The False Prophesy of Big Data

I recently had the distinct pleasure of presenting my latest white paper, The Problem of Big Data: An A Priori Epistemological Approach to Technological Advancement, at the Libertarian Scholars Conference hosted by the Mises Institute. In this paper, I explore the philosophical problems with how many are approaching big data and technological advancement. Specifically, I tackle the use of big data and artificial intelligence to scientifically control economies.

Much of my motivation around the paper has come from observing the economic development strategy in my home State of Nevada but this same narrative is seen throughout the United States and abroad. This narrative centers around a small group of individuals leveraging big data, technology, and their expertise to make decisions that will impact millions of individuals they do not know.

I have been a vocal critic of a small group of individuals trying to scientifically control economies and limit choices of individuals. From an innocent perspective I think humans desire to control complex systems is naive and and from a more malevolent perspective is the lust for power over others.

Economies are highly complex systems that border on the level of chaos theory. Like weather patterns, economies are highly unpredictable and not subject to controlled environments for testing. In fact, any environment that is dealing with human behavior is highly complex and should be approached with great humility. The great economist and philosopher, Ludwig Von Mises, understood this well.

“Only a perfect being, whose omniscience and omnipresence would enable him to survey all the data and every causal relationship, could know how each erring human being would have to act at every moment if he wanted to possess the divine attribute of omniscience”

The issue with big data and scientifically controlled economies starts and ends with data. No human nor technology has availability to all data and information, thus, this creates a distinct problem when trying to use past and/or incomplete data to predict the future. Inherently, humans are making biased assumptions with only part of the whole picture. This ultimately hurts the individual and, in the case of Nevada, the local business owners and consumers. This also opens the door for the abuse of data and science to control preferred outcomes by those in power. Cronyism runs rampant in economies that are centrally planned or controlled by a small group of individuals.

Another important reality in approaching Big Data is that the past rarely predicts the future. Scholar and options trader, Nassim Taleb, addresses this in his book the Black Swan.

“If the past, by bringing surprises, did not resemble the previous past to it (what I call the past’s past), then why should our future resemble our current past?”

The individual, whether that be a business owner or consumer, knows what’s in their best interest over any other individual or set of data. However, as big data and artificial intelligence become more prevalent in our society the narrative centers around data driving the best decisions from our leaders. I am not saying that we dismiss big data but we must be aware of how that data is being used to derive new knowledge. Otherwise we are a ship lost aimlessly at sea with no bearings.

Therefore, our approach to big data becomes vital to understanding its use within society. Approaching big data from an induction perspective will result in truth being probabilistic and approaching big data from a deductive perspective will result in truth being exact. A highly important distinction. Thus, our approach and understanding of knowledge creation (epistemology) whether that be with big data or any other technologies is crucial to understanding its place in society.

As long as there is centralized governance and special interests there is the temptation to leverage technology and big data to fit an agenda. As we enter the midterm elections its important to look for leaders that want to leave the question of what’s best in the hands of the individuals and businesses and not the algorithms or glorified czars within government.