Florida

“My basic concern here is that social issues cannot (and should not) be solved by means of technology. However, I do see technology as highly useful in helping to solve such problems.” —Pertti Hurme, head of the department of communication at the University of Jyväskylä; based in Jyväskylä, Finland

“Do-It-Yourself analytics will help more people analyze and forecast than ever before. This will have a variety of societal benefits and further innovation. It will also contribute to new kinds of crime.” —Marjory S. Blumenthal, associate provost at Georgetown University; adjunct staff officer at RAND Corporation; previously director of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies; based in Washington, DC

“The Internet and the Internet of Things together with the accompanying explosion in the capacity to process data will indeed facilitate positive progress, but at the same time, the data explosion will definitely cause more problems than it solves in future. Separating necessary data from unnecessary data will pose peculiar challenges. Also, data analysis alone does not guarantee optimal decisions and optimal outcomes because there are several factors beyond data—a point that is prone to be missed in the quest for more and more data. Such volumes of data call for more elaborate data management infrastructure and complex tools for analysis, which will inevitably leave all the data in the custody of very large enterprises, good and bad, and in the hands of governments. There is tremendous power associated with such a wealth of information. It is unlikely that this power will always be used with infallible ethical standards. In particular the rise of Big Data is likely to lead to a situation where everyone is tracked every moment everywhere, out of a pointless concern for security and in a misguided quest for control.” —Sivasubramanian Muthusamy, president of the Internet Society-India Chennai; founder and CEO of InternetStudio, a Web development and IT services company; based in Erode, Tamilnadu, India

“This is a question where I want to answer both. The ‘choices’ above are both true in their descriptions. I finally went with ‘negative’ because I've been advocating for years that data-mining businesses are not good models for government. But this is just the latest version of ‘computers and society.’” —Seth Finkelstein, professional programmer and consultant; 2001 winner of a Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award from Electronic Frontier Foundation for groundbreaking work in analyzing content-blocking software; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“I don't believe in creating bogeymen like this. They are so exaggerated that when proven false by events the real issues get obscured.” —Dave Burstein, editor of DSL Prime and Fast Net News; based in New York City

“It seems to me that greater access to information and Big Data will serve good purposes. In this, I retain a Jeffersonian view.” —Ken Friedman, dean of the faculty of design at Swinburne University of Technology; based in Melbourne, Australia

“While I agree the Internet of Things and Big Data will be one of the major developments I suspect the benefits and impacts will be much smaller and take a longer time to develop. Manipulating and correlating big data sets is hard work.” —Bill St. Arnaud, consultant at SURFnet, the national education and research network building The Netherlands’ next-generation Internet; research officer at CANARIE, working on Canada’s next-generation Internet; longtime Internet Society leader; based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
“Data mining will be used more, but by 2020 it will still be in fairly limited ways for limited purposes, and won't have that much of an effect, though of course those marketing it will amplify the benefits. But it will probably be 2030 before it really gets powerful. Will the effects be a net plus or minus? For twenty years the direct marketing and other people have been doing this, has that been a net plus or minus? I like the advances in weather and traffic prediction. I like it when my supermarket actually offers me free items or heavily discounted items that I have actually bought there in the past, rather than random coupons. I don't expect data mining to make massive advances over this kind of stuff by 2020. It will be here faster than you think. It is like three releases of the Mac or Windows OS ago—how revolutionary have the changes been since then? I guess we have an iPad and a Kinect now, but none of this has radically transformed the lives of ‘most’ people for good or ill.” —Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft; based in Redmond, Washington

“As a believer that more data/information (up to a point) leads to more knowledge/wisdom, I am positive on the ‘Big Data’ concept.” —Jim Jansen, associate professor in the College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State University; sits on the boards of eight international technology journals; serves on advisory boards for three Internet start-ups; based in Charlottesville, Virginia

“Overall, the growth of the ‘Internet of things’ and ‘big data’ will feed the development of new capabilities in sensing, understanding, and manipulating the world. However, the underlying analytic machinery (like Bruce Sterling's Engines of Meaning) will still require human cognition and curation to connect dots and see the big picture. And there will be dark episodes, too, since the brightest light casts the darkest shadow. There are opportunities for terrible applications, like the growth of the surveillance society, where the authorities watch everything and analyze our actions, behavior, and movements looking for patterns of illegality, something like a real-time Minority Report. On the other side, access to more large data can also be a blessing, so social advocacy groups may be able to amass information at a low- or zero-cost that would be unaffordable today. For example, consider the bottom-up creation of an alternative food system, outside the control of multinational agribusiness, and connecting local and regional food producers and consumers. Such a system, what I and others call Food Tech, might come together based on open data about people's consumption, farmers' production plans, and regional, cooperative logistics tools. So it will be a mixed bag, like most human technological advances.” —Stowe Boyd, principal at Stowe Boyd and The Messengers, a research, consulting and media business based in New York City

“Here the conflation of all possible uses into a single category makes it impossible to choose one or the other answer. In some cases, this increase in predictive ability will be of enormous value, as in epidemiology. In other cases, it can be quite dangerous, as would be the case if the legal trend towards criminalizing alleged intention rather than actual behavior continues. In all cases, the ability to manipulate to serve particular interests will be no different from what it has always been.” —Sandra Braman, professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; chair, Law Section, International Association of Media and Communication Research; editor, Information Policy Book Series, MIT Press

“Media and regulators are demonizing Big Data and its supposed threat to privacy. Such moral panics have occurred often thanks to changes in technology. I examine this in Public Parts. With the advent of the press, authors feared having their ideas attached to their names, stored permanently, and distributed widely. The invention of the Kodak portable camera caused the first serious discussion of a legal right to privacy in 1890. Now the Internet and its ability to gather, store, spread, and analyze data is causing similar fears—witness the Wall Street Journal's effort to whip up a moral manic over cookies and ‘what they know.’ That's not to say that we should not guard against untoward outcomes; technology itself is neutral and can be used for good ends and bad. The wise will look for and exploit the new opportunities technology provides. Case in point: the researchers who found that by analyzing the mood of Twitter—a set of six emotions and their opposites—they could, with stunning reliability, predict daily ups and downs in the Dow index. Not surprisingly, their formulae are now the basis of a hedge fund. Someone found value in the supposedly worthless blathering about our lives. I would not be surprised if others find the same value and neutralize the researchers' advantage or even if clever spammers find ways to game the mood on Twitter. But the moral of the story remains: there is value to be found in this data, value in our newfound publicness. Google's founders have urged government regulators not to require them to quickly delete searches because, in their patterns and anomalies, they have found the ability to track the outbreak of the flu before health officials could and they believe that by similarly tracking a pandemic, millions of lives could be saved. Demonizing data, big or small, is demonizing knowledge and that is never wise.” —Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism; author of Public Parts and What Would Google Do? and blogger at Buzzmachine.com; based in New York City

“The Internet of Things is less about massive data than meta objects. We'll have to learn how to hide from big data in plain sight. I do worry about the tyranny of the major less because of big data than because of today's self-terrorized society seeking solace in the past.” —Bob Frankston, computing pioneer, co-founder of Software Arts and co-developer and marketer of VisiCalc, created Lotus Express, ACM Fellow; based in Newton, Massachusetts

“Humans consistently seem to think they know more than they actually know in retrospect. Our understanding of technological effects, for example, lags by many decades the inexorable effects of implementation. See Jerry Mander's great page about whether we would have let the car drive our evolution as much as it did had we known the consequences back then (in In the Absence of the Sacred). So the best-intentioned of humans will try to use Big Data to solve Big Problems, but are unlikely to do well at it. Big Ideas have driven innumerable bad decisions over time. Think of the Domino Theory, Eugenics, and racial superiority theories—even Survival of the Fittest. These all have led us into mess after mess. Meanwhile, the worst-intentioned will have at hand immensely powerful ways to do harm, from hidden manipulation of the population to all sorts of privacy invasions. A bunch of dystopian sci-fi movies don't seem like they're that far away from our reality. Also, data coming out of fMRI experiments will convince us we know how people make decisions, leading to more mistaken policies. There are a few bright spots on the horizon. When crowds of people work openly with one another around real data, they can make real progress. See Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, CureTogether, PatientsLikeMe, and many other projects that weren't possible pre-Internet. We need small groups empowered by Big Data, then coordinating with other small groups everywhere to find what works pragmatically. Finally, Google's use of Big Data has found remarkably simple answers to thorny problems like spell checking and translation, not to mention nascent insights on pandemic tracking and more. I fear Google's monolithic power, but admire their more clear-cut approach.” —Jerry Michalski, guide and founder, Relationship Economy Expedition (REXpedition); founder and president of Sociate; consultant for the Institute for the Future and corporate clients in many different industries; based in San Francisco, California

“Society often finds itself in a perplexed state as it attempts to understand large issues, solutions, and items given the diversity of environments, actions, and opinions throughout diverse cultures of the world. It is often challenging, given this diversity, to determine what is the best course of action/plan to move forward. A growing mass of data can help better inform decision-making, identify trends, and connect data bits to see a larger picture than what was previously known. Big Data will, however, offer challenges unless the tools, methods, and technologies are developed that can aid in relating unstructured data together to tell a story. The tools, methods, and technologies will be the challenge in 2020, not the availability of the data itself. Society will continue to struggle with privacy. As more and more of our lives are archived and mined on the Web, opportunists will continue to explore ways to exploit the available data for their own, not-so-honest means. How we respond and manage should continue to be a major focus in the Internet community through 2020. We must understand the challenges and opportunities, know the gaps that exist, and offer the best chances for addressing these.” —Kevin Novak, VP for integrated Web strategy, technology, American Institute of Architects; co-chair, eGov Working Group, World Wide Web Consortium; speaker, author on Web, electronic government; consultant to World Bank on the eTransform Initiative; based in Washington, DC

“The intelligence of systems cannot substitute for the intelligence of the individuals and organizations that use them. Since efforts are focused on the development of technology at the expense of education, consciousness raising, and democratic control, negative effects are the more likely to occur.” —Michel J. Menou, visiting professor at the department of information studies at University College London; based in Les Rosiers sur Loire, France

