Big Data

David Eaves’ outlook on the world is a lot less optimistic compared to the authors of our previous readings.  His comparison of the internet to the printing press that first increased individual power, and then increased the power of the state is quite fascinating to consider.  First, the printing press gave millions easy access to more information.  Later, Napoleon was able to mobilize a one million man army only after the printing press standardized language, history, identity, and nationality that he was able to exploit to his own ends.  Similarly, the internet has empowered the individual, but we have started to feel the threat of centralized governments controlling technology in malicious ways.  Looking to China, we can see that the government’s censorship attempts to suppress any rebellion against the government, and attempt to make one billion people think as the government sees fit.  Arguably, China is an example of Eaves’ outlook on the future as people are in some ways being manipulated by the government.  The centralized, all-encompassing technology in China such as Weibo, certainly seems appealing and convenient, but this unfortunately gives the government easy access to all your data.  We need to be careful about how much data we are willing to give to technology that may help us in some ways, but can be used maliciously.  At worst, collection of all this data could lead to a scenario depicted in Captain America: The Winter Solider in which a computer program determines who would pose a threat based off all data records of people, and then would kill them.  Data has been extremely beneficial to us, but soon could be detrimental.


I am not sure that open government solves the issue of data being used maliciously against people.  Open government does not necessarily stop the government from using the data they collect.  Open government does make it harder for the government to be malicious, but does not prevent it all together.


Jeff Bezos’ thought that it is extremely difficult for large organizations to fundamentally change processes and adjust as relayed by Eaves shows the importance that we think carefully about the early stages and foundation of technological systems and databases in how they could be used in the future.  I think this also relates to our discussion of AI, and how important that we are careful with AI in the beginning as it will be increasingly difficult to change the core values of AI systems.


  1. Mike Smith

    October 28, 2017 @ 5:47 pm


    It is interesting to see how David’s attitude has changed over the years. He was quite optimistic in the video we watched, and now he’s become more despondent. In a similar vein, you might look at the following opinion piece in the NYT:

    There’s eGovernment for the people, and eGovernment to control the people. I know which I hope wins out.

  2. Jim Waldo

    October 29, 2017 @ 7:05 pm


    A nice post, bringing together some interesting threads.

    I guess I’m a little more optimistic than David about the use of technology by the government, but for a very different reason. So far, the government (at least at the federal level) has shown that it is not all that good at using the technology available. I’m not sure I like to use organizational incompetence as a defense, but it seems to be working at the moment.

    This is not a defense that works against companies like Google. But those companies don’t have the governmental monopoly on violence, which is good. But I think the future will be interesting as we see how (and if) government starts to use technology more imaginatively.

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