The top 3 TED Talks on Big Data

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B2B marketers increasingly rely upon Big Data to stay relevant, and lately algorithmic marketing, which combines Big Data and real-time marketing, is enabling marketers to wring even greater value from the data they collect.

According to a McKinsey & Company study of more than 250 engagements over a five-year period, companies that make data a central focus of their marketing and sales decisions boost marketing return on investment by between 15 and 20 percent. With global corporations spending some $1 trillion annually on marketing, this translates into as much as $200 billion in additional value.

Big Data can be such a heady topic, though, that often a concise video can deliver the insight B2B professionals need, in an easily accessible format. Enter the ever-popular TED Talks.

The following three TED Talks explore various facets of Big Data, from the basics to the intriguingly complex:

Susan Etlinger: What do we do with all this Big Data?
(September 2014)

Industry analyst Susan Etlinger targets strategists and corporate executives at medium to large enterprises with this surprisingly moving discussion of Big Data, its legal and ethical implications and how to plan for data ubiquity.

Etlinger believes the greatest disruptor in the modern age is the imperative to extract insight from data in a manner conducive to building trust. Executives and strategists must self-educate in order to make the most out of the increasing quantity of data out there, and they must apply insight to plan better data strategies.

How do we extract insight from data? How can we use data in a manner that gains and maintains customer trust? These are questions which Etlinger explores, making it clear that the twin challenges of insight and trust will occupy data scientists, analysts, engineers and even lawyers and the public for many years to come. The crucial balance between gaining insight from data while taking great care to protect and sustain confidence that such data is not being abused is difficult to attain and is the subject of much deliberation. After all, as Etlinger notes, “We human beings have a very rich history of taking any amount of data…and screwing it up.”

Critical thinking skills are paramount. “If we are to unlock the power of data, we don’t have to go blindly into Orwell’s vision of a totalitarian future,” Etlinger warns. “What we have to do is treat critical thinking with respect… let’s use our powers for good.”

Kenneth Cukier: Big Data is Better Data
(September 2014)

Economist data editor Kenneth Cukier examines how Big Data is already changing the way we think about deeply-entrenched truisms (for example, that apple pie is America’s favorite pie) and about how scientists are utilizing Big Data to improve humanity’s future. That includes the future of how we do business, and Cukier is optimistic—yet cautious—about the seemingly boundless potential of Big Data to transform how we live and work. Warns Cukier: “This is a tool, but this is a tool that, unless we’re careful, will burn us.”

One way in which that will happen is in the realm of employment. “Big Data is going to steal our jobs,” warns Cukier. “Big Data and algorithms are going to challenge white collar, professional knowledge work in the 21st century in the same way that factory automation and the assembly line challenged blue collar labor in the 20th century.”

Cukier wryly notes that the Industrial Revolution “wasn’t very good if you were a horse.” There are lessons to be learned from past transitions and technological revolutions, and these can be applied to the rise of Big Data. “We’re going to need to be careful and take Big Data and adjust it for our needs, our very human needs,” says Cukier. “We have to be the master of this technology, not its servant.”

Ben Wellington: How We Found the Worst Place to Park in New York CityUsing Big Data
(February 2015)

Data scientist Ben Wellington offers a cautionary tale in which he suggests that despite the fact that government agencies, and by inference companies, have access to a wealth of all-encompassing data and statistics, sometimes they just don’t know what to do with with it all.

In this engaging talk, Wellington demonstrates the importance of why data acquired by organizations must be made accessible to the general public, and in easy-to-handle file formats like csv and Excel, not pdf or docx, which require much data cleaning before any significant analysis can be done.

Wellington is a staunch advocate of open data, which he sees not as a watchdog but rather as a partner for empowerment. New York City is an early leader in open data. “If we start normalizing things, and set an open data standard, others will follow,” Wellington insists. “The state will follow, and maybe the federal government. Other countries could follow, and we’re not that far off from a time where you could write one program and map information from 100 countries. It’s not science fiction. We’re actually quite close.”

Get inspired by our recap of TED Talks every business leader should watch.

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Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for U.S. news. Based in San Francisco, he is the editor and publisher of Moral Low Ground and is a Yahoo! Featured Political Contributor.
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