“Computer science, data-mining, and a growing network of sensors and information-collection software programs are giving rise to a phenomenal occurrence, the knowable future. The rate by which we can predict aspects of the future is quickening as rapidly as is the spread of the Internet, because the two are inexorably linked. The Internet is turning prediction into an equation. In research centers across the country, mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists are using a global network of sensors and informational collection devices and programs to plot ever more credible and detailed forecasts and scenarios. Computer-aided prediction comes in a wide variety of forms and guises, from AI programs that chart potential flu outbreaks to expensive (yet imperfect) quant algorithms that anticipate outbreaks of stock market volatility. But the basic process is not dramatically different from what plays out when the human brain makes a prediction. These systems analyze sensed data in the context of stored information to extrapolate a pattern the same way the early earthquake warning system used its network of sensors to detect the P wave and thus project the S wave. What differs between these systems, between humans predictors and machine predictors, is the sensing tools. Humans are limited to two eyes, two ears, and a network of nerve endings. Computers can sense via a much wider menagerie of data collection tools. Many firms have gotten a lot better at predicting human patterns using those sense tools. Some, like Google, are already household names. In the coming years, Google is going to leverage the massive amount of user data that it collects on a minute by minute to basis to extrapolate trends in human activity and thus predict future activity. Google has been doing this with some success in terms of flu for several years now with its popular Flu Trends program. It works exactly how you would imagine that it would. We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms, says Google on its Flu Trends Web site. As Nicholas Christakis described in his book Connected querying activity and social network activity can reveal infectious disease trends long before data on those trends is released to the public by prudent government agencies. But does the same phenomenon, i.e. more querying equals more activity, hold true for subjects beyond influenza?  Consider that in 2010 two Notre Dame researchers, Zhi Da and Penhji (Paul) Gao, showed that querying activity around particular companies can, somewhat reliably, predict a stock price increase for those companies. In many ways, Google is already in the process of becoming the world’s first prediction engine, since prediction is key to its business model anyway. Not everyone realizes that Google makes 28% of its revenue through its Adsense program, which shows different ads to different users on the basis of different search terms. Better personalization in terms of display ads is a function of prediction. Anticipating user behaviors, questions, and moods, strikes at the very heart of what Google’s mission to ‘organize the world’s information.’ Now consider Facebook. There’s a reason WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called Facebook, ‘the most appalling spying machine ever invented.’ The average Facebook user creates ninety pieces of content each month, and all of it confesses or betrays something about the user who posted it. If you were to sit someone down in a chair and ask them to tell give ninety pieces of unique information about themselves, their feelings, their activities over the course of the previous month, what delighted, intrigued or infuriated them, you likely wouldn’t get very far. What sort of reaction do you think you might get if you asked them what they did over the course of that month, and if they have any pictures of themselves engaging in that activity that they would be willing to share? The cost of hiring a private detective to uncover all of this information for just one person can range from $50 to $200 an hour, plus expenses. The cost of surveiling the activities of 500 million people, twenty-four hours a day, across the entire globe is astronomical. Who you are, who you know, where you’ve been and what you did while you were there is valuable information. When we use Facebook, most of trust that we can keep most of that valuable information out of the public eye by adjusting our privacy settings, but we’ve still giving it to Facebook. In the coming years, Facebook’s friend suggestion service might become orders of magnitude better. If you accept a social invitation on Facebook, you may also learn which person at the event you are most likely to connect with, possibly romantically. You can use Facebook to better understand your own relationships. When you enter into a new acquaintanceship, friendship, or romantic coupling, you might be able to use Facebook to quantify how long that relationship would last, (given factors such as distance, frequency of communication, and tone), under what circumstances that relationship will dissolve, and how you might adjust your communications with that person, your communications with others, your distance, your schedule, or other factors to strengthen that relationship, or weaken it, if you prefer. Do you trust an algorithm to play marriage counselor and life coach? Why wouldn’t you,? You already share more information about yourself with Facebook than you do with any human being. Most of the time, as demonstrated in the popularity of geo-location updates, that broadcasting is completely unconscious. This should be a matter of some concern to everyone. Services like Facebook and Google+ may help us to understand a lot more about our lives and our relationships than we did before these services came into existence. But Facebook’s view into our lives and how our various social circles interact will always be clearer than will ours. The question becomes, who else gets to look through that microscope? There are dangers associated with this phenomenon. Moveon.org president Eli Pariser, in his recently released book, The Filter Bubble describes it as a type of ‘informational determinism,’ the inevitable result of too much Web personalization. The Filter Bubble is a state where ‘What you've clicked on in the past determines what you see next—a Web history you're doomed to repeat. You can get stuck in a static, ever-narrowing version of yourself--an endless you-loop.’ Google and Facebook are only the most obvious offenders. They’re conspicuous because they’re using that data to vend services to you. But you can always opt out of using Facebook, as millions already have. And while cutting Google out of your life isn’t as easy as it was a decade ago, there are ways to use Google anonymously, and, indeed, to find information without using it at all. These are networks we opt in or out of. An arguably more pernicious threat is posed by systems and companies that are using our information to make predictions about us without our even knowing. GeoIq is a small start-up out of Virginia that works a lot like Google, but with a much smaller customer base. United State’s military contractor ESRI is another example. ‘No longer is GIS just used as a specialized niche capability in military operations. Today, defense organizations directly embed geospatial capabilities into mainstream command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) applications,’ says ESRI on its blog. Futurist machines are taking over the job of inventing the future. Their predictions have consequences in the real world because our interaction with the future as individuals, groups, and nations is an expression of both personal and national identity. Regardless of what may or may not happen, the future as an idea continually shapes buying, voting, and social behavior. The future is becoming increasingly knowable. We sit on the verge of a potentially tremendous revolution in science and technology. But even those aspects of the future that are the most potentially beneficial to humankind will have disastrous effects if we fail to plan for them.” —Patrick Tucker, deputy editor of The Futurist magazine and director of communications for the World Future Society; based in Baltimore and Bethesda, Maryland 

“I expect misuse and regulation responding to that misuse in the near term. By 2020 behaviors and actions surrounding Big Data will be normalized and a lot less scary and chaotic. The rewards that can be reaped from understanding the world through Big Data are giant and capable of changing society for the better.” —Paul Jones, clinical associate professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill 

“Big Data will enable forecasting of large groups of people but it should not be completely relied upon as it will not consider the minorities and outliers that can also have a significant influence. Still, businesses regularly attempt to gather this kind of data to produce products and services that the 'majority' of people might purchase. This will be important in forecasting overall trends.” —Darlene Thompson, program administrator at N-CAP, a non-profit corporation that encourages the use of ICTs in Canada's remote north; participant in ICANN secretariat, NARALO; based in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada

“Big data will fundamentally reshape many of our everyday interactions—particularly interactions with markets and infrastructure. This will improve our lives substantially. We must stay mindful, however, that Big Data is not a complete lens, especially when interpreting the human condition.” —Fred Stutzman, postdoctoral fellow, Carnegie Mellon University; creator of the software Freedom, Anti-Social, and ClaimID; based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“There's an old story about a passerby who comes across a drunk man standing under a lamppost looking for his keys. The passserby joins in the search and doesn't see anything. He asks and learns that the keys didn't fall anywhere near the lamppost, but that the drunk was looking near the lamppost because that's where the light was. A lot of 'Big Data' today is biased and missing context, as it's based on convenience samples or subsets. We're seeing valiant, yet misguided attempts to apply the deep datasets to things that have limited relevance or applicability. They're being stretched to answer the wrong questions. I'm optimistic that by 2020, this will be increasingly clear and there will be true information pioneers who will think outside the Big Data box and base decisions on a broader and balanced view. Instead of relying on the 'lamppost light,' they will develop and use the equivalent of focused flashlights.” —Dan Ness, principal research analyst at MetaFacts, producers of the Technology User Profile, now in its 29th year; based in Encinitas, California

“Our reliance on algorithms is already proven to be problematic, evidenced by the fickle nature of the stock markets and other things. As we keep funneling the best and brightest mathematicians into algorithm-focused professions (like finance), we'll continue to abstract real labor and real human concerns further away from real consequences and circumstances. This is a massive ethical problem, too.” —Daren C. Brabham, assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

“I see no change in this regard: truth as always been the most political thing of all.” —Nicolas Adam, Internet governance researcher, Université du Québec, Montréal, Canada 

“Overly pragmatic governments as well as industrial and commercial interests will continue to fail to take proper care of data and proper account of the individual right to privacy. Thus while many benefits will arise from an Internet of Things, while the things remain in the possession of very few centralised interests, it will present great potential for abuse. History tells us that where such potential exists and sufficient money and civil-control can be made by the abuses, that such abuses will continue in increasing measure. Face recognition and tracking alone present the simple means to create an almost inescapable police state. Hats and coats such as those worn by Spy-vs.-Spy will become more appealing, although ultimately ineffective as statistical and probabilistic algorithms allow the tracking of even persons cloaked (literally or by other means). Such real-time time-and-place information will be misused by criminal interests to conduct crime with greater impunity.” —Paul Gardner-Stephen, rural, remote, and humanitarian telecommunications fellow at Flinders University; founder and director of the Serval Project; based in Adelaide, Australia

“Big data will cause problems, but overall the results will be positive. We can do things we could not do before.” —Tom Worthington, adjunct senior lecturer, Research School of Computer Science, Australian National University; also active in CSIRO ICT Centre Telecommunications Board, Australian Computer Society; based in Canberra, Australia

“Someday, saying 'I'm on the Internet' will sound as silly as saying 'I'm on the electricity,' and 'I'm interested in Big Data' will sound like nothing in particular. Even the phrase Big Data reminds me of the Seinfeld episode in which George is mad that a woman he knows took credit for a Big Salad that she handed Elaine even though George, as he reminds everyone five times, actually bought the Big Salad. Big salad, big data. It's just data. We'll get better at understanding and manipulating data patterns; we'll learn how to wield them for good and for ill. There's no particular valence to all this. But it's better to know more about the world than less; maybe we'll even start understanding our own brains.” —Susan Crawford, professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government; previously a leader on the ICANN board, President Obama's Special Assistant for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, and founder of OneWebDay; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Although progress in handling Big Data by 2020 will begin to show some positive results, the abuse of it by Big Brother will still be prevalent.” —Adrian Schofield, manager, applied research unit, Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering; president, Computer Society South Africa; based in Johannesburg, South Africa

