Is big data and the big network helping humanity reach new heights?

Amid the signals that capitalism is failing and the climate collapsing I wonder if there is not something very positive happening, too.

Something to do with how all the data and the networking we are experiencing are raising our consciousness and understanding.

Here’s how I am thinking: I was reminded the other day of a story I heard about some scientists who wanted to test the problem-solving skills of porpoises. They rigged up some combinations of levers and buttons as a problem that, if the porpoises solved, they would be rewarded with fish.

If I remember correctly, as they were rigging the test up, the porpoises were already in place. And as one researcher recounted, they were watching him. The test started and porpoises swam up to the puzzle and solved it immediately. They saw it and they worked it out. Like all mammals, they have the gift of intelligence. But how about us? Is there something that is being shown us right in front of our eyes, that if we just pay attention, we’ll get it?

I am thinking big data, big internet, big photos, big films… Maybe the shift in understanding started with the photos of the Earth from space. What had been a theory back in the 1500s we could see with our own eyes. One planet, we have one planet and that’s all we have.

A few weeks ago the IPPC came with its synthesis report. Crunching the data, putting it all together they conclude that man IS affecting the climate. Suddenly all that IT power is coming together to give us a picture. When we look at it we get clearer.

The news about the riots in Ferguson and the Twitter reaction can be seen graphically here using the location and twitter tag . We can see how and where people are reacting.

Or how about ? You see the statistics change right before your eyes

We are getting the information in new ways, more clear, more convenient. It is as if the socially networked world, the physical infrastructure of mobile data, and the power of big data crunching are bringing us to a new age of enlightenment.

Consider Monsanto. They have just bought up a big data company, one that will augment their already much used app that helps farmers decide when and how to plant.

And it can all be getting much better: a start-up company is planning to launch a network of miniature satellites that can keep track of almost every inch of the surface of the planet.

With all this data, capturing viewing and processing power the you can wonder if what was called once the dark art – economics – and the thing that you shouldn’t love-money – could themselves be replaced. After all, money has been used a measure of progress and good up to now as well as a means of exchange. Nowadays, every single toothbrush that is sold is registered electronically and the data processed to create a new purchase orders which in turn can create new manufacturing instructions which all affects work, creates vacancies and these vacancies are registered somewhere. We keep excellent tabs on the economy in real time. Doing it through money seems like so last century and money is such a blunt instrument. When money itself is already digitalized it seems probable that we are poised to see a myriad of new solutions, currencies and payment platforms. Things like Bitcoin and the Bristol Pound spring to mind here.

Making a case for running the economy based on real time data as well as money is the Swedish Sustainable Economy foundation who recently released a white paper explaining how using real time data and flexible fees on pollutants, economies could be coaxed into running clean.

And start-up the Cloudburst foundation is aiming to use the big internet and big social network to bring good to the planet by changing the way people see things.

Cloudburst are helping the Humanitarian Water and Food Award scour the Earth for inspiring initiatives that are overcoming food security challenges to bring food and water security to places where there was very little to start with.

From crowdfunding to couchsurfing, from real time economic data to following moisture in soil minute by minute we are being invited to use big data and big network to collect, process, visualize and then sit back, take it all in, and become clear.

Take for example the work of ecologist Eric Berlow. He has a great take on handling complex problems.

It seems that systems theory can help us if we map things out using system notation and take a step back. In complexity we can find simple solutions if we just let ourselves understand it. It seems that we CAN solve any problem we want, we just have to use the tools we have see how developed in the right way.

See the TED talk videos with him.


Continuing on the theme of networks and data, once you get researchers following how we make contacts and who we socialize with, the power of the network begins to emerge.

Big data is only just bringing us insights into how we are with each other and how we organise ourselves. See this TED talk

To see how the economy can be handled with big network and big data read more on this site about simulating the TSSEF mechanisms.



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