In a room at The MIT Media Lab, you can find the dreamscape of small children everywhere. Giant cities, in perfect detail, constructed entirely from tiny white Lego.
Sandy Pentland built them. These dioramas use all sorts of data, from foot traffic to investment dollars to tweets, so cities–and the people living in them–can be improved in ways they’ve never been before.
A few doors down is Rosalind Picard’s office. She met a young man who just could not tell if his boss was happy or furious. And it kept getting him fired. He was on his 20th job. So she built him a glasses-mounted camera that reads facial expressions, matching what it sees against a huge database of faces. Problem solved.
That’s the promise of big data. It can smooth social interactions. Solve sticky municipal problems. Cure cancer, slow climate change. But the data has to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is us.
This week, as we get ready for our big project on privacy, Note to Self looks at the good that can come from all the data we share. IF people are good, and make good choices. Except we’re often not good. And we make bad choices. So, what then?