“This is really a matter of opinion. Unless we develop the positron brains writer Isaac Asimov imagined – capable of planning the human future without human interference – I fear that the people will be always driven by their ambitions and hunger for power, abusing any data they have available. This will create a turbulent environment everywhere and the impacts will be bigger.” —Ondrej Sury, chief scientist at the .CZ Internet registry, CZ.NIC; active leader in the IETF; based in Praha, Czech Republic

“This will allow us to solve problems and process information quicker and better. As we see with social networks today, we will see complex data networks, allowing us to see the full picture.” —Adrianne Bockhorst, interactive marketing manager, Johnson Financial Group, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“'Big Data' analysis will prove to be a major contributor to our understanding of the world and 'how things work' interdependently. We are just beginning to understand the nature of these interdependecies and the implications they have on our lives. Of course, there will be those who try to exploit data for their own purposes. This has been a fact of life since the beginnings of modern times. As we begin to better understand the nature of these interdependencies of 'things' and their implications on our existence, we will be better equipped to make more informed decisions and to take right actions for the good of mankind.” —David Lowe, innovation and technology manager, National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Virginia

“It is hard for me to imagine that more and better information, in the end, is a bad thing. I would liken those who believe that information, databases, and software that helps us understand databases better are a 'bad' thing are like those who thought it was unnatural for humans to fly in airplanes.” —David Morris, managing director of research for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation; based in Lansing, Michigan

“The ability to acquire and analyze data will be a net positive. From the commercial point of view, the pros and cons will be balanced. I am not convinced that companies are more responsive, or that targeted ads are more useful, as a result of Google’s work. On the other hand, there are advances in health care, economic analysis, and social research that will be enabled by big data.” —Eric Siegel, director and chief content officer for the New York Hall of Science; based in New York City

“The real power of 'Big Data' will come depending largely on the degree to which it is held in private hands or openly available. Openly available data, and widespread tools for manipulating it, will create new ways of understanding and governing ourselves as individuals and as societies.” —Alex Halavais, associate professor at Quinnipiac University; vice president of the Association of Internet Researchers; technical director of UCHRI Digital Media & Learning Hub; managing partner of Forward Memory; author of Search Engine Society; based in New York City

“It's likely that there will be teething problems similar to the second, more cynical scenario, and there will definitely be attempts to manipulate the data to get it to support an opinion, ideology, or agenda. The key is to ensure that the methods undergo continuous refinement, and that the populace has access to enough information and has the will to make an educated decision.” —Wesley George, principal engineer for the Advanced Technology Group at Time Warner Cable; he also works with IETF; based in Herndon, Virginia

“This topic relates directly to some of my own work on the Internet of Things. Data that is much more available in quantity, cost, and quality will be a marked feature of the coming decade, but much of that will be 'Little Data,' which is useful mostly or entirely only locally (for practical or privacy concerns). I will want data possibly related to my health kept as private as possible. My house should enable control for light, heat, sound, image, etc. that enhances my experiences and convenience, and saves resources. For example, lighting will increasingly respond to occupancy or 'presence' (not just that someone is present, but who they are, how many they are, and what activity engaged in), and so provide better lighting services, automatically, and at less net energy than before. However, who outside the building should care about the details?  No one. Big Data will be a net plus, but a sizeable amount of problems will be created by it as well, particularly around security and privacy.” —Bruce Nordman, research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; co-chair, EMAN, Internet Engineering Task Force; based at Berkeley, California

“Unless there is a breakthrough in and mass of quantum computing, 'Big Data’ schemes will not effectively occur in the next ten years. The second scenario I believe is more likely as a false dawn leading to negative decisions based on unsound data and predictions.” —David Saer, foresight researcher for Fast Future, a consulting business based in London, UK

“The crucial issue here is not just Big Data, but open data. If Big Data is open, it can be analysed by anyone (crowdsourcing the requisite power if necessary), allowing predictions to be checked. If the data is not, in general, open, then findings can be abused, just as they are now with Little Data.” —Glyn Moody, self-employed author, editor, and journalist; active voice in online social media networks; based in London, UK

“If some high-placed people believe this type of technology can predict the unpredictable, there will be cases where this technology will be overextended and misused. Human judgment cannot be replaced by technology, the former being the responsible for decisions.” —Miguel Alcaine, head of the International Telecommunication Union’s area office, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

“While the gains of large data sets and seeming instant analysis thereof will be tremendous, especially when predictive information is useful, the risks are nonetheless equally large. The forced choice of this question means you must be forced to be optimistic or pessimistic. The fact is: people are people. The rich get richer and the powerful stay that way. All tools will be used by the rich for gain and by the powerful to remain so. However, the activists in the world will also have access to big data, and big tools, in fact, it will be innovators and activists who create those very tools. In the end, the bag is always mixed; much as the Internet brought us distance learning and distance medicine (as predicted in the 1980s), it also brought humans global access to child pornography, the opportunity to phish financial and identity information for illegal activity, and to assist governments in monitoring and controlling their populations. Simultaneously, we saw how the Internet played an integral role in the overthrow of several governments during 2009-2011 and that activity will continue. Yes, the answer is 'both'.” —William L Schrader, independent consultant; founder of PSINet in 1989 - largest independent publicly traded global ISP during the 1990s; lecturer on the future impact of the Internet on the global economic, technology, medical, political, and social world; based in Sterling, Virginia 

“Big Data will not be so big. Most data will remain proprietary, or reside in incompatible formats and inaccessible databases where it cannot be used in 'real time.' The gap between what is theoretically possible and what is done (in terms of using real-time data to understand and forecast cultural, economic and social phenomena) will continue to grow.” —Jeff Eisenach, managing director and principal, Navigant Economics LLC, a consulting business; author of numerous books and articles on technology and economics; formerly a senior policy expert with the US Federal Trade Commission; based in Washington, DC 

“A more balanced outcome is likely than your options allow. The most positive element is not mentioned above, the increase in openness—what is often called transparency, but vested, corrupt, and political interests will often constrain progress.” —Pete Cranston, digital media, knowledge sharing and ICT4D (information and communication technologies for development) consultant; based in Oxford, UK

“Big Data cannot compete against the unleashing of multiple voices; it will not diminish the minority or outlying opinion. Connectivity, however, diminishes conflicts because it creates more commonalities and more complex identities and group affiliations among people, making the 'minority' concept more complex. We aren't and shouldn't be all the 'same,' but connectivity gives us the chance to see where we have overlapping similarities in different ways at different times, increasing empathy. Big Data will increase the premium on visual display and design as a means of communicating.” —Pamela Rutledge, director, Media Psychology Research Center, Fielding Graduate University, and instructor, UC Irvine Extension Business School; based in Palo Alto, California

“Big Data has possibilities and will result in some, but limited, number of discoveries. However, a vision of relying on results of the analysis of Big Data as the major source of break-through information and insights is unwarranted. Past and current examples of the analysis of Big Data suggests that we should be cautious about the fruitfulness of this type of analysis; e.g., the Department of Homeland Security being hamstrung by the torrent of information intercepted on the Internet and the limited payoff from the use of massive information sources in combinatorial chemistry and bioinformatics. The underlying problem is one of signal-to-noise; i.e., with more information, the challenge of detecting the signal can be even larger. By 2020, most insights and significant advances will still be the result of trained, imaginative, inquisitive, and insightful minds.” —Donald G. Barnes, visiting professor at Guangxi University in China; former director of the Science Advisory Board at US Environmental Protection Agency; based in Alexandria, Virginia

“The people who will be making 'mistakes' will insist they are not making mistakes. We are seeing that trend even now. Officials deny reality (especially in the United States).   If the goal of humanity is only to survive, who is to say that losing freedom isn't the best for that goal? We see it every day in the United States and now in the countries that have kill-switches for their communications lines (phone/Internet). Even President Barack Obama asked for that capability. The world will continue along with the abuse of information (whether true or not).” —Bill Daul, chief collaboration officer at Social Alchemist, NextNow Network, and the NextNow Colaboratory, non-profit work based in Palo Alto, California

“Our vision of the data is based on our vision of the world, and this vision is not very broad-minded when it comes to Big Data. We tend to emphasize the parietal insights of a particular form of economic thinking, and we tend to frame social analyses through a form of soft colonialism. Such bias, combined with the arrogance of technical competence, will create huge disparities between 'what the data say' and the lives of billions of people.” —Steve Sawyer, professor and associate dean of research at Syracuse University; an expert of more than 20 years of research on the Internet, computing, and work; based in Syracuse, New York

“People put way too much faith in statistics and quantitative analysis of giant data sets. It leads us to believe we can predict and forecast much better than we actually can. Forecasting leads to people assuming outcomes that don't necessarily happen, and that has real-life implications for people who win or lose based on these predictions. We also assume that we can trust interpretations of this data. Interpretations are made by people, people in positions of power who have their own agendas, and those are the interpretations people generally trust. Not smart, but we don't know any better because we believe what we're told by 'experts' and we don't have any means to find out what's really going on, reasons for this or that. It's all efficiently masked in bureaucracy. Very dangerous!” —David Kirschner, PhD candidate and research assistant at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

“This seems to be already happening, and has already happened in other arenas (e.g., use of large data sets by credit bureaus to predict financial behaviors and set policies).” —Steve Jones, distinguished professor of communication, University of Illinois-Chicago; a founding leader of the Association of Internet Researchers

“Because people will be able to quickly create their own data manipulation apps, public datasets will be used widely for answering questions. In many cases, data analysis will augment user satisfaction and ratings, and in some cases archived user satisfaction and reports will be analyzed as the data, bringing balance to decision-making through the use of large amounts of objective and subjective information.” —Cathy Cavanaugh, associate professor of educational technology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

“Sadly, this is a question that will definitely have different answers by category. IBM smarter planet will make energy use and traffic congestion get better. Big Data works. Politicians will be fed Big Data results by lobbyists to support a given conclusion, and bad things will happen. On and on down the line you will see that dichotomy: Business vs. lobbyists. One will work for positive, one for negative.” —Mark Walsh, cofounder, geniusrocket.com; chairman, board of trustees, Union College, Schenectady, New York; board chairman, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, University of Maryland; board member of many start-ups, angel investor; based in Washington, DC area

