We're starting Big Data Week’s main London conference and the Economist’s Kenneth Cukier addressing the main criticisms of big data (which he suggests is being decimated in the press currently.)
Big data helps us see more things, new things, and most importantly better and different things.
Our new ability, provided by improving technology, to deal with large datasets is important – eg Google grammar’s check and other algorithms all improve with the size of data items (1/2 milion +).
It also supports improved computer learning eg where computers have learnt to play chess by being left to play against themselves and improves their performance – inferring rather than being taught what to do.
And it helps identifying differences within averages eg voting patterns.
Kenneth took us though a few other benefits too – including the selection of apple pie – but not that much which might be obviously relevant to HR.
For him, most of the criticisms can be dismissed – eg Tim Harford’s comments on Google Flu: well, just because the weather forecast sometimes says it’s going to rain and it ends up being sunny doesn’t completely destroy the value of the weather forecast. There’s also the issue of ground truth – who says the ‘real’ flu results were valid – Americans won’t pay for a trip to the doctors about flu unless it’s really serious.
But he agrees, a blended model is generally best. And we’re also still at the beginning of this. I agree – which is why I suggest most HR practitioners can still hang back from worrying about big data, and wait until their existing talent management and HR systems start to provide more functionality in this area. Once again, I don’t think it’s that we’re afraid of the big, bad data(as the CIPD suggests), it’s that we understand this isn’t a priority – as yet.
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