Foucault, Big Data and Control

I find Foucault’s reflection on the Panopticon relevant now with all the hype about Big Data. Behind all the buzz about analytics and sensemaking, “control” is still the key, the claim to be all-knowing and knowing-in-advance.

There is fear in what we can’t control, be it floods or people, microbes or traffic. These schemes of control aim to simplify the complexity of interactions into a few key attributes, and ignores the background of interactions that drive the specific phenomena in the first place. “Big Data” assume that with knowledge will come action – that we will know what exactly to do and how to do them.

Will we? There just seems to be too much hubris in all these. The assumption that good knowledge leads to good action is one of those myths that refuse to die. In the world of controlled experiments – sure, but beyond that, reality is far more intricate than we assume.

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