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Big Data. The buzzword conjures images of data scientists in white lab coats performing complex calculations based on reams of minutiae. They’re clinical and impersonal – and they don’t let frivolous things like human emotion slow them down.
In contrast, The Human Face of Big Data – the book was released in December – aims to show how Big Data helps the lives of actual humans. In a coffee table book format, with stunning full-page photos, the book ranges far and wide in its discussion of Big Data applications.
It covers the fight against smallpox in northern Nigeria, where a task force that includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is using data from smartphones and satellite images to locate high-risk villages and monitor vaccination efforts.
On the other side of the planet, the book discusses how data mining is used to decipher patterns in weddings. Wedding site TheKnot.com, for instance, sifted through its dataset to discover that couples who suggest that guests donate to charity instead of giving a gift actually receive more expensive gifts.
I spoke with the book’s co-author, Rick Smolan, about why Big Data has so taken center stage, and how data mining is playing a role in changing our lives: