How big data went from zero to hero

The developments of Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning over the past decades has accelerated but is often elevated by its reporting as something malevolent, not far off 2001’s Hal 9000 or Terminators Sky Net. It’s easy to see why people run scared when we look back over the last 2 decades.

In 2006 Clive Humby (Mathematician and data scientist) coined the phrase

“Data is the new oil”

Google was 8, Amazon 11, Facebook 16, and Microsoft 31

The most interesting time in my view has been the last 5 years where we have seen the worst and the best in the use of data.

In 2016 we witnessed the harnessing of data in social media with the targeting of individuals bias to exploit and nudged to an outcome,  spearheaded by Cambridge Analytica using the Facebook platform.


By 2017 the Economist published a report where the world was waking up to the how big data companies need to the regulated.

“The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”.

“Google can see what people search for, Facebook what they share, Amazon what they buy”


On the 4 September 2018 Justin Welby : The Archbishop of Canterbury raised the reservations of big tech in a BBC Interview where he said.

“If you corner the market in data, you have probably more wealth advantages than if you corner the market in gold or oil”

“Data is the real place where the money is, and we’ve always said that people with huge power should be regulated.”

In 2019 a new strain of Coronavirus swept the globe, with lethal consequences, and very quickly data came the radar of the battlefield divided into 3 main parts, infections, hospitalisations and deaths.


Data modelling was done on a global scale never seen before. Many mathematical models where developed based on known and assumed transmission vectors. Numbers were displayed on maps and graphs, governments had to make decisions on how to control the virus while the race was on for a vaccine. In wars mistake will be made the skill is make few. As the battle unfolded physical science would have to be married with social science who at the best of times are uneasy bed fellows but come together because in pandemics truth and clear messaging effective weapons. However they would have to fight against ideological politicians who have little experience of physical science, and their experience of data is mostly limited to opinion polling predictions.

One of many examples showing how data was collected and processed positively in Health Care is reported in the Lancet’s “Detecting COVID-19 infection hotspots in England using large-scale self-reported data from a mobile application: a prospective, observational study”. Mobile apps and participation are key even though holes in where exposed between in economic terms with access to the right levels of technology.

It is always a marathon keeping communities on board but is helped by transparency of data, how it is collected and displayed through media outlets. It helps combat the cynical and conspiracy theorists fuelling ignorance costing lives and lively hoods.

We may never be able to comprehend the volume of data used and how it was processed to speed up the program of bringing vaccines along so quickly.

There are many good uses of data and we must hold on to that thought as to why and safeguard against those that are just to easy to exploit for nefarious motives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s