Crowdsourcing Killer Outbreaks

Nanowerk’s article “Crowdsourcing killer outbreaks” presents an idea that is both a forward-thinking and efficient technological step for science, and a world-shaking challenge to the traditional concept of priority in the sciences. Here we see two dangerous pathogens, one that threatens human lives and the other that is scarring ecosystems. In both cases speed is of the essence for treatment as the danger increases exponentially as time goes on. The solution is met not by individual labs competing with each other to reach the cure before the other, but by collaboration on a global scale.

The “crowdsourcing” method, which is simply technologically mediated mass collaboration, allowed for different genomic labs to instantly share their findings with each other to reach a solution much faster than could have been possibly done with the competition method. By combining resources and exchanging information, the project became one of an international lab working together.

However, this does present a problem on the legal and financial levels. Universities and research labs depend on patents and priority (the concept that whoever discovers something first gets the credit) in order to fund themselves. With the research being shared through the creative commons, the determination of who gets priority is left very much up in the air.

I feel that there is much to be gained by the crowdsourcing of science. Even though there are some legal and economic details to be ironed out, there is too much to be gained to let the traditional methods hold us from making some serious progress in situations of dire need.

Privacy and Big Data

Big data, while providing an amazing resource for businesses to optimize their sales and advertising, can also run the risk of invading a person’s privacy if not properly utilized. As FCW’s article “Big data affects hiring, privacy” points out, there is currently very little by way of regulation for the new and developing science of some Big Data collection processes.  To that end, it appears than many are uncomfortable with potential misuses of such information analysis.

As with most new business programs and techniques (in fact, as with most anything that sits on the cutting edge), there is currently very little legislation designed to regulate it and ensure the privacy of all participants. Some find this lack of legislation to be potentially problematic; theoretically, it implies that large, information-collecting companies are free to choose to sell participants’ personal information however and to whomever they please. Legislation regarding the use of such information does seem to be on its way, however.

The article does make an interesting offhanded remark that people of older generations are more bothered by the idea of this perceived invasion of privacy than those of the younger generations. This statement begs more explanation and possibly an article of its own; the effects that generational culture shifts have on the public’s perception of privacy issues are certainly ones that will continue to be the subject of future analysis and examination. Because of this emerging cultural difference, companies may well benefit from a greater understanding of and acting in accordance with this generational divide.

Big Data Analytics for Small Businesses

Rather than maintaining the trend of simply discussing Big Data principles as they relate to large companies and organizations, Forbes’ “Big Data Analytics: Not Just for Big Business Anymore” explores how smaller business can apply the tools of the information age in order to improve their sales.  The suggestions provided are well laid out, and clear examples are given so that that reader can easily grasp the scope of possibility; the article suggests that in order to effectively utilize Big Data, small businesses must first “become full participants in the digital universe”, “present accurate information about [their] product and services to the customers online”, and utilize analytics to “provide important insights into who the customers are, their interests, and their ‘hangout spots’” online.

I have to say that the article really furthered my excitement about Big Data as a whole. Ultimately, it suggests that not just sales are trackable through technology, but the whims and desires of consumers as well, opening a whole new science of business optimization. Through the above-mentioned information gathering techniques, companies can the utilize Big Data to more accurately tailor their services to customer wants and needs. I would love to see more on the topic discussing the possibility for market prediction based on prior and present information being collected from product searches and Facebook likes.

I think that Big Data also represents a new level of competition between big and small business. Big businesses have massive resources at their disposal in order sift through huge amounts of information, whereas small businesses have to very quickly calibrate against the background noise of information to get to the heart of what they need almost immediately. To this end, I can see companies being formed strictly to help small business get in on Big Data. It’s very exciting being in a time when producers and consumers are communicating and optimizing almost as fast as the market changes.