“A quarter century ago I planned to write about 'the prospect of an informed age' in which there would be no need for nor ability to keep secrets. With the curse of hindsight, I had clearly been ignoring the already building signs of authoritarian resurgence which would make censoriousness the raison d'etre of the far left and far right, whose lack of trust in the rest of humanity would soon have them smothering us all in vastly inflated promotion of wide spectrum fear and forced imprisonment in jobs. However, I remain optimistic that the 'watching the watchers' meme will allow some resistance and that the sheer logistics of trying to act on every detectable transgression will provoke the already overdue swing back. Some places are already starting to let prisoners out rather than pay the cost of keeping them in any longer. So while nothing is more important than protecting diversity and many outliers, it is unlikely bigger 'intelligence' will change much of anything.” —Tony Smith, secretary for the Kororoit Institute Proponents and Supporters Association; publisher at Meme Media; Open Source Developers Club; based in Melbourne, Australia

“As long as there is a critical public—and there should always be one in the free and democratic nations in the world—any 'nowcasting' should be received with enough skepticism and alternative viewpoints to keep us all on an even keel.” —Randolph Hollingsworth, assistant provost, University of Kentucky; webmaster for Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice and other organizations; member of H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online) Council; Wikipedia editor; based in Lexington, Kentucky

“We are now grappling with how to glean intelligence from Big Data. Our current tools are not up to the task, but the potential for accurate understanding compels us forward, looking for new ways to make sense of the information we are accumulating. Increasing connectivity will spread the analysis in ever broadening circles of influence. As clarity emerges, better choices will be made and everyone is likely to benefit. The incentives motivating intelligent use of knowledge emerging from Big Data are likely to democratize use of the knowledge to benefit the whole. Misuse will marginalize those who are not holding the best interests of the whole at heart, so the arc of knowledge will bend toward positive outcomes.” —John Davis, independent distributor; based in San Diego, California

“This will largely improve people's 'quality of life,' but there may be a lot of down sides as well, such as seeing others as statistics instead of fellow human beings.” —Ruby Sinreich, director of new media strategy and the Digital Media & Learning Competition at the Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory based in Durham, North Carolina; lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

“There is no reason why the Big Data will not be able to protect society from misuse, hurtful mistakes, and false predictions.” —Raimundo Beca, partner at Imaginacción, a Chilean consulting company, and longtime ICANN leader; based in Santiago, Chile

“The rise of Big Data might give powerful people a much greater power in control and greater ability in manipulation. It is almost impossible to prevent Big Data from building up in the future. It is necessary to increase personal control of the data to prevent misuse of the data.” —M.C. Liang, National University of Kaohsiung, Taiwan

“More information will be beneficial in all sorts of ways we can't even fathom right now. Namely because we don't have the data.” —John Capone, freelance writer and journalist; former editor of MediaPost Communications publications; contributor to The Daily, BlackBook, New York, The Fix and Prefixmag.com among others; based in Napa, California

“These scenarios fail to address three issues: 1) Who owns 'Big Data'? How is it collected, stored, analyzed? 2) Widespread statistical illiteracy among the general populace, including political, business, and military leaders. 3) Power. We've already seen the benefits of Big Data in our lifetimes in medical and scientific advances. However, medical researchers and scientists share a culture of making such data publicly available through online databases, peer-reviewed publications, and other formats. Also, they are among the most highly literate in statistics. Unlike my mother, they understand the statistically significant differences among mean, mode, and median. Lastly, the way data is collected (e.g., ordering and wording of questions), who does the collecting, and the questions that get asked (e.g., included or rejected in a survey) can significantly influence the answers provided. Big Data will work only if there are multiple teams coordinating to get at all possible answers in a wide variety of ways.” —Natascha Karlova, PhD candidate in information science at the University of Washington; HASTAC Scholar; based in Seattle, Washington

“We've seen so many situations where the gloss of statistical analysis misrepresents the reality of the data analyzed. It's too easy to bend the analysis to serve a specific goal or intention. I'm also concerned about individual data ownership and privacy issues in the world of Big Data. This is an area where the outcomes could probably be improved by regulation, but regulation is currently out of style.” —Jon Lebkowsky, Internet pioneer and principal at Polycot Associates LLC; consultant and developer for mission-driven nonprofits and socially responsible companies; president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation-Austin; based in Austin, Texas

“Embedding Internet technology in various 'things' will help us improve our lives. However, it is equally important to ensure that we use this responsibly and not too much power and control is held by any one entity. There must be appropriate checks and balances, accountability and transparency. A lot more work needs to be done by all stakeholders to ensure we get there, and use such technology for the advancement of mankind—not its control.” —Rajnesh Singh, regional director, Asia, for the Internet Society; founder or co-founder of multiple companies; based in Singapore

“The reality will be a combination. There will be thrilling new capabilities developed from the incredible exponential growth in 'computing' power. We shall have found a new word to replace computing since the 'machines' will be doing as much imputing as computing. There will also be a miasma as disaffected elements find ever more insidious uses of some of this newly expanded power. On balance, though I think the positive elements will be emerging as more dominant as some applications begin to provide security against most of the new criminal applications.” —Charles Perrottet, partner at the Futures Strategy Group; author, speaker, and a leader on the Millennium Project Planning Committee; based in Glastonbury, Connecticut

“Big Data will improve the intelligence available, as in statement one, but that intelligence will continue to be misused or abused by the power structure, as in statement two. The rise of Big Data is a huge positive potential, which is why I selected statement one, because it's more fun to be an optimist.” —Richard Holeton, director, academic computing services, Stanford University Libraries; co-leader, EDUCAUSE Learning Space Design Constituent Group; author of Cyberspace: Identity, Community, and Knowledge in the Electronic Age; based in Stanford, California

“The general lack of trust and confidence and the gigantic misuse of existing Big Data for monitoring and intelligence will slow down and backset progress.” —Tapio Varis, professor emeritus at the University of Tampere; principal research associate with UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); based in Helsinki, Finland

“The positive scenario sounds wonderful. It’s probably a pipe dream because 'garbage in, garbage out' still applies to all acquisition of data.” —Diane Kendall, editor at Children's Software Press; primary columnist for Power to Learn, part of Cablevision; based in Houston Texas

“The surge in collective intelligence allowed by the Internet will lead to rapid scientific advancement in many fields, particularly the hard sciences. Unfortunately, the many brilliant social science insights that will result from the Internet's use may not be of much benefit to us. Modern society already ignores a century of social science research when determining programs and policies. It is doubtful that the leaders of 2020 will be any more able or willing than our leaders today to use social science findings to improve our lives.” —Cheryl Russell, editorial director for New Strategist Publications and author of the Demo Memo Blog; based in Beaufort, South Carolina 

“Although there is no was to determine the answer, I would be curious to see if the responses to this question would have been markedly different before the recent innovations implemented by Facebook and the quasi-scandal regarding Facebook's tracking of its users non-Facebook use. I feel conflicted in my views on Big Data because mining trends is a large part of what I do at my job and I have a deep belief in the power of information. However, the possibility for data to be misused, either through flawed analysis or corrupt intentions, makes me wary of it. Of course, the problem of misuse of data is as old as the census takers in antiquity. The biggest risk is the speed and access that the Internet provides. We can now make catastrophic miscalculations in nanoseconds and broadcast them universally. We have lost the balance inherent in 'lag time.'” —Marcia Richards Suelzer, senior writer and analyst at Wolters Kluwer; based in Riverwoods, Illinois

“Obviously, powerful interests will use Big Data to manipulate what they can and persuade people to do things against their interest. But that's not new. The method changes but the balance of power does not. Individuals and positive forces have access to the same tools. If anything, the wider access gives the good guys a leg up on what they once had.” —Peter Mitchell, chief creative officer at Salter-Mitchell, a company that builds behavior-change programs, relying heavily on inventing digital products; based in Alexandria, Virginia

“Such analysis will enable deception on an ever greater scale. What will matter most will not be who you trust for news, or what outlet you trust, but who owns the data you use for news. And this kind of data and analysis will not be cheap.” —Rich Tatum, research analyst for Zondervan, a religious publishing house; based in Grand Rapids, Michigan

“As long as the growth of big data is couple with growth of refined curation and curators it will be an asset. Without those curators the data will become more and more plentiful, more overwhelming and confuse our political and social conversations by an overabundance of numbers that can make any point we want to make them make.” —David D. Burstein, founder of Generation18, a youth-run voter-engagement organization; author of FastFuture: How the Millennial Generation is Remaking Our World; commentator on Millennials, social innovation, and politics; a senior at New York University

“New media channels will continue to splinter consumers and enhance the social divide. Intelligent people will use the information well, but the average person will continue to look for bright shiny objects that will entertain. Abusive people will continue to abuse. Providing access to data does not change moral behavior.” —Paul McFate, an online communications specialist based in Provo, Utah

“Better information is seldom the solution to any real-world social problems. It may be the solution to lots of business problems, but it's unlikely that the benefits will accrue to the public. We're more likely to lose privacy and freedom from the rise of big data.” —Barry Parr, owner and analyst for MediaSavvy; editor and publisher at Coastider.com; based in Montara, California

“I'll continue to bet hard on Big Data, because it has the power to illuminate so many things that have been unseen for so long and the potential to drive experiments for the greater good. 'Nowcasting' is sure to stumble many times before it stands, and companies will control software tools in ways that make us all profoundly and correctly suspicious. However, fearing Big Data feels like fearing fire: it exists, its capacity to do damage is enormous, and yet it illuminates such that there is no going back. For every health care data aggregator that makes us cringe, there is, one hopes, an Esther Duflo [named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow for her work on improving the lives of the world’s poorest people], using data can inform social solutions.” —Perry Hewitt, director of digital communications and communications services at Harvard University; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“The best analogy to negative impacts of Big Data is the current status of education within the United States. Because of the No Child Left Behind legislation, schools/teachers/administrators are reacting to the 'NCLB Big Data' findings. The results are less than spectacular. Data is useful, but not always the answer to everything. The possibilities of misinterpreting results are directly proportional to the value the interpretation gives.” —Cyndy Woods-Wilson, high school teacher in Flagstaff, Arizona; adjunct faculty member at Rio Salado Community College in Tempe, Arizona; content manager for the LinkedIn group Higher Education Teaching & Learning (HETL)

“The societal benefit of transparency in social, political, and economic reporting is a positive. More transparency is needed. The market will determine the economic value of inaccuracies and poor predictive power. A greater concern is the misuse of data to take away individual rights and unfortunately, this will happen as well. The current political climate will disallow amelioration of this threat.” —Glenn Omura, associate professor of marketing at Michigan State University, based in East Lansing, Michigan

“The power of computing and massive datasets will help identify trends and create ways to save time, create efficiency, and reduce waste that were not previously discovered because no one was able to look at things on such a large scale.” —John Bobosh, digital media strategist, American Institutes of Research, a consulting business, based in Washington, DC

“While the Internet does allow dissidents to have a voice, for the main part they are not heard relative to the power of the dominant elites, members of the ruling class, etc. An analogy: one can print a book for very little on Web sites like www.lulu.com, but once the book is printed, most likely nobody will ever read it. Publishers supply distribution and advertising and that is all-important.” —Arthur Asa Berger, professor emeritus of communications, retired from San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California.

