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When Big Data is Bad Data

E&T's Editor-in-Chief introduces the October issue: the dangers of bad big data, the new transport economy and what the Internet of Things will mean for insurers.

The Internet of Things will both produce and thrive on data – lots of it. This really big data will make today’s big data look like ticker tape. It’s exciting because these big analogue and digital data streams will be combined to provide new insights about us and the world around us. They will spur new, as yet unimaginable, applications to make our lives easier, healthier, more efficient and better for the environment. 

But big data can also go badly wrong. That’s not usually on purpose – people can end up being hurt when big data is asked the wrong questions, the right questions in the wrong way or based on assumptions that look harmless on the face of it but can be very damaging when they are unwittingly reinforced and magnified. In Beware of the Gaps in Big Data, Edd Gent looks at some worrying instances in which society has already gone wrong with using its data and what lessons these hold for engineers in particular in how to work with the bigger data sources of the future. 

Big data and the IoT will change everything. They raise so many questions across such a wide range of industrial and governmental activities and one that comes up a lot is what it will all mean for the insurance of driverless cars, smart homes or even yourself when not only your doctor but perhaps your insurer too knows more about your health than you do. Ben McCluskey discovers how ubiquitous sensors and big data are already changing insurance policies and consumer behaviour. 

Big data promises more efficient use of resources because it can monitor where spare capacity exists in any industry and match that to potential users. Platforms that can match the two are emerging as the new megacompanies disrupting entire industries, and nowhere is that more evident than in the travel industry, with apps such as Airbnb and Uber, which announced last month it is trying out a new driverless taxi service. Important as they are, those two app players are just the beginning, says McCluskey, as the IoT joins up sensors and systems right across cities’ travel infrastructures.

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