It’s happened to all of us—one minute we are innocently searching the web for a new set of bed sheets or a winter coat and the next minute, our social media feeds become inundated with advertisements for the exact items we just got done searching.
Platforms like Instagram™, Facebook™ and Twitter™ can feed us content they think we want to see based on the history of our clicks, and even search engines like Google™ can customize our results according to what they think we want to see or read. These days, there is an algorithm for just about everything.
Welcome to the world powered by big data. If it feels like someone is watching, it’s because in some ways, they are. Every click, swipe, check-in and post (among others) has the potential to be stored, cataloged and analyzed. So how do you define “big data”? Analytics software company SAS describes it as, “The large volume of data–both structured and unstructured–that inundates a business on a day-to-day basis [and] can be analyzed for insights that lead to better decisions and strategic business moves.”
We now have the computing power and storage capabilities to put this abundance of information to use. So what are some of the exciting capabilities being explored with the backing of big data and analytics? Read on to learn more about some of the most exciting and surprising potential capabilities of this new tech frontier.
9 Potentially game-changing big data capabilities
1. Predicting bestsellers
Book publishers are always looking for their next “white whale” of a best-seller—and big data may be able to help. The Atlantic recently profiled authors of new books where researchers analyzed thousands of novels over the years and found algorithms and analytics have the power to predict bestsellers with about an 80 percent success rate: “The algorithm’s claimed efficacy is based on a track record ‘predicting’ New York Times best sellers when applied retrospectively to novels from the past 30 years.”
While that’s still a far cry from bestselling books written entirely by algorithm, the fact that someday a publishing company could have software that at least gives an indication of whether or not a novel will be a commercial success has huge implications.
2. Reducing carbon footprints
Shipping giant UPS recently implemented a software called ORION in its fleet of delivery vehicles, which allows them to use traffic, customer and driving data during deliveries to streamline shipment routes and ultimately reduce emissions. Since its implementation, ORION has been successful in that mission—UPS reports an annual savings of 55 million gallons of fuel and a reduction of 100,000 metric tons of CO2, all while saving the company millions of dollars.
3. Driving sales by guessing what you like
Have you ever been surprised by the accuracy of the “We think you would like …” sections on the websites of online retailers like Amazon? You have big data to thank for much of that. Amazon and other online retailers pull data regularly from millions of customer purchases to analyze trends and serve up products that fit your customer profile.
4. Improving your favorite sports team
Batting average, steals, field goal percentage, tackles—the world of athletics is crammed full of statistics and information—which makes them a prime playground for those looking to make data-driven analysis and decisions. Sports teams of all stripes are going all-in on data collection and analysis to hone and improve their performance. For example, athletes from several college football programs use wearable technology to track things like exertion and workload during practice time. That data is used to inform and modify their workloads during strength and conditioning sessions—all in the name of maintaining peak performance.
5. Preventing epidemics
Big data can even protect our health on an individual and global level. Cell phone and social media data can help disease researchers map the path of outbreaks and identify “hot spots” of disease-related activity. Additionally, it allows researchers to run large-scale simulations of how epidemics would spread—allowing researchers to improve containment strategies.
6. Driving election turn-out
In politics, the days of campaigns blanketing airwaves with commercials targeted only by geographic area are numbered. That’s not to say you won’t see your fair share of political advertising—it’s just that big data has made an outsized impact on how political campaigns conduct their business. Voters volunteer a surprising amount of information about their concerns and the issues that matter most of them, which gives political candidates the ability to precisely tailor their messaging. Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable, but it’s clear big data will continue to have a huge influence on how campaigns are run in the future.
7. Improving traffic
Traffic jams rank up there with toothaches in annoyance, but the good news is big data analysis may be able to help minimize the time we spend sitting in traffic. By monitoring the routes of drivers and traffic patterns, city planners can better identify traffic choke points, plan new or modify existing mass transit routes and tweak traffic lighting timing—all nice things to daydream about the next time you’re stuck at a ridiculously long traffic light with no cross traffic in sight.
8. Making it easier to build environmentally-friendly structures
Google™, with its enormous computing and data power, has launched a tool, Portico, which is designed to help architects and builders source materials that meet environmental standards. This massive database of building materials makes it easier for anyone involved in a construction project to research individual materials and make informed choices when trying to build as sustainably as possible.
9. Removing forced labor from global supply chains
For many businesses, their supply chain can be a sprawling global web of sources for vital components. Unfortunately, with the far-flung nature of a global supply chain, it can be incredibly difficult to ensure the products and components found in it are sourced from ethical producers. No business wants to find out their widget-maker on the other side of the globe is using raw materials sourced from slave or child labor—so where does big data come in? Made in a Free World has created software that helps businesses identify potential problem areas in their supply chains as well as producers or suppliers that are known to behave unethically.
What else can be done?
Are you intrigued by the world of data analytics and algorithms? There’s an almost-endless variety of problems and improvements that can be addressed through data collection and analysis. If this field has piqued your interest, you’ll want to learn more about some in-demand roles in this exciting new field. Learn more about the opportunities that could be in your future in our article, “6 Big Data Jobs That Are in Big Demand.”