Bubble to Panopticon: Dark Undercurrents of the Big Data Torrent

By Mathew Maavak


Big data is indispensable in scientific endeavours ranging from nuclear research to climate studies. However, there is a growing misperception that congeries of data can be easily reconstructed into competitive business insights. Such notions have been encouraged by a plethora of mainstream techno-utopian forecasts.

This paper investigated such claims as well as related big data developments, including its “systems-first” and oligopolistic orientations. Due to the paucity of current scholarship on an admittedly pessimistic topic, the paper studied contrarian developments in the industry by relying on secondary data. The viewpoints of experts and scholars; industrial trends; and discrepancies and critical gaps in the mainstream data narrative were sourced to prognosticate the likely trajectory of many data giants.

A key finding was that the big data industry faces an untenable market bubble worth trillions of dollars. This will have severe consequences for common digital access and social stability worldwide. Evidence presented also suggests that the data industrial complex may undergo a function creep by facilitating a transition from surveillance capitalism to surveillance society.

As control of data has geostrategic implications, a Balkanization of the global wired ecosystem may be underway, with Russia and China leading the way.

Despite these short-term challenges, big data will remain relevant. The paper concluded by recommending the application of foresight into big data undertakings to balance human needs with systems imperatives. It provided an example on how big data made connections that no scientists could in the thermoelectric materials field alone. A global database of similar trailblazers would greatly inform policy-makers; encourage industry entrants into the field; and remove the overload of hype from big data’s true potentials.

Read the full paper HERE.

Dr Mathew Maavak is a regular commentator on risk-related geostrategic issues.

Image credit: Columbia University

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