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Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres – Voltair

My gran used to tell me that honesty pays. Of course, she never really understood banking or IT, probably because she didn’t want to know anything about them, and she never lived to witness the amazing hype circuses, the spin doctors spiel or the focus-group dog-and-pony show of the 21st century. Indeed, if honesty were a guaranteed payer my gran would have amassed more wealth than even Warren Buffet himself.

If my gran lived today, she might reflect on what Big Data might be about – maybe she would even consider it benignly, as a sort of shelter for fallen men of once uncertain virtue. We will never know. So onwards and upwards.

The Harvard Business Review contemplated honesty in somewhat different terms:

“Honesty is, in fact, primarily a moral choice. Businesspeople do tell themselves that, in the long run, they will do well by doing good. But there is little factual or logical basis for this conviction. Without values, without a basic preference for right over wrong, trust based on such self-delusion would crumble in the face of temptation.”

In a marvellous book, A few good from Univac, David E. Lundstrom narrates the story of Sperry Univac in the 1960s, one of the true great innovators in the first forty years of IT, and includes an allegory taken from the engineering front-line. I will recount it here, edited to highlight the zeitgeist, for your entertainment and as Voltaire put it, “to encourage the others”:

In the beginning was the Big Data Plan.

And then came the Big Data Assumptions.

And the Assumptions were without form.

And the Plan was without substance.

And darkness was upon the face of the Workers.

And they spoke amongst themselves, saying: “It is a crock of shit, and it stinketh.”

And the workers went unto their Supervisors and said: “It is a pail of dung, and none may abide the odor thereof.”

And the Supervisors went unto their Managers, saying: “It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it.”

And the Managers went unto their Directors, saying: “It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.”

And the Directors spoke amongst themselves, saying to one another: “It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very powerful.”

And the Vice Presidents went unto the President, saying unto him: “This new plan will actively promote the growth and vigor of the company, with powerful effects.”

And the President looked upon the Big Data Plan, and saw that it was good.

“But?” I hear you say, “why fight it, why not take advantage of the Big Data zeitgeist?”, “Why not cash in on the grand bonanza Big Data bandwagon?” or “Monetise the 3 three famous Vs of Big Data?”

Well, it had crossed my mind, briefly, and (outside of the USA) we’ve all done stuff we have not entirely believed in, so the temptation to cash in is present, capisci? This paraphrasing of a piece from My Blue Heaven might give you a better idea:

One of my best friends makes his living as a completely phony Big Data Scientist. For two hundred bucks he can make you a Data Scientist or a Big Data guru. Some guys give you an education but this guy gives you immediate access to high paying jobs, sex that would make the 256 trillion Shades of Blah blush and a life in the City, the Big Apple or a small town in Germany.

Moreover, for an extra 250 bucks (limited time offer) you can also become a certified Big Data Neuro Trainer, which will allow you to do unto others what has been done unto you.

I also considered Big Data Brokerage, Big Data Certification and Big Data Independent Trading (New York – Paris – Peckham). The opportunities are immense.

However, what happens when the Big Data well runs dry, and I (and many others get tarnished with the mark of Big Data) become pariah by complicity, collusion or simple association?

That question I will leave for another day. But just consider the following.

All right, I admit, I am a big long-time fan of comic genius Mel Brooks, who has a knack of capturing deep insight from the human condition, especially when the human condition is off guard and shallow. In that vein, this is how I like to think the dialogue from the Dole Office scene from The History of the World Part Two would have gone, if he were to write that today:

Dole Office Clerk: Occupation?

Data Magnus Comicus: Stand-up Big Data scientist.

Dole Office Clerk: What?

Data Magnus Comicus: Stand-up Big Data scientist. I coalesce the vaporous datas of the human interaction with the social-media networking, Internet of Everything, and always-connected experience into a… viable, analytical and meaningful predictive-comprehension.

Dole Office Clerk: Oh, a Big Data bullshit artist!

Data Magnus Comicus: *Grumble*…

Dole Office Clerk: Did you bullshit Big Data last week?

Data Magnus Comicus: No.

Dole Office Clerk: Did you try to bullshit Big Data last week?

Data Magnus Comicus: Yes!

Finally, I leave you with some wise words from Israeli American professor of psychology and behavioural economics, Dan Ariely:

“Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…”

Many thanks for reading.