Why big data has some big problems when it comes to public policy

With martial law and mass surveillance, it is no coincidence that the local militia, I mean military, I mean police, have something to do. Just remember, if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about. Round the clock surveillance may even save your life.


For all the talk about using big data and data science to solve the world’s problems — and even all the talk about big data as one of the world’s problems — it seems like we still have a long way to go.

Earlier this week, an annual conference on data mining, KDD 2014 for short, took place in New York with the stated goal of highlighting “data science for social good.” It’s a noble goal and, indeed, the event actually did highlight a lot of research and even some real-world examples of how data can help solve various problems in areas ranging from health care to urban planning. But the event also highlighted — to me, at least — some very real obstacles that stand in the way of using data science to solve society’s problems in any meaningful way at any meaningful scale.

Most of these obstacles have little to do with the data…

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