The Present: David Wheeldon reflects on where Big Data is today

Two weeks into lockdown and I’m running out of things to do

After writing part one of this series (the past), at the time of writing this (the present), I am more than two weeks into Covid-19 lockdown and like many people I am beginning to get a bit ‘stir-crazy’. Having things to do that don’t involve binging on Netflix, drinking copious amounts of wine, or both – is a challenge.

I was still able to play golf for a while, at a ‘safe’ social distance – not a problem when you play golf like me and spend most of your time in the bushes, but that came to an end when the full lockdown began. What now?

Entertaining myself by piecing together the puzzle

Imagine my delight when, a few days back, I found two unopened jigsaw puzzles that had been sitting in a cupboard from several Christmases ago. I immediately discarded the boring 1000 puzzle as ‘too easy’ and started straight into the 1,500-piece Jan van Haasteren Jumbo Puzzle, not least because it featured a humorous scene of an imagined golf course. It felt appropriate!

Three days passed in a blur and I had completed all of the ‘interesting’ bits and was left with about 250 pieces that had no distinguishing marks whatsoever – all beige rock!

After frustratingly trying to find some way of identifying differences that did not exist, I concluded that the only way to proceed was to try every piece into every space until I found the perfect fit. 250 pieces that had to be tried at least two ways each gives at least 500 tries. For every one of the 250 spaces. That’s potentially 125,000 tries!

Undeterred, I pressed on but after another evening session I had only found a handful of fitting pieces and I was fast approaching serious repetitive strain injury – so my mind wandered from the task in hand to try and calculate how long this was eventually going to take me to complete.

How the Chinese are using Big Data to get the spread of Covid 19 under control

I quickly came up with a formula. Because I am a data guy, and that’s what data guys do! And guess what, it was going to be a lot quicker than I had first thought – something to do with chance and reducing numbers – but I won’t bore you with that.

The more interesting bit is that while doing this my mind made the leap back to what I had read earlier that day about how the Chinese had been able to reduce the spread of Coronavirus through the use of GPS tracking data,  face recognition technology and big data analysis.

Now you may have some reservations about all this stuff. A lot of people do – in my experience opinion seems to be split pretty evenly and very widely between those that are terrified by the personal security implications and those that do not give a flyer, because it works, and it can do good as well as bad. Depends what you do with it!

I tend to fall in the latter group – but you won’t find me saying that in front of my wife who falls most distinctly into the former! They say opposites attract!

Leaving aside the potential moral issues (if you can) just think about the magnitude of what the Chinese appear to have achieved.

They have been able to identify practically all of the contacts of every patient diagnosed with the virus and in short time, to have contacted each of each of them so that they could be tested and treated if necessary – thereby drastically reducing the spread of the virus in the early ‘detection’ stage. We will probably never know exactly how many lives this will have saved – but it will be a lot. A very big lot!

Sure, I am certain that this mammoth task also involved a great deal of old-fashioned detective work and feet on the ground (something the Chinese are not short of) but without the big data technology it would have been impossible. Unthinkable.

There’s an app for that

I read that the UK government is considering making an App available for all of us to use that will utilise similar technology – which might allow us to gradually lift some of the lockdown restrictions, when appropriate. But in our case its use will be voluntary, I hasten to add.

I am fast coming to the conclusion that there is no problem that cannot eventually be solved by some form of big data analysis – providing we can first obtain the data, and then find the processing power to manipulate that data. And I am getting at major, major issues here!

How to track cancer growth and eventually help find a cure?  How to identify the exact nature of the human aging process with a view to delaying its onset? How to identify fake news and restore our faith in the media and social media, not to mention politicians.

Of course, I will not be around to see all of this. But my kids and grandkids might well!

If you are unconvinced, take a look at the Big Data Value Association website – and look at the many and various mind-blowing projects described there!

Revealing the Big Data picture

It a great time for anyone to get into Big Data Analysis (if you look at the World Economic Forum’s list of Reskilling for future jobs skills, you’ll see Data and AI is number one). If I was at the start of my career, rather than at some point way beyond the end of it, I would jump into this field. The possibilities for changing the future of the world are limitless!

You might also want to take a look at the Enterprise Big Data qualifications, including the newly available Enterprise Big Data Analyst course.

In the meantime, keep safe and keep sane. Now where did I put that other Jigsaw?

About the author

David Wheeldon was one of the original authors of ITIL and a leading industry expert in IT Service Management. He has been semi-retired for the last eleven years and now spends some of his time as an APMG examiner/assessor but can more likely be found riding his motorcycle around East Anglia, playing atrocious golf or looking after one or more of his grandkids.