Big Data and Cyberpunk

Monday afternoon: while I’m in a chat session on one screen, I watch my finance twitter list  on the other screen. The tweets about Europe are rather apocalyptic, like this one by the investment banker Dan Alpert:

 

It reminds me of cyberpunk – a sci-fi genre which combines hightech with low life – the collapse of the social order as we know it. The story is in the near-future, or even in the here and now – but told in such a way that it seems like the future. After all, the famous movie Blade Runner is situated in Los Angeles, 2019:

 

We are mostly very positive about technology because it seems to empower us as individuals. From mainframes we went to personal computers, from desktops to laptops and now to smartphones and maybe even more transparent wearable devices. Those devices provide us with enormous computing power because they are part of a worldwide network of very powerful computers.

‘A new Renaissance’ it is often said, and once again the individual is in the center. But then again, that same individual can abuse this new power for mass destruction. There will always be groups of young males – ambitious terrorists so often seem to be both young and male – who feel their purpose on earth is to provoke mass destruction and generalized mayhem.

Well, it seems that they have increasingly the means to do so – a rather unintended consequence of this empowerment of the individual.

On the other side we have the authorities, linked with corporations which are useful for their needs. Splunk had an impressive IPO. The company collects and analyzes massive amounts of data. In this Big Data industry we also find a company such as Cloudera, and one of the investors is In-Q-Tel – which was created to bridge the gap between the technology needs of the Intelligence Community and new advances in commercial technology.

Big Data often means running software on hundreds and even thousands of servers, looking for patterns and visualizing economic and financial trends, but also possible criminal and terrorist threats or the outbreak of infective diseases.

The financial crisis is, in a way, a data crisis – money after all travels as bits and bytes. But other layers of the massively increasing data traffic are potentially about life and death of world cities. Big Data and the dystopia of cyberpunk are not that far apart.