I recently saw an ad stating that 1 in 3 children born today will live to 100 years of age. Although intended to be a somewhat inspiring ad, It turns out that the current world life expectancy is actually still just under 70 years of age with Japan having the highest at about 83. I can’t help but be disappointed to think that it’s 2013 and not only are there no flying cars but people are still considered lucky to live past 75. The life expectancy growth has slowed significantly since the late 19th century, and it seems that despite stem cells, artificial hearts, Higgs Bosons, and the $1.4 trillion a year spent on medical research there still isn’t a medical innovation as effective as the invention of the toilet and improved sanitation.
It is these types of observations that lead economists and technology enthusiasts to believe that innovation and new technology development is slackening or worst stagnant. However, I don’t believe this is the issue. In fact, I believe we are in an age of fundamentally ground breaking innovation where awe inspiring technologies are being developed at lightning speed and succession. The issue is that these disjointed development efforts only serve to increase the technological entropy of the world, creating an increased state of chaos and disorder due to what I like to call unintended consequences. The way I see it for every major medical breakthrough that increases life expectancy there are probably just as many technological developments that decrease it. For example, researchers may come up with life saving cancer treatments while companies and industry simultaneously develop new products that unknowingly result in new carcinogens and forms of cancer. Case in point: paper receipts now leading to cancer.
With all that said, all is not lost. Big data is the key companion technology to resolving the chaos. It will allow us to develop new technologies while simultaneously analyzing petabytes of seemingly unrelated data to provide clarity on any possible unintended consequences and distinguish between causation versus correlation. If utilized properly, I believe big data can turn the cacophony of individual, academic, national, and corporate pursuits of innovation into beautiful, synchronized, world changing music.
“Many of today’s big data companies are trying to tackle problems that just aren’t nearly big enough. Most are focused on marginally improving existing, digital businesses, but I believe the next big wave of opportunities exists in centralized processing of data gathered from primarily analog systems. -Max Levchin’s DLD13 Keynote