Hosted by Michael Schulder
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(CNN) – Do you remember when Google predicted the spread of the H1N1 flu throughout the U.S. more accurately and more quickly than the Centers for Disease Control did? Neither did I, until I started reading the new book, "Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think."
“Like the CDC,” write the authors, “they could tell where the flu had spread, but unlike the CDC they could tell it in near real time, not a week or two after the fact.”
Now that we have a great example of how much good internet giants can do – monitoring and storing our every click, our every phone call – we can get to the issue of the day: the leaks by a young computer analyst named Edward Snowden that revealed the U.S. government’s National Security Agency was gathering and storing far more of our online behavior and cell phone calls than we ever imagined.
The information is gathered, primarily, to look for patterns.
Those patterns are detected through complex mathematical formulas.
Our guest on this CNN Profiles knows as much about the inner workings of that process as just about anyone.
He is co-author of Big Data, journalist Kenneth Cukier. And he has a term for the people who develop those formulas that have the potential to predict things from flu epidemics to stock market swings to, perhaps, a terrorist attack.
He calls them "algorithmists" – which would be a great name for a band.
Algorithmists search for patterns in all this anonymous data.
But what we really want to know is this: How can we be sure our clicks remain anonymous – that our online behavior is not traced back to our names?
The answer, according to Kenneth Cukier, is that we can’t be sure.
The people, the companies, that have access to our online behavior CAN trace that behavior back to us. Which raises a question we explore in this CNN Profile.
Who will watch the watchers?