“Big Data = Big Brother. Anonymity is futile.” —Pat McKenna, president at MojoWeb Productions LLC; teacher of web design, principles of e-marketing, and social media for small businesses at Waukesha County Technical College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“I find it hard to imagine that the rise of Big Data would be a big negative for society in nearly all respects.” —Brian Ahier, health IT evangelist, Mid-Columbia Medical Center, The Dalles, Oregon

“Big Data and real-time analysis will contribute to increasing personalization as well as real-time understanding of meta and micro trends at local, national, and global scales. But this is an area for concern and this data can and will be misused by governments, corporations, and criminals in various ways. In net there will be huge value to understanding societal changes. At the same time this data will help lure advertisers to pay for services that people would like to have for free.” —Steven Swimmer, self-employed consultant; previously worked in digital leadership roles for a major broadcast TV network and a major museum; based in Los Angeles, California

“There are always benefits and risks to statistical predictions. By 2020, most Internet users will be used to receiving algorithmic recommendations and will either give them little notice or will have found ways to circumvent them. In the United States a large majority of people dislike feeling that they are being manipulated or presented with fewer choices and the online retailing community is going to have to deal with this. At a community, regional, state, or national planning level there will be more use of big data and it will have to compete with political attitudes which seem to be trending towards suspicion of 'Big Data.'  Corporations will most likely be the largest users of big data and may find that the data out is only as good as the data in and the suppositions that went into planning the output. I think we will see some major mistakes.” —Julia Takahashi, editor and publisher at Diisynology.com; based in Santa Fe, New Mexico

“Never underestimate the stupidity and basic sinfulness of humanity.” —Tom Rule, an educator, technology consultant, and musician; based in Macon, Georgia

“If one examines the trends across most information-intensive research, such as data mining, data analytics, and even everyday users’ preferences, it seems most likely that Big Data will continue to develop. It is a current key focus on government intelligence agencies, as well as market-oriented businesses. Mining, analytics, shortening time to predicting trends are the intensive focus of most of the information segments of the knowledge sector. Misuse will increase, as cyberwarfare, as one manifestation, is projected to become much more prevalent and more state-sponsored than it currently is. Government intelligence sources are also currently funding research to detect deception in social media and develop ways to counteract it, technologies which can be readily repurposed for manipulation of new 'public opinion' sources.” —James A. Danowski, professor of communication, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois; co-editor of ‘Handbook of Communication and Technology’; program planner for European Intelligence and Security Informatics 2011 and Open-Source Intelligence and Web Mining, 2011

“By 2020 our every movement (or click or emotion) is someone’s business model. We will first build narratives and then a worldview around that. Considering the ability to take vast quantities of data and find meaning in it through pattern-finding and analytics, we will eventually employ these analytics not only in finance, healthcare, marketing and IT, but in what we hear, see and encounter as the world goes by us and through us. There will be a dawning reality that our identities are already tied to our data. In essence, in some measure our identities are our data. Big data and the Internet of things become an arbiter, a shibboleth, an agent of triage.  As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, information holds things together: it is a binding agent for systems. As such it is not only a new decider of what’s important or not, it is a new proxy it can stand in place of anyone. By 2020 data becomes a new belief system. In human history we’ve had this sort of binder before and we used the Latin base religare, meaning to bind together, to embody this concept. Information, in the form of big data and the Internet of Things, becomes religion.” —Barry Chudakov, principal at Metalife Consulting and a visiting research fellow in the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, University of Toronto; based in Winter Park, Florida

“Most things—even the cheapest and most banal, such as paper clips—will carry an individual identity at some point in the future. We are already in the middle of the revolution and we now have available for analysis an unprecedented amount of data. We should get used to the idea that the important question is how much data we can afford to throw away, not how much data we can afford to collect. We now know much more than we used to know, but our knowledge merely points to new needs for research.” —Charlie Breindahl, part-time lecturer, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen Business School, Danish Centre for Design Research, Copenhagen, Denmark

“As a professional business developer, I want to be able to use the abilities of 'nowcasting' as it is used to determine real-time application in marketing trends and the fulfillment of the wants and needs of my clients’ customers. Yahoo applies all of the current data mining techniques available to them and will apply its acquired knowledge of me as a customer to design and deliver specific advertisements to my browser webpage. These change as frequently as every fifteen seconds. And attached to the backside of my business retina is a plethora of information that will allow me to create a successful marketing campaign for my client who is 'net-marketing' on a touchpad that has an app that has been appropriately developed for him. 'Bib Data' and inferential software can make that happen on a real time basis. Whether there is an 'evil' outcome to the 'Big Data' assessments is based upon the integrity of the individuals who do the mining and determine the ultimate outcome of that data. So much good can come from this information gathering—the demographics, the psychographics—and all of that information can be used to usurp the freedoms that make our country an exceptional country to live in and then ultimately stymie the continued growth of any economy that does not continue to innovate and use good growth habits and applications. While in a 'previous life' (military) I was a creator of Big Data and was an analyst who also was then a consumer of the information I collected. But our computers were puny by today's standards. Our application of this data did 'save the world.'  It was an important application of data collection. But by the same token, our 'target' countries were also collecting data and their applications were of an intent to subjugate the world.” —Robert F. Lutes, founder and executive director the non-profit Valley Housing And Economic Development Corporation; its newest project is developing a distance-learning project in Ghana; based in Fresno, California

“In the West, Big Data will be a good thing as there are numerous checks, including respect for academia and a free press. In developing countries Big Data will be misused not only due to the limitations placed on a free press and the lack of independent judiciary, but also due to the fact that the level of understanding of inferential statistics remains weak.” —Stephen Hoover, lecturer at Minghsin University of Science and Technology, Taiwan; lives in Chunan, Taiwan, and works in Hsinchu, Taiwan

“Big Data use will be the norm for all business and an increasing sector of the population will eventually be in the business of explaining Big Data insights to people not trained to understand the statistical mechanics and limits of the systems. This will not be a universal good: in America especially people dislike the idea of classification. As our data become more granular and our analysis more refined, we'll likely see more class stratification driven by marketers and other business operations. But the benefits will very likely outweigh these negatives as we will be able to do more things more cost-effectively with the insights gained from more data.” —Stephen Masiclat, associate professor of communications, Syracuse University; based in Syracuse, New York

“I choose to see Big Data resulting in improved health, security, and creative outcomes for more people. At the same time, I am concerned about the loss of the voice of the minority or, even more, the less powerful. The past decade has witnessed a substantial widening of the gaps between haves and have-nots; the greed of Wall Street and of corporate dominance has hurt the majority of 'ordinary people' in terms of political, economic, and cultural power. Greater and greater numbers of people have suffered while fewer and fewer have prospered, and while Big Data has the potential to enhance many lives, without careful and thoughtful application this positive potential will not occur.” —Emily Rogers, university reference and instruction librarian, based in Valdosta, Georgia

“As the 20th and 21st century are characterized by a radical declining trust in what A. Giddens calls 'expert systems' and as news of catastrophic mistakes proliferate (in spite or perhaps because of Big Data), there is no reason to believe that it is going to be used intelligently, honestly, and guided by truly progressive motivations and programs. The use of Big Data cannot be understood outside of the broader global-ecological-social contexts in which it occurs. In addition to the extent that users' social psychological dispositions and skills have become severely stunted by brain rewiring, it would be delusional to believe that intelligent, life-enhancing, people-sensitive decisions would suddenly be made in the realm of data-analysis and decision-making.” —Simon Gottschalk, professor in the department of sociology at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas

“This isn't really a question about the Internet or Big Data—it's a question about who and how much people might abuse it (or anything else), intentionally or otherwise. That is a question that is always there—thus there is a need for a countervailing forces, competition, transparency, scrutiny, and/or other ways to guard against abuse. And then be prepared to misjudge sometimes.” —Heywood Sloane, principal at CogniPower, a consulting business; based in Wayne, Pennsylvania

“It's going to be a combination.” —Vanessa Clark, marketing director for Mobiflock and Twokats Communications and freelance journalist; Cape Town, South Africa

“Reality is a hybrid of both options, but since we have to pick one I will go with the first option because it is a slightly more moderate than the heavy conspiracy theory tone of option two. I could be very wrong in my hopeful outlook on this, however. There certainly are plenty of people out there who would manipulate the data for purely self-serving purposes, and there are some people that are just evil—can't rule them out.” —Greg Wilson, a marketing and public relations consultant who provides organizational change management and service/execution process development services; based in Los Angeles, California

“At one point, futurists talked about the development of a 'global brain' through the Internet. That scenario may appear to be hyperbole but not if you differentiate between the definitions of 'brain' and 'mind.'  The brain now creates its own version of algorithms, which allow for advanced correlations and new understanding. In the continuing evolution of the Internet, the algorithms more and more connected disjointed data in a way that mimics the brain's connecting synapses. As developments continue, the analogy could be drawn of an Internet that has an autonomous and semi-autonomous nervous system. Control of that development will be held by held by major institutions—not just corporations, but the direction of that development will be determined by individuals. It is the debate about what is the nature of the Internet and what it is to be—a debate that will pit individuals against institutions. My concern is that individuality will be lost to an institutional hegemony not because of their 'selfish agendas' so much as individuals' complacency and acceptance of continuing personal intrusions.” —Michael Castengera, senior lecturer at the Grady College of Journalism, 26 University of Georgia, and president at Media Strategies and Tactics, Inc.; based in Athens, Georgia

“Big data will allow for the possibility of greater customization and improvement in service. Personalized medicine depends on the analysis of big data and could significantly improve healthcare by tailoring treatment to individual characteristics. The ability to aggregate and interrogate large, diverse data sets will allow social scientists and others to ask more sophisticated questions and possibly arrive at more specific and appropriate answers.” —Joan Lorden, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, University of North Carolina-Charlotte

