The Human Face of Big Data


by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt

reviewed by Geoffrey Winship

Face-of-Data.JP

The Human Face of Big Data is a big book. I mean really big. At almost twice the dimensions of most coffee table books, it is imposing.

When I took this book home to read, in practical terms, it meant that I couldn’t store it in a bookcase; it sat on a table, always in view. Sitting down to read it required clearing a table and removing other distractions, because it was too large to read on a couch, or in other traditional reading places. It was a clear case of the medium being the message. I had to negotiate my reading with the book itself.

That being said, it is worth taking the time. The Human Face of Big Data offers a fascinating series of examples of how big data is being used to influence us. It begins benignly with examples of how to keep people safe and how to develop medicines and do research by leveraging the power of massive amounts of information. Who can argue the merits of such information being put to such altruistic purposes? It provides excellent examples of how Big Data is used to identify and predict trends that are not possible with smaller samples.

Through a series of pictures, diagrams, infographics and photo essays, The Human Face of Big Data explores the massive amounts of digital information we all generate. Each spread is well-laid out with a wealth of information that can be digested in small chunks or be seen as part of the interconnected picture.

It asks the important questions of who owns the data we generate, and who profits from it. Big Data is changing the world in which we live and this book is an excellent introduction to this important topic.

It’s a great book, you just have to find room for it.

NOTE: Author Rick Smolan provided Spark’s Nora Young with an excellent sampling of the book’s ideas in episode #218. Download it here.

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