A colorful, upbeat overview of the ways massive amounts of data can influence everything from medicine to law enforcement to consumer behavior.
Petabyte is a word that appears often in this app, a companion to the coffee-table book of the same title by the producers of the Day in the Life series. A petabyte is 1,000 terabytes—too huge for any one computer to store but representative of the wealth of data that can now be accessed to provide new insight into human behavior. The app is broken up into essays that precede multimedia-rich features on “big data” trends. For example, in a feature on how computer pioneer Gordon Bell obsessively digitizes nearly every activity, readers can click through a slideshow of images and hear him discuss them. A feature on Major League Baseball’s data-capture process is built around an animation showing the many quantifiable events that occur during a single pitch. And a feature on how laptop motion sensors can be collectively leveraged to detect earthquakes invites users to shake the iPad to learn earthquake facts. Most of the multimedia elements aren’t quite so clever—many just point to related online videos—but the presentation is consistently inviting, rooted in splashy, rich photography, entertaining infographics and clean writing. (One of the more entertaining essays comes from stunt memoirist A.J. Jacobs, who writes about how personal data collection has improved his health.) The app’s chief flaw has more to do with philosophy than with design. Some essays hint at big data’s serious downsides—particularly loss of privacy, hackers and the power of software coders to manipulate consumers—yet these concerns lack sexy infographics of their own and are given little more than lip service.
A fun look at the next step of tech evolution but one that could have taken a more skeptical look at the risks.