8 Ways Big Data Will Change Our Lives

Big Data, Big Changes

Big data became the industry's hottest buzzword in 2012, but the impact of that technology on our day-to-day lives will be realized for years to come.

From healthcare, to sports, to the way we elect a president, big data will make big changes to the way we live our lives. Our ability to manage and analyze the massive amounts of data spawned by new data sources like social media is sparking an "extraordinary knowledge revolution," according to Rick Smolan, co-author of "The Human Face of Big Data."

Here are eight changes you can expect to see as that big data revolution continues.

Spot-On Sports Analysis

With the advent of big data, our ability to analyze sports and keep tabs on our favorite players is going to soar.

Take, for example, sports actuary John Dewan's dead-on projections for the 2012 Summer Olympics. With some help from the Wall Street Journal, Dewan created a computer model that simulated the entire Olympic games "hundreds" of times, and predicted the U.S. would win 108 medals. In the end, the U.S. took an eerily-close 104.

Ben Alamar, a statistics and economics professor at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif., has spent five years doing statistical analysis on teams including the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder. In a white paper published by storage giant EMC, Alamar noted that a "big data" set in sports is minimal compared to even a "day's work at Google." But sports analysts are still mining in ways they never could before, meaning predictive analytics will become, well, even more predictive.


Advanced Healthcare

Boston this year suffered from one of the worst flu outbreaks in its history, with 700 reported cases and 18 deaths. Among other efforts, the city turned to big data to help keep this number from growing.

The new FluNearYou app, for instance, was created alongside the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund to help stop the flu from spreading. The app surveys users to get a sense of their symptoms, stores and analyzes vast amounts of resulting data, and then produces reports to show users the flu activity in their region.

Another app called Help, I Have the Flu leverages big data and Facebook to help keep users healthy. The app, which was developed by pharmaceutical company Help Remedies, scans your friends' Facebook statuses for any mention of "sneezes," "coughs" or "flu." If these phrases are found, a notification is sent to the user, suggesting they may want to steer clear of the friends who posted them.

Personalized Advertisements

One of the biggest industries that stands to benefit from the big data movement is retail, as greater access to customer data gives way to tailored and, therefore, more effective advertisements.

As the big data trend advances, tech-savvy retail outlets are compiling and analyzing long-running lists of consumers' online search and spending habits, and then using that information to hit them with advertisements they know will appeal to those users' interests. This phenomenon is already happening on Facebook, where advertisers are pumping out tailored advertisements based on users' listed interests and "Likes."

Easier Commutes

A bad traffic jam tests the patience of even the most leveled-headed drivers. But the state of New Jersey has found a way to use big data and analytics to make nerve-racking, bumper-to-bumper rides a thing of the past.

By teaming up with software startup Inrix, a traffic management center in Woodbridge, N.J., leverages the massive amounts of data produced by drivers' smartphones and GPS signals for realtime monitoring of traffic conditions. According to a story from the Wall Street Journal, the center has a 22-foot mounted screen that displays up-to-date traffic information for 2,600 miles of state roads.

Apparently, this high-end analytics engine has already paid off; after noticing a huge stretch of stopped traffic on Interstate 80 caused by an overturned car, New Jersey officials were able to respond faster than ever, and had the accident cleared within 30 minutes. Without the data, they said, the accident could have sat for hours.

Presidential Campaigns

President Barack Obama is bullish on big data, announcing last March the "Big Data Research and Development Initiative," along with a $200 million investment in R&D efforts related to the technology.

But while the implications of big data on government are just starting to be felt, the 2012 presidential election gave us a sneak peek. According to Siddharth Taparia, senior director of Portfolio and Strategic Marketing at SAP, last year's race for the White House between Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney was fueled largely by big data technologies. Specifically, massive amounts of voter data from phone calls and surveys, coupled with top-notch analytical engines, allowed the candidates to "micro-target" the individual voters that were most likely going to vote in their favor.

Taparia said this micro-targeting approach "upended traditional methods of running campaigns," which were based on estimates from smaller samples of voter data.

Cars Of The Future

Self-driving cars may seem like something straight out of the Jetson's. But over the next decade, that concept is poised to go from sci-fi to mainstream with the help of big data and other emerging technologies.

According to a presentation published by Vanderbilt University, the next few years will usher in embedded automotive sensors capable of gauging not only how fast you're driving, but how many times you brake, whether you stay in your lane, and where you tend to drive. By storing and analyzing the heaps of data collected by these sensors, cars will essentially be able to drive themselves. These cars of the future will be able to tell if a stop sign is approaching and what the speed limit is. They'll know to break if pedestrians are crossing, or if you fall asleep and drift into another lane.

Google has already showed off prototypes of autonomous cars, and General Motors expects them to be on the road by 2020.

Improved Customer Service

The customer service space is poised to change dramatically -- and for the better -- with the growth of big data, according to Kathy Juve, chief marketing officer at [24]7, a provider of Internet marketing solutions based in Campbell, Calif.

Juve expects big data to completely transform the way most organizations provide customer service, namely, through the use of predictive analytics and "smart" service solutions that allow them to better understand and interact with their customers.

In a blog post, Juve outlined some of the ways big data is already enabling this change; one [24]7 client, for instance, uses big data to track customer activity on its website. Analytical software allows the customer service team to "know" what a customer is trying to buy, and if that product is available on the site. Using this information, the service team knows to ping only customers that are struggling to find a product on the site -- and to leave the others unbothered.

Customized Education

According to SAP's Taparia, big data will also make huge ripples across higher education, where massive amounts of student data can be leveraged to boost student engagement and, ultimately, reduce dropout rates.

Taparia suggests universities could tap into data related to a student's grades and standardized tests scores, apply that data to statistical models, and then predict that student's chances of graduating or even succeeding in a specific major. The result, he predicts, would be students being able to identify the majors best suited to their unique interests and skillsets. What's more, big data could be used to customize course material based on students' preferred medium, be it video, text, or some other form.