Who takes responsibility for the results that the mountain of data spits out? We asked three experts who look at big data from very different angles.
Franz Färber is Executive Vice President and Chief Architect responsible for big data solutions at SAP, Europe’s largest software company: “If equipment or aircraft fail in industry or aviation due to technical defects, this is usually more expensive than to replace a component early. In order to optimise the maintenance intervals as much as possible, sensors collect relevant data. In the end, however, it is a human being who decides whether an expensive machine part is to be replaced before production comes to a standstill. This decision cannot be made by data, but – if it is well collected – it forms a solid basis for important decisions in a process.”
Prof. Katrin Amunts is Director of the Jülich Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-1) and scientific coordinator of the EU flagship “The Human Brain Project”: “In studies involving a thousand or even several thousand test subjects, completely new insights can be gained from big data. Small and weakly-acting factors and their interaction can be identified. One example is the Jülich 1000BRAINS study, which demonstrates the effects of sport, alcohol, smoking and social life on the brain (see p. 20 for more about the results of the study). Of course, the larger amounts of data and the increasing digital processing they undergo through self-learning programs do not automatically lead to more knowledge, but the cognitive processes are strongly driven by machine learning and deep learning, which can make use of new and powerful computer architectures.”
Prof. Klaus Wiegerling from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology has, together with colleagues from several universities, explored the social opportunities and risks of big data in the project “Assessing Big Data” (ABIDA): “It’s a matter of trust. The belief in the unerringness of figures – and that they adequately represent our world – is unbroken, but deceptive. We, as scientists, must remain vigilant: a lot of data and the connections supposedly hidden in it do not necessarily lead to causality and true insights. In the private sector, big data may not only be used for its own purposes, such as precise congestion forecasting using a navigation system. Critics fear the transparent citizen. Others could even misuse my digital footprints for commercial, political or criminal purposes.”
Photos: Forschungszentrum Jülich/Sascha Kreklau, KIT/Markus Breig, SAP/Ingo Cordes, Illustration: Christoph Kleinstück