Brian Clegg

It's hard to avoid 'big data' - but we've lived in an information age for decades. What's changed?

An easy to absorb tour of this transformative technology, finding out how big data enables Netflix to forecast a hit, CERN to find the Higgs boson and medics to discover if red wine really is good for you.

Less positively, we explore how companies are using big data to benefit from smart meters, use advertising that spies on you, and develop the gig economy, where workers are managed at the whim of an algorithm.

Is the Brexit vote successful big data politics or the end of democracy? Why do airlines overbook, and why do banks get it wrong so often? With big data unquestionably here to stay, a bright future beckons if we can embrace its good side while guarding against its bad. This book reveals how.

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In Big Data, Clegg sets out an assortment of examples from the success of Netflix and the prediction of crime locations to algorithms that have lost people their jobs or caused stock market crashes, examining the mechanisms and implications of each. Taking the supermarket example - although this is my example and not his - we might ask ourselves who really benefits here – who exactly are the victims and victors (or villains perhaps) in real life?

Big Data is here to stay - should we be afraid of it or embrace it? As always, Clegg writes with an easy clarity that draws us in - no technical expertise required to understand his exploration of this essential subject - and throughout Big Data’s highly enjoyable pages, the spread and range of material is highly impressive – dizzying in fact. I personally found entirely new perspectives on the subject that will keep me pondering for quite some time.

I should add that, if I were still a statistics lecturer at Oxford, I would recommend the book to my students as bedside reading. Peet Morris - Popular Science book review site

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