[Humanist] 28.443 Big Data

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Oct 27 08:52:43 CET 2014


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 443.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        Date: Sun, 26 Oct 2014 11:20:41 -0700
        From: Jascha Kessler <jkessler at ucla.edu>
        Subject: Re:  28.440 Big Data no boondoggle
        In-Reply-To: <544CB60B.50904 at mccarty.org.uk>


Dear Willard,

I heard a semi-scabrous joke in 1951, which exactly treats of the problem of
"Big-Data" that you are presently pondering.  If you can accept it, I shall
write it out.  Or tangentially, one of the first "shaggy dog" stories, which
I read in 1938 or so in a New Yorker anthology my mother had from the Book
of the Month Club.  I shall wait to hear from you about the first option;
but here is the Shaggy Dog applicable [from the Depression era, to be
sure]:

A poor man, long on the dole, and miserably reviewing the Job Wanted ads in
the newspaper, happens upon a posting: LOST: A HUGE BLACK SHAGGY DOG. 
ANSWERS TO THE NAME OF REX.  Reward: 500$.  Ask for McGonnigle at ### Fifth
Avenue, Penthouse Door.  Our McSmith sitting reading this in the Union
Square Park looks up and sees a huge, black shaggy dog with a studded collar
of cut semi-precious stones, and a tag.  It reads REX.  He takes hold of the
friendly beast, takes off his belt to tie it to him and walks all the way
uptown to ### Fifth Avenue.  The doorman lets him in, and up he flies in the
elevator, Rex at his side.  Ringing the bell at the penthouse door, he waits
until a pleasant, well-dressed man opens it.  Inquiring if this is the dog
advertised as Lost, he says, I found Rex, your shaggy black dog.  The man
replies, Not that damned shaggy!  And slams shut the door.

So much for Big-Data...?

Jascha Kessler
Professor Emeritus of Modern English & American Literature, UCLA

On Oct 26, 2014, at 1:51 AM, Willard McCarty wrote:

> 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.
>
> Comments?
>
> Yours,
> WM
>
>
> 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&


Jascha Kessler
Professor Emeritus of Modern English & American Literature, UCLA






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