data paradigm image

Some notes toward a possible data paradigm

Submitted by Stephen Moffitt on
Tue 31/10/2017

I think too much about data… not only in the details of databases, ELT processes or specific algorithms, as a part of my working day. As an academic  and novelist, I am especially interested in the context within which we understand and use all these data tools and techniques. That is, to borrow a phrase from Thomas Kuhn, a data paradigm. What interests me from this perspective is the emergence of new way of looking at the world and interacting with it, thanks to the combination of technologies, economics and cultural factors. It has been called different things such as the digital revolution or the age of big data. Whatever name it has, it represents a fundamental shift in how we think about and do many things, especially, business.

Cover of Structure of Scientific RevolutionsLike all emerging paradigms, it is clearer that we don’t have a way to describe the new world than what that description is. Right now we have fragments of that articulation in various forms. We have data scientists, statisticians and analysts, all of whom have their specific way of looking at data and working with it. We have talk about “Big Data,” artificial intelligence and machine learning. Business leaders are interested in intelligence, actionable insight and reporting. Data is everywhere and everything, it seems, or it is nothing.

As Kuhn described in his seminal book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a paradigm emerges around a specific set of questions and the methods for getting to the answers. These questions and methods are then shared by a community and taught to others. Equally important in this process is defining what is outside of the scope of the paradigm. For example, can data help us make ethical or moral decisions? What data cannot be collected or used about a person or group of people?  

Person of Interest Series LogoWhat I am interested in doing is to try to collect these various fragments together and see if they could lead to an articulation of a data paradigm. In my book, Sea of Dreams, I tried to image how people would live and work within a data paradigm. In this series of posts, I want to look closer to here and now and put down my thoughts about the questions a data paradigm could answer and some of the definitions that I see developing around data. Hopefully this will spark a conversation and allow us to make conscious choices about where we are going instead of accidentally waking up to Skynet or a battle between quasi-sentient artificial intelligences, like in Person of Interest.