“2020 is only eight years hence and it is optimistic to think that some of the organizations that this is referring to will have moved quickly enough for either of these option to be correct. It is quite likely that some of the negative points in the second option will occur but the big challenge is for the Big Data to find a relevance in business portfolios. This question is a tough call. There are indeed likely to be some organizations that will abuse the opportunity that Big Data affords, but it requires a big investment and a new kind of business objective to make it a necessary project. I do have a concern that qualitative surveys and qualitative material generally will be pushed aside by studies using big data, preventing balanced judgment in the ways business decisions are made. However, there is already a myth that because it is labeled 'Big' Big Data somehow equals 'right answers.'“ —Jane Vincent, visiting faculty fellow, University of Surrey Digital World Research Centre; expert on emotions in social practices of ICT users; also an expert in mobile communications industry since 1984; based in Surrey, UK

“While the ability to process huge amounts of data will bring many benefits, the lack of a theoretical coherency and understanding of how large and complex systems work will cause major problems to arise. The focus of Big Data on financial markets has not increased our understanding of how our complex and global economies work. Being able to identify variables does not lead to an understanding of them. Massive complex systems are very hard to predict. Moreover, just because we understand more does not mean we can take actions that do not create more friction or introduce variables that result in unintended consequences. At the end of the data you must act on the data and that is where we run into problems. There will always be more known unknowns and unknown unknowns than known knowns. I think that more data will only increase the former more than the latter.” —Ted M. Coopman, lecturer, department of communication studies, San Jose State University; member of the executive committee, Association of Internet Researchers; lives in Santa Cruz, California, and works in San Jose

“Overall, the use of Big Data will have positive outcomes provided it stays more in the hands of academics. I find it difficult to believe that data use will not be manipulated by governments and big business for selfish agendas. Perhaps there could be citizen committees put together to police the integrity of the data in some way. I don't think the average person understands the positive benefit of meta-analysis. In a small capacity I work with data in my work and if the analysis and outcomes don't show what my agency wants, they will 1) deny its validity, 2) deny its importance or 3) deny the ability to make changes based on it. People have to want to use data as a way to benefit the masses in this country that seems impossible. Big business will not allow data to interfere with profits. Governments won't use data to implement policy it deems costly. We already see this to be true. The current populace (and prior to the Obama administration, our presidents) were decidedly anti-science. Worse, the average person is uninformed or just doesn't care. Look at climate science. There's lots of data behind it yet we're still having a debate about it. Only academia seems interested in utilizing and benefitting from data analysis. But, there is hope. New York City is currently putting together a consortium of sorts of all its city agencies, supposedly to compile data to more efficiently and effectively dictate policy. It remains to be seen how that will actually work for the people. I am pessimistic about trusting big business to make good decisions with data. They already compile data and use it in a number of ways to increase their bottom line. This has not benefitted the average American. I've been subjected to targeted advertising, but it rarely spurs me to buy. I participated in the census yet I still don't see how certain income data is produced when income questions weren't asked. I know the government has all kinds of data about the effects of social ostracization of whole segments of society, but I don't see much positive policy coming from it; not in the current political climate. We have data on the effects of poverty yet the method of calculating poverty hasn't changed in decades. These are but a few examples. We have a long way to go before big data benefits society at large.” —Lucretia Walker-Skinner, quality improvement associate with Project Hospitality, a non-profit organization based in Staten Island, New York

“One of the primary problems here is that there is no good definition or tracking of what data mean and are. What constitutes a properly-defined datum is not standard usage. And improper, incomplete, and ambiguous tags are going to cause many more problems as this grows. It's very easy to try to compare data that are not, in fact, comparable because of incompatible definitions of terms that have obvious but ambiguous meanings (examples of such terms: petroleum, the United States, month—all of which were differently defined by different people reporting on oil imports when I examined this in the early 1980s). There will be a rising need not for statistical analysts, but for people who will do 'forensic data analysis'—what was actually measured to generate this datum that I'm looking at, and how close is it to what I really wanted to see measured? As more and more large data sets get generated, there will be more and more of a problem with this. Everyone knows what a datum is, and what a comparison is. And it's very clear if one begins to look that the definitions used by different people have very different implications for the meaning that can be derived. Exploratory data analysis can show you what's interesting in a large batch of numbers, whether the interesting things that are discovered reflect something useful about the labels attached to those numbers is a completely different question, and a number without appropriate descriptive attachments isn't a datum—it's just a number.” —Tom Whitmore, a consultant based in Seattle, Washington

“There will be some big mistakes with big data, and regulation will follow, lagging behind but solving the largest issues.” —Valerie Bock, technical services lead at Q2Learning, LLC and VCB Consulting; based in Decatur, Illinois

“The business model promoted by large corporations tends to put content (e.g. Netflix), service management (e.g. support), and other facilities (e.g. PayPal) in an operation 'online.' Precisely this modus operandi is what leads us to have a large collection of data that can be exploited for patterns of behavior, prediction of consumption, etc. It is almost impossible to escape this reality as it is almost impossible to process all of the stored information in a timely manner with which all the predictions are statistical trends on the sample.” —Daniel Ferrari, system analyst based in São Paulo, Brazil

“Any data can be misused, information is power and if someone has a lot of information, whether or not it is accurate, complete or truthful, is harder and harder to prove. Group thinking takes over. Diversity in thinking cycles is so important that to override it with the majority point of view will be harmful to our society and it will push people to conform and not maintain their cultural identities.” —Leara Rhodes, associate professor of journalism and international communications at the University of Georgia; based in Athens, Georgia

“We can already see many useful benefits of open data in the Gov 2.0 space, with citizens taking advantage of new access to data in creative and revolutionary ways. Using evidence rather than guessing will make it easier for us to understand trends and the history of particular fields. However, how one creates prediction models with this data will be trickier and will always have to take into account human error in extrapolating ideas about the future from data about the past.” —Dana Allen-Greil, chief of digital outreach and engagement, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

“Ignorance is more dangerous than knowledge to society. The more we know about our world, the better we can make decisions about our future. There has always been the ability to manipulate data for selfish means, but with wide access to the data, the playing field is, I hope, leveled, and deception is more difficult to carry out.” —Lee Hurd, senior user-experience designer for the State of California; based in Sacramento, California

“Along with the rise of big data should come equal and open access to the data so that assumptions can be checked and double checked and to foster a culture of looking for results in data. Access to the same data should allow for thousands of parallel experiments to be run by amateurs. This ecosystem should allow the discovery of new patterns and meanings in the big data.” —Cyprien Lomas, director at The Learning Centre for Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia; on the advisory council for the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative ‘Seven Things You Should Know’; based in Vancouver, Canada 

“This is essentially a question about the value of human knowledge. Big Data, at least in comparison to past capabilities to store and analyze data, has been a process continuing over many years already. I won't be turning down cancer drugs developed by modeling before field trials, or whose field trial results have been carefully analyzed before widespread use. The negative view expressed in the question suggests that analysis of Big Data is available only to some. That need not be the case. One consequence of 'The Cloud' is that tools for Big Data analysis could be available to anyone.” —Donald Neal, senior research programmer at the University of Waikato, based in Hamilton, New Zealand

“While I think 'the Internet of Things' will be extremely useful (already smart phones gathering velocity data give Google maps amazing data about traffic jams, and I predict there will be many more such breakthroughs), I doubt it will have as dramatic effect on big issues as you describe above. Instead, it will have numerous smaller impacts, making our daily lives more efficient and enjoyable.” —Mark J. Franklin, director of computing services and software engineer, Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

“Big data will allow for big revelations. But they won't be happening with any grand frequency. With better analysis tools and access to ever-larger amounts of data, there are likely to be significant breakthroughs. Most of its uses will be for more mundane, less earth-shaking research and analysis. This will be a net improvement, but not a game changer on a large scale.” —Phillip Herndon, communications strategist for New Media Strategies, a consulting business based in Arlington, Virginia

“One might argue that we are already living in an era of Big Data, though obviously the datasets are getting bigger quickly. Looking back to the 1970s and the first waves of dataset computerization, we see some concerning patterns. These tools allowed new kinds of insight, but they also created new kinds of confusion and uncertain. Figuring out how to use massive datasets will take time and practice, and there will be mistakes along the way. And just as with the earlier era of computerization, some of the ways these data are used will advance scientific inquiry, foster human creativity, and enhance social well being, while other uses will serve to exploit markets and people.” —R. Kelly Garrett, assistant professor at The Ohio State University School of Communication; based in Columbus, Ohio

“Large, publicly available data sets, easier tools, wider distribution of analytics skills, and early stage artificial intelligence software will lead to a burst of economic activity and increased productivity comparable to that of the Internet and PC revolutions of the mid to late 1990s. Social movements will arise to free up access to large data repositories, to restrict the development and use of AIs, and to 'liberate' AIs.” —Sean Mead, director of solutions architecture, valuation, and analytics for Mead, Mead & Clark, Interbrand; member of the Internet and Electronic Commerce Committee, 1997-present; lecturer at Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum; based in Dayton, Ohio

“With any change there are equal and opposite reactions. Greater data aggregation will create privacy issues; greater visualizations will hide algorithms for generating these appealing data presentations. As Herbert Simon said a number of years ago, algorithms will disappear into machines and then not be reexamined.” —Caroline Haythornthwaite, director and professor at the School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies of the University of British Columbia, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

“Big Data is and will be the most influential force in business and society at large. The marketing research industry, where I've made my living, understood as devoted to collection and interpretation on opinion, will be confined to those small nooks and crannies where there is no possible data and opinion must suffice. But there is simply no justification for making decisions on the basis of what a sample of people think they think when the analysis of huge datasets of actual choices and behaviors are available. Politics and economics, we can only hope, will be similarly revolutionized.” —Walter Dickie, executive vice president and managing partner, C+R Research; based in Chicago, Illinois

“Better access to more data is always a plus and would be a huge positive for society. However, there are powerful people and institutions with selfish agendas who will misuse it for case they want to make.” —Matt Minahan, consultant in organization design and development; adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and American University; previously a senior management consultant with The World Bank; based in Silver Spring, Maryland

