Mimority Report science advisor John Underkoffler at TED 2010

Big Data: Hype, Meme or Warmed-over Distributed Computing?

I do hope that that Big Data standards drafts currently being reviewed reflect somewhere colleague Frank Farance’s strongly worded Minority Report, even if it strikes some as the digital elite’s version of a New Linguistic Purism or a Quixotic attempt by language cops to sanitize terminology after it has already moved into messy usage.

Memes like “Big Data” take on a life of their own. Whether the discipline of computing takes on the meme as pure metaphor — descriptive of problems, not architectures as David opines — gets sorted out over time. While the meme suffers through the ups and downs of its adolescence, folks will try to attach additional implied meaning. Some of that will stick; some will eventually be discarded. Meanwhile, there are practical problems to be solved in building out, classifying and otherwise studying Big Data systems. The meme and its V-groupings can be thought of as placeholders for dimensions that a BI person later determines to be flawed, or needing to be decomposed, redefined or reconstructed.

The “old” terminology, as Frank notes, should be brought into the discussion whenever possible. We forget all too soon what once we knew but called something different, reflecting the memes of a different era.

For me, the rate of acceleration across the V’s is what makes this a adequately (vs. superbly) cohesive paradigm. It’s not that there wasn’t incremental change before. But a world of people and devices suddenly wired — in comparative terms overnight — is anything but business as usual for our industry.

The standards process will likely force the terminology to undergo some evolution, perhaps in the form of fitness tests, or operational definitions that succeed or fail to reflect otherwise apparent changes in software engineering processes.

I suggest we let that process go ahead. We can privately wring our hands or wonder under what sort of sun all this can be thought of as new — thereby giving Agatha (so named in the film Minority Report) her due.

Related News