Smart, Romeo is.
A new book heralds the promise that big data will reveal more and more about how we live our lives and what we think, but is it really that useful?
It’s easy to exaggerate the importance of what such a tool could discover. Sometimes it seems the only thing larger than big data is the hype that surrounds it. Within the first 30 pages of Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture, Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel manage to compare themselves to Galileo and Darwin and suggest that they, too, are revolutionizing the world. The authors were instrumental in creating the Google Ngram viewer, which allows researchers or anyone else so inclined to explore the changing frequencies of words across time. Likening their creation to a cultural telescope, they proceed to share some of their ostensibly dazzling findings.
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Ultimately, however, Aiden and Michel’s enthusiasm seems best explained by an Ngram that plots the relative frequency of the words “God” and “data.” Data eclipsed God in 1973, and its continuing ascendance suggests a culture that treats it as a surrogate divinity.