21 October 2016
Big data allows researchers to scan raw data to find relationships between variables. Photo: Bloomberg
Big data allows researchers to scan raw data to find relationships between variables. Photo: Bloomberg

How big data can play a big role in our daily lives

Mass data storage systems are at their lowest price thanks to cheaper chips and faster computing.

Digitization and improved database tools are making it easier to search huge data sets.

Increased internet penetration and cloud computing are bringing more accessible analytical capacity.

With these, big data technology has become a popular research area.

Big data analysis has three notable features — use of entire statistical populations but not the samples, efficiency but not accuracy and correlation but not causality.

Traditionally, sampling is necessary to make statistical analysis for large populations due to limited computing capability.

But big data tools can analyse entire data sets to find correlation between parameters while avoiding potential sampling biases.

This has wide implications for economic research.

Academics, for the most part, used to explain and describe economic behavior using simplified models of our complex society.

But now big data allows researchers to scan raw data to find relationships between variables.

One example is the Google Flu Trends project.

It analyses keyword searches to identify related information and give reports of flu trends in different regions across the United States.

It also sends warnings to people in areas with flu outbreaks.

On the other hand, many people are worried about privacy but too strict privacy rules may hinder the development of society.

In fact, if we remove personal identity information from data sets before throwing the data into the big data machine, there should be no worries about such an issue.

I think the newly established Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Bureau should lift those restrictions.

The bureau should play a leading role by setting up a big data research and application department,

Also it should establish a government data dictionary to unify public data and, say, consumer reports.

In the spirit of open data, regulators should propose laws to require all companies that provide public services to adopt the same data format and share information with the government data dictionary to benefit the public and spur economic activity.

The bureau should consider the following:

1) Implement a digital and technology blueprint

2) Lead investment in research, making research investment to account for 1 percent of gross domestic product in the short term, gradually increasing to 2.5 percent in the long term

3) Increase the acquisition of innovation from local entities and encourage young people to get involved

4) Ensure citizens’ access to the internet and develop a smart city

5) Draw up a budget and executive timetable for related policies and open the process to the public.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 24.

Translation by Myssie You

[Chinese version中文版]

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