Saving Big Data From Itself

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The MIT Media Lab's mini city, which displays all sorts of data to improve urban -- and social -- planning.

In a room at The MIT Media Lab, you can find the dreamscape of small children everywhere. Giant cities, in perfect detail, constructed entirely from tiny white Lego.  

Sandy Pentland built them. These dioramas use all sorts of data, from foot traffic to investment dollars to tweets, so cities--and the people living in them--can be improved in ways they’ve never been before.

A few doors down is Rosalind Picard’s office. She met a young man who just could not tell if his boss was happy or furious. And it kept getting him fired. He was on his 20th job. So she built him a glasses-mounted camera that reads facial expressions, matching what it sees against a huge database of faces. Problem solved.

That’s the promise of big data. It can smooth social interactions. Solve sticky municipal problems. Cure cancer, slow climate change. But the data has to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is us.

This week, as we get ready for our big project on privacy, Note to Self looks at the good that can come from all the data we share. IF people are good, and make good choices. Except we’re often not good. And we make bad choices. So, what then?

Music Playlist

  1. Call Now

    Artist: Podington Bear
  2. We Always Thought the Future Would Be Kind of Fun

    Artist: Chris Zabriskie
  3. A Thought

    Artist: Podington Bear
  4. Sacred Moon

    Artist: staRpauSe
  5. Red City Theme

    Artist: Blue Dot Sessions
  6. That Hopeful Future is All I've Ever Known

    Artist: Chris Zabriskie
  7. Birds

    Artist: Tyler Twombly
  8. All The Best Fakers

    Artist: Nick Jaina
  9. Laser Focus

    Artist: Blue Dot Sessions
  10. Blanks

    Artist: Podington Bear
  11. Through the hole in the wall

    Artist: Monopole
  12. How Son

    Artist: Podington Bear
  13. How Far is Far

    Artist: Podington Bear