As data editor for The Economist and coauthor of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, Kenneth Cukier has spent years immersed in big data, machine learning and the impact both have had on society. “More data doesn’t just let us see more,” he says in his talk. “More data allows us to see new. It allows us to see better. It allows us to see different.”
The heart of Cukier’s talk focuses on machine learning algorithms, from voice recognition and self-driving cars to identifying the most common signs of breast cancer, all of which are made possible by a mind-boggling amount of data. But along with his clear enthusiasm for big data and intelligent machines, he sounds a note of caution: “In the big data age, the challenge will be safeguarding free will, moral choice, human volition, human agency.” Like fire, he says, big data is a powerful tool — one that, if we’re not careful, will burn us.