Private Apps in the Public Sphere

In an article from CNET, “New York City Puts the Brakes on New Uber Cab-Hailing App”, author Steven Musil discusses the expansion of Uber, a company that creates “private car-summoning” apps. In particular, Uber is working to create smartphone apps that would allow people to not just see where taxis are in relation to themselves but allow them to hail said cabs from the app itself. I have to say that the idea behind the app is rather creative; it’s a service that seems to be rather obvious on the face of it, just a means to efficiently hail a taxi using modern technology. The difficulty of implementation seems to come in at the contractual level, though.

Specifically, it seems as though Uber has come up against quite a lot of bureaucratic red tape while trying to expand into viable markets. In particular, they are having issues expanding into cities which may already have their own cab-hailing apps in the works; in New York City, for example, Uber has been possibly prevented from operating because the Taxi & Limousine Commission prefers to meet and “work collaboratively with the livery, black car, and taxi industries to address their concerns about the impact of apps on existing business models”. Uber has had similar difficulties in other cities such as Boston and Washington D.C., but said difficulties were ultimately resolved. I can understand the need for limitations as new companies extend into new territories, but the fact that a “lack of national guidelines” resulted in a cease and desist letter, I have to wonder if there aren’t opposing factors or special interests involved. However, progress is being made toward balancing municipal and private interests.

Private/Public Partnerships in Broadband

Forbes’ “Bring on the Broadband with Private/Public Partnerships” discusses the nation’s changing interactions with broadband services and how the market is readjusting to accommodate customers’ new needs. I confess a certain bewilderment that a joint venture between municipal governments and private internet service providers has taken this long to come to fruition. For some time I have been reading about some small towns that, after deciding the services rendered by ISPs were not worth the relative cost, established their own public internet providers; in these success stories, the individual towns were able to use their citizens’ taxes to create infrastructures with much greater speeds, making internet access easy for whole population centers. In the wake of this, I would have thought that ISPs would be trying to prevent such action through “joint venture” and “compromise”.

I can see the value in working with cities to use their pre-existing fiber-optic networks to augment the capacities of internet services, especially where doing so would cut back on the cost to the private companies to expand their networks. However, this move still seems rather uninspired and even a bit shortsighted. In an age where Finland gets an average broadband speed of 22Mbps for an average of about $3.00 per 1Mbps, the proposed 5Mbps for a $300 installation fee and $70/month charge that Google has put forward for Kansas City can hardly be considered advancement.

Personally, I am much more interested in efficiency over competition. I can’t speak for the average consumer, but I can say that as a nation, we have a great deal of progress to make in this information age to catch up with the rest of the world; we could benefit not so much from collaboration between companies and governments as outright mergers of the two. (Unprecedented, perhaps, but so are most new and interesting things.) Empires these days seem to be powered by data; it behooves us as a country to look nationally into the necessity of building our networks for our own citizens, creating a stable infrastructure for the nation, rather than simply expecting ISP companies to do the same.

Ford’s Utilization of Big Data Functionality

The nature of Ford’s expansion into the realm of big data is a very modern move for the company. While the enormous sums of data that are available for analysis in the market of American automotives are staggering, they are potentially a boon for anyone capable of making use of the information at hand.

Personally, what I find most interesting regarding this informatical expansion is the possible infringement on personal privacy for the sake of statistical analysis. The way onboard computers can record data not only of the more typical variety that a person thinks of when they consider what goes on when driving (fuel efficiency, distance traveled over time, average speeds, etc.) the vehicle that a person bought and uses for personal reasons could transmit personal information, such as particular routes taken, times that one travels and even the extrapolation of work schedules.

As I assume that the imperative for a corporation such as Ford is profit, I can understand their desire to make sense of any datum that can provide them with an edge on their competitors, especially since they are losing ground against other automotive corporations that are outstripping them in the technological area. As someone whose family has a vested financial interest in domestic automotives, I would say that I support Ford in their endeavors, but as an individual, I worry about the collection of information. It is possible that Ford could sell the information collected once they are done with it, which seems to be an increasingly popular course of action.

Big data seems to change the act of marketing from an art to a statistically modeled science. Personally, I worry that any project that collects massive amounts of information could be used in ways other than product improvement, but to affect the marketing campaign and even to affect costs of products, pricing them at exactly what a given demographic is willing to pay.