A recent Twitter conversation with Sarah Burnett (a leading UK public sector analyst) was the trigger for this slightly tongue in cheek blog post. Sarah originally posted the following tweet:

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Which is an astounding statistic. Sarah and I then the following short discussion:

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So, have we now reached the “Data Event Horizon”?

The term “Data Event Horizon” has been based upon the “Shoe Event Horizon” concept developed by Douglas Adams in his excellent “Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” series of radio shows, books, TV and films.

Wikia summarises the Shoe Event Horizon as:

“an economic theory that draws a correlation between the level of economic (and emotional) depression of a society and the number of shoe shops the society has.“

Now, I’m not necessarily suggesting that data will lead to economic or emotional depression (although this could be a possibility). But if, as Sarah suggests, we have reached the point where data is a self-sustaining mass and that the more we try to measure, manage and make sense of it, the more data we create, we may have reached the Data Event Horizon.

How would we know we had reached this point and what might be the result?

  • Data volumes start to grow exponentially
  • The amount of global resources used to build, power and operate the servers storing the data also grows exponentially
  • The number of people employed in data management activities also grows exponentially
  • Everything we do requires us to fill in data entry forms or be automatically monitored through RFID tags and our mobile devices
  • The number of analysts trying to make sense of all this data also starts to grow exponentially
  • People and businesses start to get more reliant on data and analysis and stop using human intuition
  • Organisations get more frustrated about the difficulty getting the required quality of data, matching entities across data stores etc.
  • People start to get more depressed as “Computer says no”
  • More and more of the world economy would then be absorbed in trying to analyse understand and improve this data at the expense of more traditional industries such as farming, textiles, construction
  • Economies could then start to collapse as “useful” activities are no longer being undertaken
  • The Data Event Horizon is then reached!

Okay, so that got a little far fetched, but how far from the truth is it?

So, to use another Hitch Hiker analogy, if we reach the Data Event Horizon you had better make sure you know where your towel is!

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