Insight International

Blog Post #2: Big Data & Predictive Analysis

Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 in Insight International

Understanding big data requires a shift in mindset. For those who have never heard the term “Big Data,” there presently exist many definitions. From my understanding, and in a most simplistic form, big data is the compilation of distinct data points over time from any possible source. Anytime any device in the globe connects to the World Wide Web that device is contributing to big data, and information can be gleaned from that connection. Simply connecting to the Internet from a certain place at a certain time can provide much more information than anybody could have dreamed at the dawn of the technology revolution. Depending on the features of a user’s device and its level of security, the contributions of individuals to big data can range from miniscule to massive. The phone in your hand or the laptop on your desk can be the eyes, ears, and information database of your world.

One of the most stunning facts about big data is that it allows predictability in one’s life based on past data points collected over time. The information you view on your device can determine where you might be tomorrow, next month, or even next year. This fact makes our technological devices extremely personal and sensitive. This is where making data anonymous becomes important. Many people are concerned about how private entities are using private data to market and sell products more effectively. This is the least of our concerns. What if your connectivity habits could determine your future with fairly reliable certainty?

It’s not as basic as visiting and buying a travel packages that shows you will be in Tahiti for a week over the summer. It’s the compilation of data that matters. This simple purchase has a plethora of data points associated with it, and when analyzed in combination, these data points can illuminate what might happen at a given place and time. For example, it is common knowledge that plane tickets vary in price. Using data-mining techniques to record price variations in airline tickets from every possible travel site, one could reliably predict the best time to buy a given airfare at the lowest price. If that person knew how to code an application to detect that information, they would save quite some money. It already exists.

In a society dominated by big data and predictive analysis, it may be possible to predict crime. In a country that claims the title of “innocent until proven guilty,” Americans can only hope that that prediction of a crime does not become a reason to intervene prematurely. In a world of endless moral ambiguities, how can we let crimes come to pass when there may exist a 99.9% chance of a crime occurring based on big data predictive analysis? Is this a means to preventing crime even though it may infringe on civil liberties? With the recent NSA-Snowden events coming to pass, the world is wondering where the line will be drawn in data collection. Data collection in itself can be highly invasive of privacy, much less predictive analysis of this data being used to determine where someone may be and what he or she may be doing in the future.

Blog Post #1: The Way

Posted by on Sep 24, 2012 in Insight International

After soaring one astronomical unit from the sun to reach the skin, eyes, and nerves of the human body, heat and light energy supports life on earth.  The energy released from fusion, caused by the rapid collision of helium atoms deep inside the sun, is the process that powers the stars; therefore, a universe lacking in fusion will lack in humans.

Besides contributing to the sustenance of life, what are the international implications of this intriguing physical concept?

Twenty-five years ago, a group of industrial nations agreed on a project to develop a new, cleaner, sustainable source of energy.1  ITER – meaning ‘the way’ in Latin – is an international effort designed to manage the increasing demands of global energy consumption by developing fusion as an energy source.  It is nearly possible that people – tiny, little people – can exploit the power of the universe.

This goal is not only a scientific aspiration.  I believe it represents an ideal by which humanity can live.  The most significant factor illustrated by ITER is that it defines the social, political, and technological achievements of mankind.  Fusion power presents an ambiguous and unknown technology that may likely be a defining characteristic of the future.  There exists potential for the intricate challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, and sustainable economic growth to be mitigated or solved using fusion energy.  Without the need to burn coal, drill for oil, or pollute, humans may be facing a future of environmental reinvigoration, climate stabilization, and economic breakthrough.

In 2010, the percentage of humans living in cities surpassed 50%.  In order to fuel this increasing population density, the earth is currently being drilled, blown up, and burned, leading to an increase of carbon in the atmosphere and the interruption of a chemical balance that has existed for millions of years.  At some point, all of this damage will have to end.  It will either be humans or the earth that makes that decision.  If it is earth, the survival of humans cannot be guaranteed.  It is almost as if humanity is slowly removing each nail from its house, which will eventually lead to a collapse.

Although the entire international community can benefit from fusion power, there are certain societies that will require this advanced technology to succeed economically.  In the next 50 years, the EU, United States, China, India, Brazil, and Japan will likely be the greatest beneficiaries.  In the next 100 years, all of humanity may benefit.  These massive world powers fuel a drive in government to achieve unlimited energy production.

The fact that politicians have come to this agreement is both surprising and unsurprising.  The agreement is surprising because it represents a new level of international cooperation that may achieve substantial breakthroughs in support of human consumption and growth.  It is also unsurprising for just that reason – the agreement is driven by consumption and growth.  One can bask for years in that irony and never gain an understanding of global governance.  Is global governance the summation of the complex processes of each individual in the world, or is it the result of government attempting to create the “conditions for ordered rule and collective action?”2  A contradiction is found in the understanding of the human condition.

Humans claim to seek peace, prosperity, and equality for all; yet very little of this exists in the world and it is left up to the behest of government to make it that way.  If the world is moving toward ‘global governance,’ then hopefully achievements such as ITER will become increasingly prevalent and common.  The problem is that the summation of each individual’s consumption fuels the decisions made at the top – the governments and international organizations that see the bigger picture of humanity.  Is humanity on the right path to achieving global sustainability by continuing to increase our ability to consume?

That is not an answer I am capable of creating.  What I can say is that part of the purpose of this blog is to unravel the future of global governance in order to better understand the various paths that may unfold in time.

In retrospect of human history, we can only hope that the zenith of international cooperation has not yet been reached.  The bullet train of time has reached a platform of enormous opportunity – to choose between excess or sustainability, selfishness or wisdom, death or life.  The decision to exploit this opportunity is left to policy makers in governments around the world.  The decision to contribute to a better future is up to each one of us.