“There's an excluded middle here between 'huge positive' and 'big negative'. There's also an implicit assumption of a large impact we haven't already seen. Just in the last fifty years, we have made enormous progress in data analysis. Certainly it has affected business decision making, but the impact on public policy has been very limited. More data is not going to change that. Moreover, the world is complicated in ways that are not easily amenable to statistical analysis. For example, we already know the entire human genome, but figuring out what it means will take decades. I expect the building and use of data sets will continue to be as chaotic and short-term-driven as it is now, at least in the United States. Government databases will be subject to greater restrictions on use and disclosure. Meanwhile private databases will be unregulated, and used mainly for marketing and security purposes. For example, through face recognition and/or RFID identity tags on phones and other devices, merchants will know instantly when a known shoplifter enters the store. Databases will be queried, and individuals with certain traits—things like poor credit rating, low account balances, frequent address changes, problematic driving record—will get more attention of store security. Meanwhile, shoppers with known positive characteristics will be offered greater access and amenities. These kinds of things have obvious privacy implications, but given the investment in private data infrastructure that is already in place, there will be no effective legislation to restrict use of personal data by private entities.” —Lawrence Kestenbaum, founder and owner of PoliticalGraveyard.com, a database of US political history from the 1700s to the present; a pioneer in making historical data available online; based in Ann Arbor, Michigan

“Both of these statements are true. The balance of positive to negative effect is very hard to judge. Yes and yes. It's like saying 'The Internet connects people and makes us more efficient. It is a huge positive for society,' and, 'The Internet is mostly used for porn. Criminals can exploit the Internet to help them commit crimes. It is a big negative for society.' Yes and yes.” —Tracy Rolling, product user experience evangelist for Nokia, based in Berlin, Germany

“People will have pervasive ‘data shadows,’ which are the statistical composites of all their recorded behaviours. Like all statistical models, this will only map probabilities. There will also be a data glut, which limits the ability of the powerful to select information for analysis.” —John Laprise, visiting assistant professor at the Doha, Qatar, campus of Northwestern University

“It's difficult to see how enabling a 'new understanding of the world' could be inherently negative. Big Data isn't likely to cause harm, though putting almost any information in the wrong hands can be harmful, but not because of inferential software or algorithms. I'm not so worried about those who write the software and the algorithms, or create the big datasets. Those who really value empirical data, like research scientists, also tend to value objectivity, sober judgment, and respect for the opinions of others. All that changes when those with the corporate and political agendas enter the picture. And it was always thus. If the Internet of Things raises false expectations or steers us into blind alleys, we'll recover. For the time being, let's focus our concerns on something actually hurtful: the Big Data being collected by those sneaky Web marketers who won't stop until they've profiled everyone on the planet.” —David Ellis, director of communication studies, York University, Toronto, and author of the first Canadian book on the roots of the Internet; his blog is titled Life on the Broadband Internet; based in Toronto, Canada

“Big Data is the new oil. The companies, governments and organizations that are able to mine this resource will have an enormous advantage over those that don't. With speed, agility, and innovation determining the winners and losers, Big Data allows us to move from a mindset of 'measure twice, cut once' to one of 'place small bets fast.'” —Bryan Trogdon, entrepreneur, user-experience professional, Semantic Web evangelist; work encompasses information and interaction design for rich Internet applications, immersive web sites, and other digital interfaces (e.g., mobile.); based in Omaha, Nebraska

“Data itself, and information collection processes, are always susceptible to influencing unintended and/or undesirable decisions and hence consequences. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't keep trying to get it right.” —Linda Keegan, social worker with a mental health concentration in the correctional field who works for a government agency in the Midwest

“With Big Data comes Great Power, and neither shall be used wisely for the common good. The objective is not to reveal opportunity for the elimination of scarcity among the many, but to identify fertile ground for exploitation and control.” —Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles, owner and managing editor of corndancer.com, committed to the non-commercial roots of the Internet and World Wide Web; based in rural Washington County, Arkansas

“The rise of Big Data will by 2020 be a net positive. One only needs to think of the promise of Big Data in science, technology, engineering, and math to appreciate its potential.” —Robert Renaud, vice president for library and information services and CIO at Dickinson College; member, EDUCAUSE Advanced Core Technologies Initiative Design Group; based in Carlisle, Pennsylvania

“The result will land somewhere in between the choices. We already have huge data sources to predict all kinds of outcomes (for example, voting patterns based on magazine subscriptions). The issue for much of this 'data' is the lack of context. An interesting move on this front is work that is starting up around computational rhetoric. That has possibility, provided the contextual issues can be solved for (and represented accurately/responsibly).” —Liza Potts, assistant professor of digital humanities, Michigan State University; a leader of ACM's SIGDOC; formerly worked as a user-interface program manager for Microsoft in the early 2000s building early web apps for them; based in East Lansing, Michigan

“The idea that Big Data will solve society's ailments is myopic and hopelessly optimistic. Breakthroughs in understanding the way society functions are difficult and agonizing no matter which way you cut it. Assuming technology can substitute for tried and true brain work is misguided.” —Kevin Gotkin, PhD student at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

“Big Data should be developed within a context of openness and improved understandings of dynamic, complex whole ecosystems. There are difficult matters that must be addressed, which will take time and support, including: public and private sector entities agreeing to share data; providing frequently updated meta-data; openness and transparency; cost recovery; and technical standards.” —Richard Lowenberg, director, broadband planner 1st-Mile Institute; network activist since early 1970s; prepared State of New Mexico’s Integrated Strategic Broadband Initiative; integrates rural community planning with network initiatives globally; based in Santa Fe, New Mexico

“In the balance technology will be used for positive outcomes. I do expect negative results from Big Data, and I do expect it to be manipulated. But on the whole we will be better off with more data than with less, and by having better access to real-time ground-truth.” —Peter Pinch, director of technology for WGBH, a public media company – including television, radio, and online programming – based in Boston, Massachusetts

“The outcome will be based upon the social and political environment that will emerge in 2020, not the technology alone. By itself, Big Data is neither positive or negative.” —Jesse Drew, associate professor of technocultural studies, at the University of California-Davis; based in Davis, California

“This is going to take longer than 2020 to work out. By 2020 the more dystopian option will be dominant, but that this will gradually change over the course of the next twenty or thirty years.” —Guy Wilson, a history PhD and educational technology specialist at the University of Missouri-Columbia

“The notion of Big Data brings numerous ethical issues, including whether sufficient notice and consent is provided before data is collected and aggregated, the inability to sufficiently anonymize and protect the privacy of individuals (note how 'anonymized' datasets from AOL and Netflix can be re-identified), and the dangers of algorithms making decisions that impact peoples lives based solely on bits of information in a database.” —Michael Zimmer, assistant professor in the school of information studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

“Saying that Big Data would be harmful (which is possible) and shouldn't happen is like saying censorship expands human learning and growth. In other words, even if there are risks, the risks of not sharing information, resources, and, yes, data, are far far greater.” —P.F. Anderson, emerging technologies librarian, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Michigan

“Big Data can only help the users to make a better decision about the future and I believe this will have a huge impact in the future. There could be fits and starts in this area because of improper question sets that provide faulty inputs and outputs any system, but by 2020 many of these will be worked out and refined to a point that its use far outweighs the pitfalls.” —Keith Davis, team lead for the S6 Community of Purpose - working on a knowledge management initiative for the Signal Center of Excellence - RLM Communications - Military Communications Expert Organization, US Army; based in Grovetown, Georgia

“The influence of Big Data will certainly be net positive.  However, public and private entities must strive to enable the positive and minimize the negative consequences. For example, there are severely negative privacy consequences of using data for purposes different than those for which the data was originally collected.” — Jessica Clark, senior fellow, Center for Social Media, American University

“The rise of Big Data will give us more data than we know what to do with, and some of it will be used for good, some for evil. In general, however, it will allow analysts to extrapolate patterns and make predictions in previously unimaginable ways, and will help to bolster a culture of evidence over a culture of ideological grandstanding. Of course, it's possible for ideology to influence analysis of data, but the very fact that these questions will have to be hashed out in the public sphere is a step forward.” —Nancy Callahan, senior director, mobility, for a SAAS enterprise solutions provider; 25 years experience in business management, product development, risk management of information services; certified information privacy professional; based in New York City

“Both are possible, and indeed probable. People with strong agendas will see what they want to see, and bend data selectively to suit their communication purposes. At the same time, we are already seeing societally-significant insights and patterns from Big Data and underlying 'computational intelligence' (as a formal term, making no judgment on its actual intelligence!). The largest influencing factor is likely to be the level of availability of big data itself—it was initially constrained to large corporate institutions, but the current fad/trend is toward 'open linked data' and sharing data publicly. If that trend remains, then corresponding benefits are possible.” —Duane Degler, principal consultant, Design for Context; designer of large-scale search facilities and interactive applications for clients such as the National Archives, the Social Security Administration, and Verisign; based in Washington, DC

“Building on XML, we will enhance and enforce a structured language labeling method for data gathering so data can be incorporated into datasets more easily and seamlessly. This would allow more time for analysis, requiring less time for data formatting and cleaning. This will also enable researchers to quickly respond to information needs by providing mashups of data which can inform quick decision-making.” —Laura Lee Dooley, online engagement architect and strategist for the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC

“Isn't 2012 already 'Big Data' compared with 1980? We'll all have to be the judge if life is better (online stock trading, infinite content, portable music) or worse (online stock trading, infinite content, portable music). If little else, Big Data will teach us more about our actual selves and actual behavioral profiles. Different than a philosophical text which theoretically teach us about ourselves, analysis of Big Data will probably surprise us, and we may cringe at the thought of using data to decide what's next because we might not like what we'll see in the data crystal ball.” —Edmund Carey, vice president for sales/channel partnerships at Undertone, an advertising network; adjunct instructor of new media at Fordham University Graduate School; based in New York City

“My only hesitation is whether this will occur in just nine years. I believe it's possible, but I hesitate to say that it's likely.” —J. Clarke Price, president and CEO of the Ohio Society of CPAs; based in Dublin, Ohio

“The politics of control and the politics of appearances will continue to make the rich richer and diminish the grassroots and disenfranchised until the politics of transparency make it necessary for the top down to partner meaningfully with the bottom up in visible, measurable ways. The grassroots boom in bottom up innovation will increasingly find new ways to self-organize as evidenced in 2011 by the Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring movements.” —Frank Odasz, president Lone Eagle Consulting, a company specializing in Internet training for rural, remote, and indigenous learners; speaker on rural 21st century workforce readiness, rural e-commerce and telework strategies, and online learning for all; based near Dillon, Montana 

