[Humanist] 28.440 Big Data no boondoggle

Willard McCarty willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Oct 26 09:51:23 CET 2014

Misleading titles to interviews, book reviews and the like are, I think, 
not uncommon, but I wonder if there isn't a sliver of truth that the 
title has overemphasized. Jordan does note that,

 > ... it's a *major engineering and mathematical challenge*, one that
 > will not be solved by just gluing together a few existing ideas from
 > statistics, optimization, databases and computer systems....

For those who think in next-new-thing terms, "Big Data" seems to fill 
the role not of an enormously challenging research problem but of a 
solution, a t-shirt slogan, a rah-rah rhetorical flourish, i.e. a it 
amounts to boondoggly hype. What Jordan hasn't noticed, at least in this 
interview, is the enormous epistemological problem posed by research 
which turns on Big Data. Even research like mine (almost entirely what 
we call "theoretical") has been profoundly affected by Big Data in the 
form of JSTOR et al. Whole disciplines are being affected. So, indeed, I 
think it's no solution to anything, and its representation as such is 
the boondoggle.



On 26/10/2014 08:03, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 440.
>              Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                         www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                  Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>          Date: Sat, 25 Oct 2014 20:17:56 +0100
>          From: Em Tonkin<cselt at bristol.ac.uk>
>          Subject: Re: [Humanist] 28.438 the frailty of Big Data and machine learning; academic freedoms
>          In-Reply-To:<20141025081701.3E791782A at digitalhumanities.org>
> Also worth checking out - a blog post by Jordan about the interview
> process and outcome:
> https://amplab.cs.berkeley.edu/2014/10/22/big-data-hype-the-media-and-other-provocative-words-to-put-in-a-title/
> '"The Delusions of Big Data and Other Huge Engineering Efforts'.
> It took me a moment to realize that this was the title that had been placed
> (without my knowledge) on the interview I did a couple of weeks ago. Anyway
> who knows me, or who's attended any of my recent talks knows that I
> don'€™t feel that Big Data is a delusion at all; rather, it'€™s a
> transformative topic, one that is changing academia (e.g., for the first
> time in my 25-year career, a topic has emerged that almost everyone in
> academia feels is on the critical path for their sub-discipline), and is
> changing society (most notably, the micro-economies made possible by
> learning about individual preferences and then connecting suppliers and
> consumers directly are transformative). But most of all, from my point of
> view, it'€™s a *major engineering and mathematical challenge*, one that
> will not be solved by just gluing together a few existing ideas from
> statistics, optimization, databases and computer systems. I.e., the whole
> point of my shtick for the past decade is that Big Data is a Huge
> Engineering Effort and that that'€™s no Delusion. Imagine my dismay at a
> title that said exactly the opposite."
>>> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>           Date: Fri, 24 Oct 2014 22:45:05 -
>>           From: "Robert A. Amsler"<amsler at cs.utexas.edu>
>>           Subject: The frailty of Visions of Big Data and Machine Learning
>> You might find this interview interesting.
>> -----
>> Jordan on the Delusions of Big Data and Other Huge Engineering Efforts:
>> Big-data boondoggles and brain-€‘inspired chips
>> are just two of the things we’re really getting
>> wrong
>> By Lee Gomes
>> For more see:
>> http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/artificial-intelligence/machinelearning-maestro-michael-jordan-on-the-delusions-of-big-data-and-other-huge-engineering-efforts/?utm_source=techalert&utm_medium=email&
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Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney

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