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“We’re entering a world of constant data-driven predictions where we may not be able to explain the reasons behind our decisions. What does it mean if a doctor cannot justify a medical intervention without asking the patient to defer to a black box, as the physician must do when relying on a big-data-driven diagnosis? Will the judicial system’s standard of ‘probable cause’ need to change to ‘probabilistic cause’ – and if so, what are the implications of this for human freedom and dignity?” -Mayer-Schonberger (17)


Alarmists are always the loudest on the cusp of a new era. While Mayer-Sconberger’s Big Data was generally rational and thoughtful, there were passages like the one above that held clear alarmist tones. To imply that big data will force us to be hyper-rational, robotic humans, would mean abandoning the human part of us. Big data is impersonal. It doesn’t care. And that’s why doctors will still be able to justify medical interventions, courts will still ask for probable cause, and we will never become fully rational creatures. Even though our society might be changing, people will still fight for and value our fundamental human freedoms.

Mayer-Schonberger also talks about the data becoming more “messy”. Because of the scale of big data, precision is sacrificed. The data makes mistakes, and so our standards have lowered from exact answers to “good enough”. The data makes mistakes. Is this not one of the more human qualities? It seems then, rather than humans becoming more mechanic, machines are becoming more human. This reminds me of Thrift’s qualculative background and coordinate system. At one point he mentions that the recursiveness and complexity of the calculations may result in a more natural than unnatural environment. Meaning, what we view as rational and mechanic is actually becoming more natural. Perhaps then, big data will not bring about a new era, but will hearken back to an older one.