Recently I spoke at the IEEE Rising Stars conference in Las Vegas. I knew that CES was
coming right on Rising Stars’ tail, and that IoT and big data would again be on everyone’s mind.
I decided to discuss the potential upcoming “data apocalypse.” I was sure it would be fun for the
kids and super relevant. It seems like every object these days is collecting data and sending it
somewhere, right? But there’s so much data, it’s almost impossible to see how we’ll get any
significant real-time value out of it.
Let me set a baseline. Depending on which website you trust and your faith in statistics, about
90% of all the data in the world was created in the last two years. That’s insane. We’re
generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. At that pace, it’s no wonder we haven’t made
much progress toward getting more out of this data deluge. We have more data than we know
what to do with, and almost no way to process it. The best part: our rate of data creation is
growing exponentially. For example, in 2016 we sent a little more than 3.5 million text messages
per minute. In 2017, we sent over 15 million texts per minute. 15 million!
So focusing on this onslaught of data, I talked about some of the lighter side of my personal
concerns. For starters, how do we get relevant, real-time results? First, we take a step back and
we ask, “In what situation would we actually need a real-time result?”
How about SETI? SETI scans the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life. Let’s say that SETI
collects gigabits and gigabits of data from the skies, but it takes us weeks, or even months, to
go through that data and identify any signals. Great news! Aliens tried to contact us! Three
weeks ago we received a message, “We will destroy you and everything on your planet in three
days.” Curse our puny, primitive systems! If only we’d been able to analyze and decode this
data in real time and warn humanity in time to mount a defense.
We have the ability to collect data in quantities never before seen in our history, but we haven’t
really figured out how to process that data effectively. This was my message to all of the young
engineers at the IEEE Rising Stars conference. We can’t continue to halfway engineer
solutions. We have to be able to solve all parts of the problem. What good is data collection
without the ability to find the information we need in a timely manner? I hope the next generation
of data scientists and the engineers are inspired to build the big data tools we need for the
future. If not, better get to stocking that bunker.
William Hurley AKA whurley is the CEO and founder of Honest Dollar, and spoke at IEEE N3XT in 2016. To learn more about him and his storied career, visit our speaker page.