“Democratization is the issue; this has tremendous implications for social structure and social order (increasing pressure by 'have-nots' on 'elites') as well as privacy, family, and culture. A big unanswered question is who will control Big Data?  Whomever controls the information will have greater power and influence, and they may use this for positive or negative results.” —David A.H. Brown, executive director, Brown Governance Inc., a consulting business based in Toronto, Canada

“Big Data will deliver many positive results in some areas, such as individual and public health. I also believe that huge businesses, specifically in the financial sector, will use big data in ways that garner more power and more profit for them but deeply threaten the economic health of the country (there will be more failures of 'too big to fail' companies, with the resultant impact on the economy). I hold out some hope that the current populist sentiment arising in the country may result in individuals/groups that 'fight back' at such big business threat by developing ways of harnessing big data and are thus able to monitor activity and incite protective action through regulatory or legislative means. Since this is the Pew Internet and American Life Project, I answered assuming it was based on my expectation for the United States.” —Rebecca Leet, principal, Rebecca Leet & Associates, a consulting business based in Washington, DC

“In order for Big Data to have a positive impact on society overall, it has to be transparent. Ordinary citizens would have to be able to query the data set and discover real answers, regardless of the light that shows on individuals or corporations or governments. There is too much at stake for these parties to allow open, transparent access to this data. As long as some data sets or parts of data sets are hidden, there is room for misuse and manipulation. I think this manipulation is sure to take place. Unless Big Data is democratized on a massive scale, it will overall have a negative impact on society. Right now, I don't see much hope for such a democratization.” —Nathan Swartzendruber, technology education at SWON Libraries Consortium; based in Cincinnati, OH. USA

“Too much trust will be given to predictive analytics of Big Data, thereby clouding and 'greying' decisions made by big business to the detriment of their performance in customer service arenas. They will 'assume' their analytics are correct in all decision making and lose focus on  'pre' Big Data techniques that were more personalized.” —Stan Stark, consultant at Heuroes Consulting; based in Houston, Texas

“Big Data will prevail. Be it the design of war strategies by a UNIVAC in Bethesda during the Vietnam War, to the design of the Bart System in Berkeley, gaming systems using sophisticated data sets are better at identifying solutions. In fact, the use of non-traditional statistical analysis in the BART System contributed to the winning of a Nobel Prize in Economics to one of the consultants. It is absolutely false that Big Data will diminish our lives. The use of modern statistical analysis is such that, nuanced results are not only possible, but routine.” —Don Hausrath, retired from the US Information Agency; previously worked abroad installing information centers, providing information about the US for policy makers in foreign governments, media, and related groups; based in Tucson, Arizona 

“I would guess a little bit of both outcomes. Big Data ought to provide some great stuff that will advance medicine, science, social science, and so on. But of course some people will think Big Data is the only way to analyze things, and of course it is not. All tools are limited by the limitations of their users. All tools are also expanded by users' imaginations. It is technological determinism to assume that Big Data usage will be the same by all users.” —Cynthia Meyers, associate professor at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Bronx, New York

“While we will continue to be challenged to effectively and efficiently convert big, unstructured, datasets for the next ten years; technology advances will continue to improve our ability to employ powerful analytics and decision support tools to provide us with 'nowcasting' capabilities. Unfortunately, this will not eliminate the use of huge data sets to justify virtually any position, valid or not, resulting in potential harmful impacts to our population.” —Jack Spain, principal at Spain Business Advisors; based in Cary, North Carolina

“The rise of Big Data will be a positive, if not a huge one, for society in 'nearly all respects.' However, as with all technology, the degree to which it is used to effect positive change will depend on the values of those using it. By 2020, with Millennial behavior the overwhelming approach of adult Americans, it is easy to envision the technology being used to enable new understandings of the world and seeking to improve it. But in other countries, with different values, it is also easy to envision Big Data being used to enforce autocratic oppression. So the answer to this question does depend on which society you are talking about. Since there are more democracies than autocracies in the world, my vote goes to 'on balance positive' outcomes.” —Morley Winograd, co-author of ‘Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America’; senior fellow, USC's Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership and Policy; based in Arcadia, California

“Well, obviously Big Data is going to be misused by powerful/bad people. But these people misuse everything anyway. Overall Big Data will complicate life but also enable highly personalized services: educational, health services, entertainment, etc. I'm not sure Big Data will work against outliers; it may help demonstrate that outliers are not as rare as they appear to be (like the Census counting same-sex couples).” —Karen G. Schneider, director for library services at Holy Names University; prolific author of books and articles on technology; based in Oakland, California

“A little bit of both. Hackers will only have more power if they implement these changes, that's always a thought.” —David Kimball, student at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington

“The manipulation of data sets to influence behaviors, for good or nefarious purposes, is certainly not new. Will there be misuse and abuse? Of course there will, as there has always been. The free flow of ideas between world citizens is the necessary correcting factor here.” —Susan Price, CEO and chief Web strategist at Firecat Studio LLC; TEDxSanAntonio organizer; Austin FreeNet cofounder; Knowbility board member; based in San Antonio, Texas

“The perception of Big Data as either a positive or negative depends on how we perceive who holds that data and our awareness of it. Non-commercial research and scientific use of data aggregation can be viewed as advancement. Commercial use needs to be more transparent as many consumers don't appreciate the amount of information that is regularly traded upon by insurers, financial institutions and marketers, which would be less positively viewed by the general public.” —Jean Westcott, co-author of ‘Digitally Daunted: The Consumer’s Guide to Taking Control of the Technology in Your Life’; based in Washington, DC

“As an applied sociologist, I religiously believe in the ability of the humans who must interpret and create these data sets to muck it all up, intentionally or not. The media, the research, the Internet is all driven by humans. Human error can mess up even the best of data collection, analysis, and dissemination. Beyond that, we are unable to ever suggest or predict in a generalizable way until confidence intervals are 100% and the Census doesn't need to impute data we're not going to be able to read the future or become psychic-statisticians. Unfortunately, you won't be able to convince some audiences or segments of that, because if someone with an authoritative position tells you something that a computer calculated, you might as well call it absolute truth (unless it doesn't match up with their belief system, of course).” —Jeniece Lusk, assistant research director with a PhD in applied sociology at an Atlanta, Georgia, information technology company

“'Big Data' will allow people to encounter the world in a personalized way. The generic world as we know it will eventually cease to exist. Big Data will allow companies to market and run more efficiently. Businesses will be run on concrete numbers instead of on guesses and theories.” —Katrina Griffin, e-marketing strategist for Medseek; based in Peoria, Illinois

“Individuals finding themselves subscribed to the latter paragraph are in need of psychiatric assistance. They should go back out to the protest they came from and wait for it.” —Rob Scott, chief technology officer and intelligence liaison at Nokia; based in Sunnyvale, California

“Without data, it's almost impossible to make good decisions. True, making sense of large datasets may create problems, but an avalanche of data per se is in my opinion definitely a good thing. Others may analyse all they wish, and provide their take on the original data—skewed or not by their personal agendas—but provided it is the data that is released, and not just the analysis, others can also analyse, and confirm or contradict as appropriate. It's been a hallmark of corrupt and manipulative power for centuries to try and control information. However, information is just organised data, and if you can't control the data then you can't control the information. If you internalise information you get knowledge, and if you embed that knowledge within your existing knowledge you get wisdom. Data is therefore the root of wisdom, and wisdom is the downfall of tyrants.” —Rich Osborne, senior IT innovator at the University of Exeter, based in Exeter, UK

“One of my core beliefs is that information can be an ultimate good. Big data is like any other data—it is good if it is analyzed properly, presented fairly, and fulfills some purpose. I'm sure lots of trivial and misinterpreted big data will exist. But our tools for meaningful use of data will improve and lead to new discoveries and warning systems that prevent human tragedies. Key to the positive scenario prevailing will be our emphasis on promoting understanding of statistics among all citizens. The days when even humanities scholars could ignore statistics are past.” —Tom Franke, chief information officer for the University System of New Hampshire; based in Durham, New Hampshire

“I am concerned the advent of Big Data will have a harmful impact. My analogy is a medical PET scan. I have had doctors tell me that not everyone should have a PET scan because minute insignificant maladies may show up causing unnecessary tests and procedures to prove these maladies will not cause harm.  It is a balance between early detection and too much information.  I believe Big Data could have a similar effect.” —Veronica Longenecker, assistant vice president of information technologies, Millersville University, based in Millersville, Pennsylvania

“Misinterpretation, misuse, and incomplete data have always been problems. Better analysis will make better insights and decisions possible, and will require new understandings and increased levels of data numeracy. Individuals will have access to easily used data tools to use with their own data, improving their life-management capacities.” —Cathy Cavanaugh, associate professor of educational technology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

“We are already using data modeling to make big mistakes. In most ways, I doubt that the use of Big Data will be any more or less faulty than our current uses of the data and models we have accessible today. The real estate and sub-prime mortgage disasters are a clear case of those problems now. The best analyses of the roots of those mistakes I have read and heard point to overconfidence in poorly understood, very complex risk models, and the refusal to recognize that the worst will happen. When the probability of a situation occurring is 1,000 to one, that means the situation will occur, just not very often, over the long run; although possibly on two or more consecutive occasions over the short run. People seem not to pay attention to that when making decisions. Perhaps we are not really good at thinking about the long run, and ultimately having to put the 'disaster recovery plan' into action. In any case, I don't think Big Data will make the problem of poor judgment when assessing the consequences of risk any smaller. Anything forecast based on any data is just a model, and not an event controller. We, as a species, will continue to make decisions in a short runway, and we will get caught out. So, will Big Data make the consequences of our mistakes worse? Yes, and no. While the ramifications of a mistake may become more far reaching, it will also be much harder to 'hide' mistakes and their consequences, because of the level of connectivity that we have. We've seen the accelerating potential of that connectivity in recent political events, and even in recent environmental disasters, I believe. When someone starts a protest, others know of it right away, from the immediate observers. Decisions about whether to join the protest don't have to wait for the publication of a newspaper, or the 'film at eleven'. When an oil rig blows, the whole world knows within hours. Governments and scientists swing into action immediately—not always smoothly and certainly not always cooperatively, but the response is immediate. I'm betting that our ability to respond to crisis is going to increase just as rapidly, perhaps more rapidly, than our ability to create crises. I hope I'm right.” —Nikki Reynolds, director of instructional technology services, Hamilton College; based in Clinton, New York

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